How Hiking Helps Dogs Reconnect With Their (Real) Nature

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

hiking connects dogs with nature

Story at-a-glance

  • If you feel stressed by the busyness of life, but love the outdoors because it inspires a feeling of contentment, your dog may feel the same way
  • For dogs, the essence of nature actually is their nature, which can explain why your couch potato dog suddenly comes to life when he’s outside enjoying the sights and sounds of the great outdoors
  • Experts say fresh air purifies the blood, even for dogs, soothes frazzled nerves, stimulates a healthy appetite and is vital for cell metabolism and overall immunity
  • There are several reasons why hitting the trail on a regular basis is important for dogs, such as helping to “ground” them, as well as provide aerobic exercise and abundant opportunities to smell new scents
  • When you and your pup take a hike together, know the area’s leash laws and be prepared with basic tips on how to connect with nature safely

When the daily grind of work, schedules, traffic and tension start to get you down, you may find it mildly surprising (and maybe a little sad) to realize that your dog may feel similar stress, but just doesn’t know how to express it.

But when you hit the trail with your dog in tow, allowing the sounds and scents of your natural surroundings to seep into your consciousness — the sky, the exhilarating breeze and the crunch of earth under your feet — it’s altogether possible your pet experiences the same up-shifting, mood-lifting mindset.

As the essence of nature begins to expand your consciousness, you may realize your favorite canine is right there with you, slipping even more quickly than you into a sense of ease and well-being. The only difference is that for dogs, the essence of nature actually is their nature. As a commentary in The Bark notes:

“Hiking with a pack of dogs can be a path to self-discovery. I don’t think I’m overreaching by speculating that when we’re moving confidently and gracefully in unison along an ancient path in the deep woods, something primal kicks in …”1

Depending on their breed and natural tendencies as working dogs, retrievers, herders or hounds, you may witness your normally timid terrier vigorously tearing up a patch of earth for an elusive mouse. And even if your pooch is a chronic couch potato, you might be delighted to find him bounding through the trees after a squirrel or rustling leaf.

Why Dogs Need to Walk on the Wild Side

Because we sometimes forget their “wild” nature, we may believe dogs don’t enjoy romping around outside in the cold, but there you’d be wrong. Dogs love it. Not bone-chilling cold for very long, but some dogs enjoy a lot of weather people don’t, including the kind that makes you walk briskly and keep your arms swinging at your sides. According to Eco News Network:

“Fresh air is vital to all living things, especially dogs. It is essential to give your dog fresh air, even in chilly temperatures. For all bodies, fresh air purifies the blood, soothes the nerves, stimulates appetites, rids the body of impurities, is necessary for cell metabolism, and is essential for overall immunity.

It can be easy to forget that your dog is an animal (after all, they are a part of your family) but it is important to remember they are in fact not people and they need plenty of fresh air.”2

In fact, fresh air and exercise outside is vital to your dog’s happiness and well-being, which Animal Wellness Magazine3 explains is why dogs typically jump to the ready every time they hear someone say “go for a walk.” Here are five reasons why spending time outside is not just enjoyable to them, but healthy, too:

  • Getting outdoors allows dogs to get fresh air — Other than extreme air quality issues, in most cases the air outside is better than air inside. Synthetic carpets and upholstery, chemical cleaners and other toxins can make people sick, but can have a worse effect on our furry pets. Spending regular time outdoors can help offset such toxic exposures.
  • It helps with weight control — Especially when your dog spends most of his days and nights lying around, pet obesity is more of an issue today than ever, which can negatively impact them in ways you may not have envisioned as it can lead to other conditions, such as osteoarthritis, heart failure and intervertebral disc disease.
  • It helps reduce anxiety, boredom and depression — Toys may help distract your dog from feeling the natural results of having nothing much to do while they’re inside, but a chance to “blow off steam” by running around and smelling the roses outside is the best remedy for both restless and listless dogs. Offering abundant opportunities for your dog to sniff is an easy way to dramatically improve their quality of life, while experiencing the great outdoors.
  • “Earthing” is important for dogs — If you’ve ever wondered why your pup loves rolling in the grass or dirt, the answer can be explained in part by the Earth’s magnetism. When they’re indoors the majority of their days, they’re not exposed to the Earth’s magnetic current, and instead are overexposed to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that cause them, like people, harmful effects.4

Don’t Forget Where You Are

When it’s just you and your best bud taking on the trail, it’s enough to make you forget all your troubles. But there’s a caveat to that: Don’t forget that your dog may not be as aware of possible hazards as you are. If you’re in a state or national park or forest, take a look at whether dogs are allowed and specifically where restrictions may be.

Learn leash laws specific to the area as well, so you’ll know where your dog should be wearing one, and make sure your dog is leash trained. The type of leash is often specified, also; many trails and parks are restricted to non-retractable dog leashes that are 6 feet or less.

Some hiking areas are a known quality and there’s little possibility of your dog running off and disappearing forever. But if you hit areas that are expansive and there’s a potential for your dog to get lost or worse, keep the leash on with appropriate ID tags attached to his collar. If your dog tends to get distracted by scent trails, a GPS collar is also a good idea.

Besides keeping your fitness level in mind (for both of you), depending on the length of time you plan to be gone, water will be something your dog needs even more than you if he’s running around exploring. Take a water bottle and a collapsible bowl for your pup. If it’s hot, put off your trek until the weather’s cooler.

As you stroll under a canopy of sky and acknowledge you’re exactly where you need to be, it’s possible your dog feels a similar contentment. Unlike humans, dogs don’t seem to have guilt triggers or a drive to justify that make them mentally assess whether they should be doing something productive instead. They are much better at “living in the now” — something we could all take a lesson from.

 

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