Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hiking with Greyhounds

Stephen and I enjoy hiking with our greyhounds. We usually do a couple of short hikes each week on some private property near our house. Occasionally, we seek out a longer 5 - 6 mile hike. We thoroughly enjoy going to Cloudland Canyon. Teresa, especially, loved to hike and we took her to Cloudland Canyon when we knew it was our last chance and that her failing health would be slowing her down in the near future.

Unfortunately, not all hikes are suitable for dogs. Park rangers and volunteers will build bridges and stairs to make unpassable terrain... passable, but I don't think they consider safety for dogs in their designs......... or even humans in some cases.

For today's hike (the Cumberland Trail), we chose Travis and Reagan. Travis is always good for a long hike if its not too hot and Reagan was ready for a good test. Well, the trail proved to not be very dog friendly, in my opinion. It was very rocky and the dogs struggled and climbed over seemingly endless rocks. There were steep flights of stairs with missing steps..... some were carved out of the rock, some were railroad ties, and the rest were made of wood planks.

The worst part was 2 sway bridges that we had to cross going out and then again coming back. The first bridge was not very long, but the first wooden slat on land was missing. It was best if each person and dog did the bridge by him or herself to minimize the bounce on the bridge. Stephen went first, then Travis, then Reagan, and then me. Travis didn't clear the gaping hole with his right hind leg and slipped through scraping up his stifle joint. Reagan was smart and jumped off the side of the bridge onto land rather than trying to negociate the missing slat and the slippery wood slope leading to land that follows. The next bridge was even worse because it was 3 or 4 times as long as the first one. Again, Stephen went first and then Travis followed. And then Reagan. Both dogs started out trotting and then finished the bridge in a gallop........... me cringing from the other side, but not wanting to interfere or cause problems.

At this point, I asked how much further till we would reach the turn around point and hike everything we had already been through again. Stephen estimated that we were about halfway and asked if I wanted to turn back. I wussed out and was ready to head home. For me, I'm out there hiking my "show" dogs if you want to call them that. They are very valuable to me in the respect that I spend a great deal of time training and I would hate to do anything that may undo any of our hard work by taking unnecessary risks. In less than a week, Travis is competing for his last double qualifying score towards being the first greyhound to earn two Master Agility Championships and the last thing he needs is to have bruised feet or to be injured. Reagan is learning about contact obstacles (A-frame, teeter, and dogwalk) and if she slips and falls on a stupid wooden bridge, she may decide that climbing and crossing wooden obstacles to not be her cup of tea.

I don't believe in keeping them in bubbles, but there is no reason for me to take my greyhounds on difficult hikes when we have a safe, local options available. Its the same reason I don't lure course. We have so many other safe options for exercise and fun that there is no need for my greyhounds to lure course. Its not "if" a greyhound will get hurt, its "when". I'm not against lure coursing at all, but its just too risky for my greyhounds and the plans I have for them.

Stephen had done the Cumberland trail once before with one of his greyhounds, Julie, and felt that it was a good hike for dogs, but I think we discovered that our opinions differ when determining trail "suitability" for dogs. The difference is that his dogs are hiking companions and pets. If Julie had slipped on the bridge it would not interfere with her job as house pet. If she bruised a foot, she can take a week off. Its ok to do a challenging hike with a dog you consider a hiking companion..... but I decided I probably shouldn't with a dog I consider my agility superstar :-). Unfortunately, Stephen's hiking companions are now limited to shorter local hikes due to old lure coursing injuries that flair up after a couple of miles, so for now I think we will just enjoy long, challenging hikes without dogs.