Spending time outdoors has been proven to improve mental health and overall wellbeing and adding a canine companion to your travels can be a great way to make hiking even more fun.
For hikers considering bringing their dog along on the trail, it’s important to understand the breed and what would be the best conditions for each individual dog. Australian Shepherds are the perfect trail companion for avid hikers due to their high endurance, active lifestyle, and high intelligence.
Understanding the breed, their health considerations, and what types of activities they excel at will create an ideal lifelong hiking buddy.
Health Considerations for Australian Shepherds
Although Australian Shepherds are generally a healthy breed with an average lifespan of 12-15 years, they are prone to a few inherited conditions that may make hiking more difficult or impossible if left untreated.
One of the most prevalent genetic conditions affecting Australian Shepherds is a joint condition known as elbow or hip dysplasia.
While appropriate breeding habits and health testing can rule out this condition in some dogs, it’s important to have a thorough veterinary exam before starting hiking and to stop if your dog displays any symptoms of pain during hiking such as limping, lethargy, or being slow or unable to rise after periods of activity.
Aussies Enjoy Physical Activity
As a member of the herding class, Australian Shepherds are highly active dogs that enjoy physical activity. This breed requires a moderate to high amount of exercise each day, making them the perfect hiking companion for avid, long distance hikers.
Healthy, well-conditioned Aussies have high endurance and stamina when it comes to physical activity and can enjoy hiking up to 15 miles on the trail.
When hiking long distances, it’s important for owners to be prepared with plenty of supplies for their pup like adequate amounts of water, travel bowls, a collar with easy to read identification tags, a leash and harness, and training aids.
Australian Shepherds Love Mentally Stimulating Activities
Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise when it comes to hiking with an Australian Shepherd. This highly intelligent breed enjoys activities that get them thinking such as nosework, agility, herding, obedience training, and dock diving, which can easily be incorporated into a hike.
For young Australian Shepherds or new rescue dogs, hiking is the perfect opportunity to work on leash manners and obedience while exposing them to a number of new and exciting stimuli to provide them with adequate socialization.
Well trained Aussies would benefit from being let off leash to practice nosework in the leaves along a wooded trail or to perfect their agility on more advanced terrain.
Aussies are Great Off Leash
Although each dog is different, most Australian Shepherds do very well when let off leash during a hike. Due to their natural herding instincts and affectionate personality, most Aussies tend to stay close to their owners with minimal training.
Before making the decision to hike with an off leash dog, owners should consider their pet’s personality and training level, trail rules and guidelines, and hiking conditions including daylight time, weather, and familiarity with their surroundings.
It is not recommended for puppies, newly adopted dogs, dogs with medical conditions, or untrained pets to be off leash unsupervised.
Aussies Can Handle Cold Weather
Australian Shepherds make great hiking companions for cold weather due to their double coat which consists of a soft undercoat with a thicker outer coat that provides important temperature regulation in all types of weather.
In the winter, the undercoat serves as natural insulation to keep pets warm, but in cases of more severe weather, owners should practice cold weather animal safety techniques.
When hiking in cold weather, it’s important to stay away from icy terrain, invest in canine hiking gear like snow boots and properly fitted winter coats, and ensure your dog is healthy before setting off on an adventure.
When on the trail, owners should monitor their Australian Shepherd for signs of hypothermia and be prepared for emergency situations with supplies like extra water, dry blankets, medications, and emergency contacts.
Australian Shepherds Love to Swim
Swimming is a great physical activity for Australian Shepherds to burn off some energy when hiking with outdoor enthusiasts that enjoy incorporating water sports into their hike.
Although not bred exclusively as water dogs, their agile movements and proportionate frame make Aussies great swimmers when introduced to water at a young age. In addition to swimming, they often enjoy other water activities like paddleboarding, kayaking, and boating.
Camping with Aussies
Australian Shepherds make excellent companions for hikers setting out for multi-day excursions or camping retreats. Due to their affectionate nature and high adaptability, Aussies tend to stay close to their owners and have a fairly easy time adjusting to new situations and environments.
Additionally, due to their herding instincts, Australian Shepherds are very in tune with their surroundings, making them great alert dogs to keep themselves and their owners safe if any wildlife or unwanted intruders approach the campsite.
High Elevation Hiking with Australian Shepherds
Like all humans and other mammals, dogs can be prone to altitude sickness at elevations greater than 8,000 feet. and attempting a high elevation hike with your Australian Shepherd before they are properly trained and acclimated may result in a serious, life threatening medical condition.
Elevation hikers should consult with their veterinarian before attempting high elevation hikes with their Australian Shepherd 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.
Aussie owners should always bring plenty of water for their pets when hiking high elevations as higher altitudes can quickly cause pets to become dehydrated.
With proper training techniques, Australian Shepherds can make an ideal trail partner for solo hikers that enjoy an active lifestyle and long hikes. Aussies are athletic, affectionate dogs that can keep their owners safe and happy while building memories on the trail that will last a lifetime.