By Janet McAfee

Coachella Valley residents can enjoy walks and hikes in our beautiful desert before the hot summer arrives.  All dog owners know how much their canine pals love being included in their activities, and exploring nature with “Benji” makes it more enjoyable for the humans.  Our beautiful Spring is the right time to head out to Coachella Valley hiking trails with your “best buddy” tagging along.  This is a great way for both of you to get exercise and spend some quality time together, and it may eliminate some negative behaviors you dog has.  

Assess your dog’s readiness for hiking – before heading out, evaluate your dog’s level of fitness.  If he is elderly or overweight, it’s best to stick with walks around your neighborhood and avoid overheating.  Remember that dogs are “people pleasers” and will push beyond their level of endurance to please you and keep up.  It may seem too obvious to state, but ensure that your pet is friendly to people and other canines before heading out to public trails. Make sure your dog knows the most important command of all, “Benji (his name), Come!” in case he gets loose.

Plan Ahead – Purchase needed supplies and make sure your destination permits dogs on trails. Most United States national parks do not allow dogs on trails. The book “140 Great Hikes in and near Palm Springs” provides a list of local trails that permit dogs to accompany hikers.

Supplies – Your dog can help carry some of the needed supplies in his own special backpack.  A healthy dog can carry up to 25% of his own weight, however some breeds with long backs such as Dachshunds may not be able to carry much at all.  Give him plenty of water during the excursion because dogs become dehydrated quickly.  Water in streams and lakes may contain parasites and viruses.  Bring high quality treats to keep up Benji’s energy level.  Make sure your dog is always tagged with your phone number, and bring a photo of him just in case he gets lost.  A hat will protect him from strong sunlight.  Other items to include are a map, compass, cell phone, first aid kit, sunscreen, and snacks for yourself.

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If you venture out on a warmer day, a Ruff Wear Swamp Cooler vest will cool your dog down.  You soak it with water to dissipate the heat as the water evaporates.  If you’re walking on a rocky terrain, doggie boots offer good protection.  

Safety – Check your dog’s paws for any signs of blistering or rawness.  Remember that walking on hot concrete can be painful for our four legged friends.  I recommend keeping a dog on leash for safety and to keep control of him in case you run into unfriendly animals such as snakes.  Most public dog trails require your pet be leashed.  You may find it easier to use a waist belt leash system.   

Trail Etiquette – When you meet other hikers, the dog and owner must yield the right of way to allow other trail users to pass.  Likewise when you meet a horse, the hiker with a dog must yield.  Step clear of the trail, and ensure your dog refrains from barking and moving toward the horse.  And of course, use those poop bags!

Where to go – The Homme/Ralph Adams Park, located off Highway 74 at 72-500 Thrush Avenue in Palm Desert, has dog friendly hiking trails.  The Cove Oasis Trailhead in La Quinta, located just outside the National Monument, permits leashed dogs only between Calle Tecate and the flood control levee.  Most California state parks limit dogs to campground and picnic areas, but some parks have trail areas where leashed dogs can join you for a hike.  The Joshua Tree National Park allows pets, but they must stay within 100 feet from a road, and are not permitted on trails.

Dog Beaches – Here’s another great idea for a healthy excursion with your dog.  You can both escape the upcoming hot summer for a day at one of the dog beaches in San Diego County.  Most popular is the dog beach in Ocean Beach, located at the foot of Voltaire Street.  Tucked away near the Del Mar racetrack is Solana Beach, a lovely spot that allows dogs from September 15 through June 15.  It’s almost surreal to see all of the dogs happily frolicking in the ocean while the people sit on the sand watching them.

What if you are “dogless in the desert”?  Head over to the Coachella Valley Animal Campus shelter and meet dozens of special rescue dogs, including Caden pictured below.  This county shelter is located at 72-050 Pet Land Place, Thousand Palms, 760-343-3644, www.rcdas.org.

Janetmcafee8@gmail.com.