Spending time outdoors has been proven to improve mental health and overall wellbeing and adding a canine companion to your travels is a great way to make hiking even more fun.
Just like people, dogs enjoy a variety of different activities and for hikers considering bringing a canine companion along for the adventure, it’s important to understand the breed and the best conditions for each individual dog.
Border Collies, often simply referred to as Collies, are the ideal hiking companion due to their supremely high intelligence, outstanding physical prowess, and unyielding loyalty. Understanding the breed, their health considerations, and what types of activities they excel at will create an ideal lifelong hiking buddy.
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Health Considerations for Border Collies
Border Collies have an impressive reputation as being an extremely healthy and hardy breed with relative longevity and a median age range of 12-15 years. While there is some concern for inherited health conditions affecting the hiking ability of this breed, most conditions are rare and can be avoided with genetic testing and responsible breeding habits.
However, there are a couple of more common health conditions that may alter a Collie’s hiking ability.
Bone & Joint Diseases
One bone and joint disease that is common in most larger breed dogs is elbow or hip dysplasia. Dogs diagnosed with this condition have irregular growth of the ball and socket joint, causing the femur and the adjoining socket of the pelvis to grow at disproportionate rates.
This irregular growth pattern results in laxity of the joint which can lead to degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis.
Although a diagnosis of hip dysplasia can effect a dog’s ability to hike, owners can provide supportive care in the form of feeding a balanced diet for each stage of life, adding joint support supplements, or taking advantage of veterinary rehabilitation services.
Slow, controlled hikes on level terrain may actually be beneficial to dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia as movement helps reduce stiffness and swelling of the joints.
Border Collie owners should schedule their dog for a thorough veterinary exam before hiking to ensure they are physically fit for the activity and always be mindful to monitor their pets along the trail. Affected dogs may display symptoms of pain such as limping, lethargy, or being slow or unable to rise after periods of activity.
Deafness if one of the most common hereditary conditions affecting Border Collies and although genetic testing can greatly reduce the risk of this condition, owners considering bringing a Collie into the home should ensure each dog has been thoroughly evaluated for hearing impairment before starting hiking.
Additionally, breeders and rescues should provide honest, transparent communication and openly share any concern for medical conditions with potential owners.
While deafness can pose some safety risks along the trail, Border Collies affected by congenital hereditary sensorineural deafness may require some specialized training. Experienced dog owners working with professional trainers may be able to incorporate hand signals into a training regimen, but this requires a lot of patience, time, and commitment.
Off leash hiking with deaf Border Collies should be avoided as they are unable to hear their owners and may get lost or be unaware of dangers along the trail like approaching wildlife.
Border Collies are a Highly Active Breed
As one of the most swift and agile dog breeds around, Border Collies have endless energy and determination when it comes to almost any physical activity. Their compact yet robust body type paired with impeccable balance gives them an edge when hiking on difficult terrain, especially when participating in summit hiking or trail running with their owners.
Collies Can Go for Miles
The stamina of a Border Collie is unmatched when it comes to physical activity and they can go for hours on end when it comes to hiking. Hikers looking for a trail companion for thru-hiking or other long distance hikes should consider this breed as a trail companion.
Healthy, well-conditioned Collies have no problem hiking for miles from sun up to sundown and find this one of the most rewarding physical activities.
Border Collies Possess World Renowned Intelligence
As one of the most intelligent dogs breeds in the world, Collies excel at almost any task they are presented with. As a member of the herding group, Border Collies were originally bred and trained as farm dogs and they take to training almost immediately, making them great off leash hiking companions.
Border Collies posses extremely high endurance and stamina, often becoming fixated on a particular activity for hours on end. This hyper fixation and necessity for mental stimulation can become a burden for inexperienced dog owners, but when provided with the right attention, this characteristic makes Border Collies incredible hiking companions.
Although Collies love the physical aspect of hiking, they will also need a job or task to keep them mentally stimulated. Hiking is a great way to sharpen obedience skills or incorporate mentally stimulating activities like recall training, nosework, or agility practice.
Border Collies Can Handle Cold Weather
Although Border Collies should never be left outside during severe weather, they can tolerate fairly cold temperatures due to their double coat, which consists of a soft undercoat and a thicker outer coat that provides important temperature regulation in all types of weather.
During the winter months, the coat serves as added insulation to keep pets warm while in hotter climates, the coat the functions by holding air close to the body to help Border Collies stay cool in warm weather.
Proper grooming techniques to keep the hair from getting matted will allow the double coat to function properly for temperature regulation and shaving should be avoided.
Owners should make sure they are prepared for emergency situations in all types of weather by stocking up on supplies like canine cold weather jackets and booties, extra water, dry blankets, medications, and emergency contacts.
Camping with Border Collies
Although Border Collies do very well on long distance hikes, the majority of these types of hikes involve camping and this breed may or may not be well suited for this activity. Although Border Collies’ unwavering loyalty instinctively keeps them close to their owners, they’re high alert senses may make it difficult for them to settle down in unfamiliar surroundings.
Often times, this may be mitigated by providing adequate physical and mental stimulation throughout the day and during hikes.
Owners wanting to incorporate camping into their hikes should ensure their Border Collie is never left unattended, especially during nightfall as Collies have a low prey drive and instinctive herding tendencies which may put them at risk in the event that wild animals approach the campsite.
Border Collies also tend to be wary of strangers and proper socialization techniques should be instilled at a young age to provide the best camping experience for both dogs and their owners.
High Elevation Hiking
While Collies can make excellent elevation hikers, they require a great deal of specialized training before participating in these types of hikes. As with humans, Collies can be prone to altitude sickness and serious health complications can occur if they are not properly conditioned to high elevation hiking.
Owners training their Border Collie for high elevation hiking should always keep their dog on a leash to control speed when first starting out and increase altitude very gradually. Border Collies should be encouraged to take plenty of breaks for water as hiking at high altitudes can quickly cause dehydration.
Elevation hikers should consult with their veterinarian before attempting high elevation hikes with their Border Collie and ensure they know the risks of high altitude hiking for themselves and their pets before hitting the trail.
Symptoms of altitude sickness in pets include labored breathing, nausea/vomiting, excessive panting, pale gums, increased heart rate, and collapse. Cattle Dog owners should always bring plenty of water for their pets when hiking high elevations as higher altitudes can quickly cause pets to become dehydrated.
Border Collies can make excellent trail companions for active, physically fit owners that have time to dedicate to training and enrichment for their canine companion. This athletic, highly intelligent breed are natural born athletes that excel at hiking and can keep their owners safe and happy while building memories on the trail that will last a lifetime.
Have More Dogs In Your Pack?
Zenful Hiking has dozens of hiking guides with different breeds of dog, ranging from Australian Cattle Dogs to Chihuahuas. Get all the information you need to make sure your hikes with four legged hiking partners are safe and fun!