Tips for hitting Summit County’s mountain trails with your dog

What to know when chasing peaks with your pup

A hiker walks on a trail at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area with his dogs in summer 2020.
Photo by Ian Zinner / Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

There might only be one group that enjoys Summit County’s outdoor trails as much as us humans: our dogs.

Just like a human would prepare for an excursion, such as a hike, with proper planning, gear and fitness, dogs need the same strategy to maximize their experience — and your time together — in the wilderness.

Dr. Margot Daly, associate veterinarian at Frisco Animal Hospital, is certified in canine sports medicine and acupuncture. She touted Summit County as a great place to hike with dogs of a multitude of fitness and experience levels, from less strenuous strolls through the woods to more demanding scales of 14,000-foot peaks.

Daly stressed one of the most important things is to keep dogs on a leash — unless a dog has great recall to voice commands and you’re hiking in an area where leashes aren’t required. Though much of the White River National Forest doesn’t require a dog to be leashed, Daly cautioned that dogs in Summit County often tangle with wildlife, namely prickly porcupines after dusk.

Daly also said elk and moose, which are common in the county, send a few dogs to the hospital each year as the herbivores instinctively defend themselves against dogs, which remind them of their lone predator: wolves.

“When you see a moose, look carefully to see if there’s a calf, and immediately get your dog close to you and try to get out of that area,” Daly said.

Daly said to bring a collapsible bowl and a liter of water specifically for your dog if out for a few hours and to double that amount if going for a full-day excursion. As for gear, if a dog has sensitive eyes, she said to invest in goggles due to the sun’s strength above 9,000 feet. Booties can be helpful for some dogs, Daly said, especially if walking across rocky terrain or shale fields.

If you’re considering a backpack or harness for your dog, Daly said to break in the gear on walks or daily activities, much like how you’d break in hiking boots around the house before trying them out on a big hike. Daly also said bringing first aid items for your dog, namely bandages for lacerations, is crucial.

The No. 1 injury she sees in dogs from hiking is soreness and stiffness in their back and hind legs after long hikes. Daly recommends a dog training program that adds 10% duration in intensity per week.

“I almost always get the comment, ‘We did our first hike of the season; it was 5 miles, my dog was off leash, and he may have run 20 miles,'” Daly said. “I tell people, ‘Your dog has got weekend warrior syndrome.’ Remember, if your dog is off leash, they’re going to cover a lot more ground at higher speeds than you do.”

According to Daly, acupuncture is a great option for dogs with soreness, stiffness and muscle fatigue.

Along with using long walks and short hikes at least three days a week to build your dog up for hiking season, Daly said nutrition is important. She recommended sticking with a well-balanced kibble over raw or homemade diets in order to not miss out on vital nutrients and minerals.

As for recovery nutrition, Daly recommends the Myos egg yolk protein supplement.

A hiker walks on a trail at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area with his dog in summer 2020.
Photo by Ian Zinner / Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Dr. Danielle Jehn-Campbell, who also works at Frisco Animal Hospital, said a puffy face is another thing to look out for. It could mean your dog is having an allergic reaction to plants or stings. Jehn-Campbell said to always bring Benadryl just in case, giving a dose in milligrams equal to the dog’s weight every eight to 12 hours.

Keep an eye out for wobbly legs or tremors in your dog, as well. Jehn-Campbell said they could be signs of intestinal parasites picked up via mushrooms or fecal matter. Giardia from stagnant water is also a concern.

Jehn-Campbell said any dog with advanced kidney, cardiac or respiratory disease should avoid hiking at this altitude. If a dog is experiencing any problems, she said not to hesitate to call a local animal hospital, as an emergency vet is on call day or night.

If a dog becomes lost while hiking, Summit Lost Pet Rescue is a great local resource. Melissa Davis, the nonprofit’s executive director, said the organization has more than 90 volunteers across the county willing to help.

Davis stresses preventative approaches, like hiking with the dog on a leash, and recommends dog owners make sure their pets’ microchips are updated with current information.

Davis also recommended GPS collars, especially for breeds known to be escape artists, such as huskies. Of the more than 100 dogs the nonprofit has rescued, Davis said it is the No. 1 breed.

Davis preached that the first 24 hours are vital to the success of a rescue and said owners shouldn’t hesitate to report a lost dog. The organization provides trained and certified pet detectives like Davis who are familiar with calming techniques that entice lost dogs running on adrenaline.

“The first thought is to chase and call a dog to get them on the ground, but let the dog approach you,” Davis said. “Once a dog is on the run like that, it’s their instinct to run — especially if lost.”

3 Summit County hikes ideal for dogs

Lily Pad Lake Trail, Wildernest

This narrow, beginner-friendly trail is 3.3 miles and not super steep. It’s a heavily trafficked out-and-back and brings pooches to a pond where they can wade and cool down.

Old Dillon Reservoir, Frisco

This is the trail Dr. Margot Daly recommends owners take their dogs to when recovering from injury and easing back into the ups and downs of hills. This 1.7-mile, heavily trafficked loop is narrow as it ascends to a great view of Lake Dillon. It also leads to a flat loop around Old Dillon Reservoir.

Mayflower Gulch, Frisco

Located on Colorado Highway 91 between Copper Mountain and Leadville, the wide, ever-gradual incline trail to the old Boston Mine ruins is ideal for most dogs. The 6.1-mile out-and-back also rewards humans with some of the most stunning views at and above tree line on the west side of the Tenmile Range.


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