This country has some magnificent hiking routes, and there’s nothing better than communing with nature with your hound at your side. Just make sure you’re both well prepared before hitting the trail.
Just like you, Fido isn’t going to cope too well with a strenuous hike if he’s unfit, so get in some training beforehand. If his usual level of exercise is a leisurely stroll around the block in the evening, then an 8km scramble over hill and dale is going to do him in. You’re also not going to have a good time if your pooch is too tired to move halfway through the hike, and you have to carry him the rest of the way… Especially if he’s a lumbering great Labrador!
Your dog also needs to be well behaved before tackling the great outdoors. You don’t want him to go haring off after the wildlife, planting an unwelcome lick on some poor unsuspecting fellow hiker (not everyone is a dog lover), or getting into a scrap with other dogs. If in doubt, keep him on a short leash, especially if it’s his first outing.
Before Setting Out
Make sure your dog is carrying some form of identification; hopefully he’s microchipped, but at the very least have your phone number attached to his collar. You should also carry a fully charged cellphone in case either of you get into trouble.
The weather can be very unpredictable, especially in the mountains. Take along a jacket, just in case, as well as something warm to wear for your four-legged friend.
Pack adequate food and water for both of you. Also, stick to the principle of leaving nothing but footprints. Take along a plastic bag for your trash and an extra one to pick up the doggy doo.
A first-aid kit is another must. Include a clean sock and tape for an improvised boot in case you have to deal with a cut paw along the way.
On the Trail
Stick to the rule of one dog per person, and no more than three dogs in your group. It just makes life so much more manageable for everyone.
Take frequent rest breaks, especially if it’s a hot day. Remember if you’re feeling the heat, your dog is too. Keep hydrated, and if your pooch is panting excessively, find a shady spot, and let him recover.
Don’t let him drink from stagnant water, which is usually home to all sorts of nasties. And check him thoroughly for ticks and scratches when you get home.
KwaZulu-Natal Virgin Bush Nature Reserve (Durban North), Igwala Gwala Forest Trail (St Lucia)
Gauteng Faerie Glen Nature Reserve (Pretoria), Melville Koppies Nature Reserve (Melville), Braamfontein Spruit Hiking Trail (Urban)
Western Cape Alphen Trail (Constantia), Blackburn Raven* (Hout Bay), Newlands Forest* (Newlands), Silwerfontein Trail (Tulbagh), Majik Forest (Tyger Valley), Gifkloof Trail (Greyton)
*Areas that form part of the Table Mountain National Park require dog walkers to have a Level 1 My Activity Permit, available from SANParks offices.
By Nicci Botha