Hiking With Dog Has Health Benefits
Studies Show People Are More Successful at Losing Weight When
They Hike With Their Dogs
The Associated Press
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Aug. 17, 2004 — People who love to hike find
taking along a four-legged companion can have physical benefits
for both ends of the leash.
Studies show people are more successful at losing weight when
they do it with a friend. What better friend than a dog to
provide company and keep a person on track, said Randy
Galbraith, who began taking his German shorthaired pointer
hiking five years ago.
"To me, it's a treasure to be with Fritz. Everyday he has to
have his run, no matter what," Galbraith said. "He'll give you a
look that says, 'It's time to go.'"
Neither Galbraith nor Fritz struggles with weight problems.
Galbraith does, however, find the need to release the stress
that comes from being principal of an alternative high school
for troubled youths in Springfield.
"You can clear your head of everything that's going on and
reclaim yourself when you're out in the wilderness," he said.
"Being with Fritz gives me a lot of quiet time to relax and
Galbraith starts planning his summer vacation to hike in the
backcountry out West when the winter doldrums set in and there's
still snow in southwest Missouri. He is particularly fond of
Colorado, Montana and New Mexico.
The two generally hike between six miles and 12 miles daily.
Fritz, who carries his own water and snacks in a backpack, is
obedient and roams free while they are alone. Galbraith gives
commands in German, a tribute to his grandmother.
"We have a good communication system," he said. "If he's off his
leash, he's constantly running ahead and then coming back to
check on me."
Doug Gelbert, author of The Canine Hiker's Bible, said dogs love
to sniff and explore and can offer new insight into the
"As a dog walks along, sometimes he perks up his ears and looks
at stuff that we don't even recognize," he said.
Fritz led Galbraith to the moose antlers that are displayed in
his school office. The dog also has allowed him to see wildlife
that he might not have noticed on his own.
"He was once chased by a cow moose that was protecting its
young," Galbraith said. "I never would have noticed it, if it
hadn't been for Fritz."
Richard Meadows, a veterinarian and director of community
practice at University of Missouri's College of Veterinary
Medicine, advises both human and canine who haven't been
exercising regularly to start slow.
Like their owners, American dogs are putting on pounds, too.
They may not watch TV or play video games but they may spend
lots of time napping.
"The numbers seem to range somewhere between 15 and 25 percent
of the dogs and cats in the United States are obese," Meadows
The risks of being overweight are the same, whether you have two
legs or four, he said. They include heart and joint disease,
diabetes, cancer and a shortened life span.
"Just like us, they can't be dumped into a program. They need to
work into it and build muscle tone and endurance," said Meadows,
who has been a researcher in several animal exercise studies.
He said dogs should be examined after hikes for footpad
injuries, strained muscles, as well as ticks and fleas.
People also should remember that their dog is wearing a fur coat
on and has a lower tolerance for heat, Meadows said, and they
need lots of water.
Opinions differ on what type of dog is best for trails. Gelbert,
who has been hiking with dogs for about 20 years, suggests
people tailor their selection to how they want to hike.
Information about the various breeds can be easily found on the
internet and through kennel clubs.
And to avoid disappointment, hikers should call ahead to make
sure the site they plan to visit allows dogs on trails.
Gelbert created the web site, hikewithyourdog.com, to help
people find dog-friendly parks and trails.
As a general rule, he said dogs are only allowed to go where
cars can go in national parks. They are allowed on most national
forest trails, although access can sometimes be remote. There
are few bans, however, on dogs in national historical parks.
Dog owners also need to be responsible, Gelbert said.
"It always bothers me when I see a sign that says, 'No dogs
allowed,'" he said. "It seems to me that it would be much better
to put up a sign that says, 'Dog owners, every time you come out
with your dog, you are an ambassador for every other dog using
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