We were so excited to find out that November 17th is National Take a Hike Day, or as we like to call it, National Take a Hike With Your Dog Day. Hiking was one of the first parts of our sports program because of the way it stimulates dogs, encourages exploration, and reduces stress. In honor of this day, we talked to Sports Leaders Cynthia and Chris to find out what it’s like to hike dogs for a living and highlighted some of our favorite moments of the year.
Why we hike
Living in Los Angeles as we do, we are surrounded by a diverse natural landscape perfect for dogs to exercise their most basic primal instincts and get an awesome workout to boot. Dogs are physically challenged by the trails, but also get major mental stimulation from all the natural elements surrounding them.
Our sports leaders certainly appreciate the nature of their work as well. When we asked Cynthia what her favorite part of her job is, she said, “I get to spend my day outside hiking or at the beach with a bunch of dogs! Not many people can say that.”
Chris agrees, “I love the bond that I make with all of the dogs who are regulars on the sports team… It’s a rewarding feeling knowing that I get to be part of a dog’s favorite part of the day (except of course, when they see their owner again at the end of a hike).”
Both Cynthia and Chris like to hike the dogs in Sullivan Canyon. In Chris’s words: “The trail has an abundance of shade, is mostly flat, and is relatively quiet on weekdays, making it a great option for taking dogs that are older or more suited for colder climates. Additionally, because the trail is easier on the dogs, it gives me the chance to work with them on basic obedience and pack etiquette without exhausting them, which is both stimulating and useful for when they go on more rigorous trails.”
What it’s like hiking dogs
Certain challenges present themselves when you’ve got a group of dogs on a trail. Naturally, there are other people hiking their dogs since there are only so many dog-friendly hikes in Los Angeles. “The most challenging thing is when we come across other dogs when we have reactive dogs in our pack,” says Cynthia, “Having command of one dog is great, but the ability to command multiple reactive dogs at the same time is definitely a challenge.”
Chris says, “It can be challenging to micromanage all the dogs’ needs. Since the roster of dogs hiking changes almost every day, I can’t “just take the dogs out for a hike” and expect my pack to bond with me or with each other… Managing these constantly changing needs can be hard, but its worth it when you have a large pack with you that I’ve worked with extensively, and it shows in their behavior and fitness.”
Our dog’s true personalities really come out when they hike. That’s because our sports leaders are an extension of the dogs’ family, so the dogs really come into their own on the trail.
“A few weeks ago the weather finally cooled down from the extreme heat, and the dogs took notice,” says Chris, “Normally, the dogs stay pretty on task. The change in weather though caused them all to really let their goofy side out, and before I knew it I had six dogs all playfully roughhousing only 15 minutes into the hike. Since all the dogs I was with had solid recall, I decided to let them off leash and just let them have fun while we hiked. The six dogs did the entire three-mile hike half-roughhousing and half-walking, becoming this ball of wrestling dogs that just followed me around. I definitely got some weird and amused looks from other hikers, but the dogs were happy and exhausted by the end so I called it a successful outing.”
Cynthia recalls another funny moment from earlier this year when “Penny C. managed to actually capture a small lizard and eat it. Gross!! We saw her jump at something, I tried to pry whatever the thing was out of her mouth and it wiggled at me! So Penny managed to get away with that.”
Our hiking program has improved the lives and habits of many dogs. Chris says Penny, a shepherd mix and regular hiker, has undergone major improvements since she started going on excursions: “Penny C. has had a night and day transformation. She started out doing hikes with a huge amount of energy, pulling insanely hard on the leash, and was overly-playful to many dogs who were none too appreciative. After hiking for a few months on a very consistent schedule, Penny has developed into a great dog. Her recall is solid, her leash pulling has gone down significantly, and the sports team trusts her to hike off leash.” Cases like Penny’s remind us why we do what we do, and we love it more every day.
Click here for more information on our sports program and canyon hikes.