|Sandy enjoying one of many backpacks on trail....|
My family set off on an early season hike one year in the Yolla Bolly Wilderness area of Northern California. Wilderness areas are accepting of dogs, so we brought our two labrador retrievers, Sandy, and her daughter, Cali. Excited about the first hike of the season, we woke early and got to the trailhead by a decent hour. We all donned our packs, including the dogs, and set off up the trail. Our path was snow free and well trod for easy hiking...or so we thought. As the day warmed, we all slowed on the steady climb. Because of the heat, I didn't realize there might be a different reason Sandy was slowing. We got to our first creek crossing and Sandy flopped down in the water...not wanting to move when we were ready to continue on. Calling her was of no avail...a certain warning bell for all of us. I went back to where she lay and that is when I first noticed her paws. Her raw and bleeding paws, with a slab of pad sliced off on one foot made me gasp in shock! We had only gone about a mile and a half...what had happened? As we looked around at the path we'd followed, we noticed it was a bit rough, but not enough to do the damage to Sandy that we saw. Then we realized the creek itself was layed with sharp rocks. The combination of slightly rough trail, and sharp creek rocks had shredded poor Sandy's pads. Our dogs were in trouble.
There was no way we could continue our trip. And though the car was only one and a half miles back, there was no way Sandy could make it on her own...and we could not carry a 60 pound dog. I had everybody scramble through their packs to find what we could and coming up with bandanas and extra wool socks...we managed to bandage and cover her feet with a thick enough layer that she could hobble slowly back down the trail with us.
We went straight back to the car, scrapping our backpacking trip. On the way home, we spotted a turnoff for a little lake with what appeared to be a primitive car camping area ...turning off the main road we went to investigate. There wasn't much there, just the lake and a couple of picnic tables and fire rings. But, we had the place to ourselves. Lifting Sandy from the car onto her blanket on the picnic table...she enjoyed a place of royalty that night.
Once at home, I took her to my vet and here is what she said. Boots are difficult to use and hard to keep on (maybe nowadays there are more high tech ones available, but at the time there wasn't much choice). There was a chemical we could use that would toughen her pads, but chances are it would end up making them crack and defeat our purpose. Or....we could condition our dog's feet before trips while we condition ourselves. She said get them out everyday on varying types of surfaces for at least a mile daily for at least 6 weeks before a backpack trip. Dogs pads are much like our feet and can be babyskin soft if not conditioned, or can callus up like shoe leather!
I opted for the conditioning route and enjoyed many years of hiking with my dogs with no further feet mishaps...simply because I religiously conditioned their paws daily for weeks ahead of time taking them on sand, rocks, bark, gravel etc etc etc!
Stay tuned though for more doggy trail tales and tips from lessons learned the hard way....:)