Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hikes with Dogs are Good for the Body and Soul

Sammi romping through the woods,
with Franki close behind.
The arrival of Fall brings cooler weather and beautiful Autumn colors.  If the heat of summer kept you inside in the air conditioning, it's time to get outside, get moving, and enjoy the season!  Having larger dogs, I tend to stay active all year round, for their benefit as well as mine. We're lucky, I suppose, because the woods are just outside the back gate and the dogs are always ready, willing, and able to go roaming and romping through the trees.

Hiking with dogs is the perfect way to spend time together, as well as getting the exercise that we all need to stay healthy. And, as I've experienced, hikes with dogs are good for the body AND the soul. Nothing makes me happier than watching them enjoying the freedom to run, sniff and dig. It doesn't matter how many times we hike the same trails, they are always excited and eager. It's always new and wonderful.

Cookie trots down the middle of this 
small stream in the woods.
Late last winter, we ended up wandering in a different direction than usual and came across a lovely, quiet spot with a small stream rippling through the trees. The dogs immediately began splashing around, drinking the cold, clear water, and cooling their warm bellies. 

Having a new place to explore, they were noticeably excited, even more than usual, and began running through the trees, their noses to the ground.  I sat down on a large rock next to the stream to watch them, knowing they wouldn't go far and would come back to check on me every couple of minutes.  Except for Shasta, the old, white hound, they don't need to be leashed in our woods.  They are the epitome of pack animals and never wander too far away from me.

Franki takes a drink while cooling her 
belly in the cold mountain stream.
Being the youngest, Franki tends to wander farther and faster than the others, but sooner or later, I hear the jingle bells attached to her collar and know she's on her way back to rejoin us and cool off for a bit in the water, before taking off again to explore some more.

Despite being nearly 11-years-old, Cookie is usually right behind Franki, not wanting to miss anything exciting. Sometimes I hear them barking frantically, as they tree a squirrel or some other wild critter.  On rare occasions, they catch a deer or rabbit unaware and I can hear them chasing the poor creature through the forest; except for Franki, however, the dogs are too old to be interested in long chases, and Franki's arthritic knee and strong attachment to me prevent her from running for too long.  I call for her two or three times and within a few minutes, I hear the leaves crunching, her bells jingling, and soon she comes running up, her tongue lolling and chest heaving from the excitement and effort of her race.

Cookie and Franki, facing off. 
More often than not, her excitement spreads to Cookie, who promptly engages her in a bit of wrestling and play biting until they're both ready for a short rest and a cool drink.

Andie and Sammi (and poor Shasta, who is limited by her leash) tend to stick closer by me during our hikes, although they, too, take advantage of the freedom to run, roam and sniff.  But Shasta and I are rarely left alone.  Even when Cookie and Franki are out wandering and exploring, Sammi and Andie are never far away and usually within sight, or are sitting or standing nearby, enjoying the quiet, eating shoots of green sprouting from the rotting leaves, listening for Cookie and Franki, or just sniffing the air.

Even in late winter, Andie enjoys the 
cold water as she waits for 
Cookie and Franki's return.
The dogs and I are very fortunate to have access to woods and trails where it's safe for them to roam and wander, and where we can all enjoy the fresh air while we exercise. But even if you don't have walking or hiking trails as close as we do, more and more dog parks and dog-friendly trails are opening up or are already available across the country.

Even if you have to travel a bit to get there, the benefits of exercising with your dogs are many:  stress-reduction, weight loss, disease prevention, and just plain ol' fun and enjoyment are all good reasons to bond with your dog while you walk, run, hike, swim, or play fetch.  There are many resources available to help you find dog-friendly trails and parks.  Use your favorite search engine or contact your local chamber of commerce for ideas.

Happy Sammi
(and Shasta, up in the right corner)

Ever wonder where you'd end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash? 
~Robert Brault

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