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JoAnna Lou
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Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best
The importance of planning for outdoor excursions with your pup
Over Memorial Day weekend, my Border Collie Scuttle and I headed up to New Hampshire's White Mountains to camp and hike. For me, there's nothing better than spending time outdoors with my dogs, especially if it's somewhere they can run off leash (after safety, this is the number two reason I train a good recall!).
 
We've blogged about hiking with dogs before, but the White Mountains got me thinking about the importance of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. I've never hiked in this region before, but the fickle weather and challenging terrain is legendary. I always do trail research before I head to a new area with my dogs, but I knew this trip would require extra preparation.
 
I started with online research, reading about dogs who had hiked the trails near our campsite and getting route recommendations from people who had posted on trail condition web sites (New England Trail Conditions even has a notes section for dog related comments). I quickly learned that the White Mountains are particularly tough on paw pads because of sharp rocks above the treeline.  
 
I knew Scuttle had the stamina to complete a summit attempt, but I took a few precautions based on what I'd heard from other hikers. I brought extra first aid supplies (Musher's Secret to protect her paws, dog boots in case of a torn pad, and septic powder for torn nails), plenty of layers (a doggy rain coat and down jacket in case of bad weather), and also made a plan for getting Scuttle down the mountain in an emergency, something I've never thought about before. 
 
You might remember Missy, the German Shepherd abandoned with torn pads at the top of a Colorado mountain. Weather conditions can quickly change at high elevations and an injured dog can be difficult to get down. Park rangers are often not allowed or don't have the resources to rescue animals. Inspired by Missy, I brought a backpack large enough to carry Scuttle down the mountain if she were to get injured.  We practiced the pack riding before the trip, much to Scuttle's chagrin (if I had more time, I would've properly introduced her to the bag more slowly with shaping and positive reinforcement). 
 
In the end, we had a fun weekend and Scuttle completed her first 4,000+ foot mountain (one of New Hampshire's 48 4,000 footers) without any hiccups. Believe it or not, there was even snow at the top of the mountain, proving once again that good preparation is key.
 
When we're hiking, the look of joy on Scuttle's face is priceless, but we have to remember that it's our choice to bring our pups with us on the trail. Scuttle would follow me to Antarctica if she could, so I know it's my responsibility to do research, make educated decisions, and prepare for the worst!
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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
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