Dogs love the outdoors, but if you live in a more urban southern New Hampshire neighborhood, it can be hard to think of ways to get fresh air with your pup besides your traditional walk around the block. But local dog experts have plenty of ideas on how to take your afternoon or weekend jaunt a step further by hiking, running or even skijoring with your canine pal.
In southern New Hampshire, there are a variety of trails to hike with your dog. Val Jesson, trainer at The Barking Dog, said she most enjoys the state’s abandoned railroad beds, particularly the Derry and Windham rail trails. She also recommends the trails weaving through Benson Park in Hudson and the trails by Lake Massabesic in Auburn.
But if you and your dog have kept a low profile this winter, it’s important to start slow.
“If you’re not used to it, you might not want to do a two-mile hike. You want to cut it to a mile or a half-mile hike,” Jesson said via phone. “If dogs have been kept in condition, that’s great. I have lots of dogs in the offseason doing agility activities that keep them in shape.”
Most trails allow dogs, but some don’t — for example, Mount Monadnock — and many have strict leash and clean-up rules. During cooler months or longer hikes, it’s a good idea to use harnesses and day packs for your dog, in addition to packing extra water, treats, tape (in case of a paw cut) and paw wax, which can protect against salty streets and trails.
Lisa Caputo, director of operations at the Manchester Animal Shelter, said one of her favorite spots is the Andrew Brook Trail in Newbury. When the weather’s warmer, she likes to take her dogs along trails closer to water — a lake, pond, stream, river — for the pups to take a drink or cool down (though be certain it’s not standing water, which could made a dog sick).
Some dogs will be happy to go out for a run — but it might take practice to get to that point.
“First you need to teach them how to heel, how to walk on a leash. … It takes practice for dogs. A lot of dogs won’t get the concept of running down a straight line. I would introduce them with short running bursts,” Jesson said. “With positive reinforcement, they can catch on.”
It’s important to note running’s not for every dog. It can damage the joints and burn out overweight dogs. Some breeds (usually ones with longer snouts) can handle it, but some can’t.
“I think the most important thing is to make sure your dog is having fun doing what they’re doing. I don’t like the idea of forcing a dog to take a run who doesn’t want to do a run,” Jesson said. “Large breeds like Great Danes and St. Bernards don’t have a bunch of energy, to be quite honest. Definitely don’t plan on going very far with them.”
Jesson recommended starting with short, non-retractable leashes between four and six feet. Larger dogs with thick fur might stand low temperatures, but smaller breeds will likely need coats to keep warm.
On the other end, smaller dogs might fare better during warm-weather runs. During this period, choose routes with more shade, as hot concrete also bothers dogs’ paws, and it’s harder for them to keep cool, as they can only release heat by panting and through the pads on their feet. Heavy panting for more than 20 minutes is a sign of overheating. For these kinds of days, Jesson suggested packing an ice pack.
Once you’ve mastered the trot, you can enter your dog in a race. Every year, the Manchester Animal Shelter organizes the Mutt Strutt, a dog-friendly 5K that Caputo said is planned for September 2017.
Skijoring with your dog is kind of like dogsledding, except instead of riding a sled, you’re wearing skis. Try it on your own, or take lessons at Gunstock Mountain Resort’s program, which skijoring instructor Jane Carpenter started more than 25 years ago.
The equipment includes a lightweight sled dog harness attached to a 25-foot bungee. Carpenter said the sport is suitable for all breeds; she recently saw a Jack Russell who took right to it.
“He was very small but very active. He hated the deep snow, but here it’s groomed,” Carpenter said via phone. “You’re never dead weight; you’re always working with your dog.”
Gunstock has 15 kilometers of wide, groomed dog-friendly trails for this purpose. If skiing attached to your dog sounds scary, you can start slowly by first snowshoeing attached to the harness. Carpenter offers lessons for beginners, but she said most dogs learn quickly, particularly the well-trained ones.
“Once it clicks for them, they’re like OK, let’s do this!” Carpenter said.