As shadows grow long and days grow short, there is no better season to spend time on the trails with your canine best friend than autumn. In fact, fall sniffing sessions in the woods are an exceptional time for you and your dog to bond, what with the freedoms of summer behind and the confines of winter ahead. This makes running and playing on a crisp day seems like something of a “last hurrah” and can make enjoying nature with your furry friend seem downright magical.
However, there are things to know during your late-season excursions, especially for those lucky enough to live a life traveling the country in an RV the way Barney, our small rescue terrier mix, does.
For one, fall is a time when predators are preparing for food to become scarce, which means keeping your dogs on leash at all times, especially in unfamiliar areas. While this is true no matter the season, it is especially so in the autumn, when pets can become an easy meal for hungry predators needing to put winter fat on—especially little doggies like Barney! Keep ‘em close, and no matter how important the sniffing may be, it needs to be done from the end of a leash.
You also need to be aware that fall is a time of changing weather, and some dogs are better suited than others for the cool, crisp conditions, which can also become quite warm during the day and possibly even wet at times. This means making sure to bring along a doggy sweater, plenty of water, and maybe even a rain coat for pups who don’t do well in damp conditions, such as Barney, who can’t understand why ANYONE would go out in the rain. Since temperatures can go from one extreme to the other, you should think of outfitting your pup in the same manner as you would yourself—as in, bring plenty of layers and be prepared for all weather you may face during your trail time together.
Fall is also a time when more leaves are strewing the ground, and not only can some plants and trees drop stickered leaves or pods, the fallen leaves can cover hidden dangers along the trail. If your furry friend has sensitive feet, consider protective shoes, which can be purchased from most pet or outdoor sporting goods stores. They come in sizes for both small and large dogs and can make the difference between a fun frolic in the woods and a painful limp back home.
Other things to watch out for are foxtails, burrs, and other seeds meant to cling to passing animals for wider distribution. Unfortunately, they can be very dangerous for dogs, especially when lodged in ear canals or nostrils, or even between toes. Remember to always check your dog’s ears, nostrils, and feet after outdoor excursions, especially dogs with floppy or furry ears conducive to attracting grass seeds, such as cocker spaniels or poodles.
And, while you are doing a post-walk check for foxtails, etc., be sure to look for ticks, which are still out in the fall. Naturally, your pup should have regular flea and tick prevention, although it is still a good idea to do a physical check and not just rely on the medication to work. This helps prevent ticks from riding into your home and attaching to you.
One other thing we make sure of with Barney, since he travels and gets to meet new doggie playmates all the time, is his kennel cough vaccination. This is very important, no matter the season, since even though kennel cough is usually treatable, it is not pleasant for your dog and can also manifest into pneumonia, which is quite dangerous.
Finally, if you are going on a walk of substantial length with your small pooch, it is a good idea to bring along a carrier. With Barney, who has had surgery on both his little knees and also has a heart murmur, we are particularly aware of this and make sure never to “push” him on a physical effort. Once he gives us that, “Mama and Papa, I’ve had enough” look, its “C’mon kid, into the carrier!” which he loves, although he hates any of the doggy-specific carriers he has tried.
Instead, we found that a simple and inexpensive over-the-shoulder baby sling works best, which he rides in like it’s his own little hammock. It helps him stay secure next to Mom or Dad, and this way, we get to spend even more time with him.
And as we all know, the more time we spend with our furry children, the better—no matter the season.
Happy fall sniffing!