Falcon Guides The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs
This dog hiking book is subtitled "Trail-Tested Tips and Expert Advice for Canine Adventures." The book certainly does provide much helpful information for those interested in outdoor adventures with their dogs. It focuses on hiking, but also gives the reader insight into dog behavior and the relationship between dog and human. "The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs" varies in its thoroughness as it broaches a plethora of important aspects of dog hiking, but I can recommend it as a helpful guide for beginning dog hikers, or for more experienced dog adventurers looking to assess their current practices.
- Visually appealing with great photos
- Includes guest authors to address specific topics
- Does not shy away from discussing sometimes contentious issues
- Includes information helpful beyond the scope of dog hiking
- Does not include adequate information about some common gear, yet spends excessive time on discussing gear used by few dogs
- Very brief index makes it sometimes hard to locate topics in text
- Chapters seems to shrink in content and amount of information as the book progresses
Introduction: Hot off the presses! I was given the opportunity to reviewThe Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs just before its publication date of May 1, 2021. I was interested in checking it out, as I am often called upon to give advice to others about hiking (or canoeing) with dogs, and I am always looking for new ideas or techniques to share.
Authored by Jen Sotolongo with contributing commenters, this book is published by Falcon Guides, one of their well-known series of books on outdoor activities, travel, and hobbies. I have borrowed Falcon Guides from our library, and also own a few; I have always found them informative, well-written, and useful. I also have quite a library of books on dog training and dog activities, so I was curious as to how I would react to this Falcon Guide.
Book Design and Layout
The Falcon Guide book is a paperback, 7.5 x 9.5 inches in size, has 196 content pages, including lots of great color shots of dogs. There are 11 chapters and a brief index, short bios on contributing authors, a guide for top dog hikes in each state, and gear packing checklists.
This book is available in digital format, on Kindle; the first 15 pages, and last 13 pages are available for preview on the amazon.com site.
The suggested price (US) is $24.95 for the paperback, and $17.99 for the Kindle edition. The book is available online, and from outdoor retailers such as REI.
Chapters and Content
The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs is described as covering all the "need-to-know topics" for both beginning dog hikers and more experienced hikers and dog adventurers. It is said to "inspire and inform any adventure dog and their humans." Certainly the beautiful imagery would make one want to get out there with their dog, though identifying the location of each gorgeous shot would be helpful and informative.
It is essential that anyone taking their dog on outdoor adventures be familiar with basic techniques, safety, and etiquette. This "Essential Guide" would fall within the category of being a good source of information for an aspiring dog adventurer and their human.
As I began reading the introductory sections, I quickly realized that I recognized the author Jen Sotolongo from her social media accounts. In fact, I also recognized a guest author, and many of the dogs in the photos. As is often the case with dog adventurers active on social media, we recognize others' dogs before we know the owners. Though this book definitely has a Pacific Northwest vibe, the information can be applied to dog hiking anywhere.
The chapters address a variety of topics, and offer both the author's experience and insight, as well as that from other contributors.
Presentation of Material
As I proceeded to read the introduction, and then the beginning chapters, it became clear that the author is willing to share her experiences, including mistakes she has made, to help others in their dog hiking experiences. Early on, she emphasizes that each dog is different, and that there are variations in techniques and gear for every dog hiker. There is a strong emphasis on the relationship between dog and owner, that is critical from the moment one chooses a dog, and through all the training and outings on the trail.
I was impressed that the author is not afraid to address controversial issues without judgement, while providing clear information and rationale one can use when considering these issues. The areas she addresses include breeders vs. rescue mutts, “bully breeds,” prong collars, e-collars, muzzles, leash vs. no-leash, and dog parks. She expresses the belief that since each dog is different, sometimes alternative methods are needed so the dog can safely participate in outdoor activities. She understands the importance of using any techniques properly, with the dog's safety as prime concern.
The list of chapters clearly shows that a wide variety of topics are covered in this book, information that would be very helpful to a "newbie" at dog hiking. I cannot disagree with her content, but as an experienced outdoor adventurer with dogs, and having presented many seminars in which folks ask particular questions, I feel there is a lack of balance in the content presented.
Reviewer's Impressions and Comments
Some examples of this lack of balance are in chapters on First Aid, Gear, and Hiking with a Reactive Dog. For example, in the Health and Safety chapter, the author does not provide technical skills on first aid, but rather what to bring to be prepared, and where to look for canine First Aid classes.
She talks about a few trail hazards (salmon poisoning, toxic plants, and rattlesnakes) that are not the most common a dog may encounter, yet does not address many of the more common ones dog hikers face (skunks, porcupines, barbed wire fences, sharp sticks, debris, cliffs). She does discuss ticks, which unfortunately are a nationwide issue.
She also recommends the carrying of a rescue harness, but does not provide a photo of such gear. There is a photo of a FidoPro AirLift rescue harness earlier in the book, but out of context, and with no descriptive caption. There is no mention of the critical need to have a dog wear a safety vest, or how to safely hike during hunting season.
Another example of confusing emphasis is in the Reactive Dog section, with four pages of narrative on using muzzles. However, the book provides only four paragraphs on harness selection, which is critically important. There are no descriptive photos or diagrams on how to select or fit a harness. Having seen many improperly selected and used harnesses out on the trail, I think this component of the book is lacking. Also, I have seen thousands of dogs on the trail, but never one in a muzzle; I know of only one dog I follow on social media that uses a muzzle while hiking.
In addition to questions about harnesses, in our dog hiking seminars we are frequently asked about the selection of a dog backpack. Yet here, there is a mere half page discussion of dog packs in the backpacking section; again, photos, fitting diagrams, and illustrations would help someone just starting out.
Areas of Emphasis and Suggested Clarifications
The author presents a very comprehensive and thorough emphasis on trail etiquette, dog and hiker behavior on trails (including following Leave No Trace Principles), and respecting other trail users. I was pleased to see her emphasis on not having a dog hike off-leash unless it meets the very high bar of 100% recall, all the time, and in all circumstances.
It was interesting to see that she does finally, briefly, mention the option for hands-free hiking, using a trekking line. She mentioned using a line designed for canicross or skijoring; yet, she does not explain these activities. When I tell folks I skijor, I am often met with a blank stare, as even many dog owners are not familiar with the activity. Later in the book, in the section on alternative activities, she gives a nice explanation of trail running with your dog...yet, she does not identify this activity by its recognized term, canicross.
I agree with 99% of the author's content, though I may have some quibbles with the amount of emphasis on some areas. I do have one clear disagreement with her, in the section on dealing with off-leash dogs running towards your own dog. She (as have others) suggests throwing a handful of treats towards the dog, in order to distract it. Anyone with even a modicum of training in behavior modification knows that this teaches the off-leash dog that running up to other dogs equals treats.
Throughout the book, the author discusses the need for your dog to be controlled on the trail; I never located any reference to the issue of people hiking with more than one dog. Having encountered single hikers with two, three, and even five dogs off-leash, we know what a disaster that can be. In fact, the Appalachian Mountain Club, in its suggestions for hiking with dogs, states that one should: a. Hold the dog-to-human ratio at 1:1. If dogs outnumber people, it can be difficult to quickly control your dogs., and b. Limit the total number of dogs in your hiking group to two, regardless of the number of humans. Three or more dogs hiking together become a pack of dogs, which can be intimidating to other hikers and increases the impact to the environment.
I wish she had addressed this issue to the extent she had with other less problematic ones.
Content Areas Beyond Hiking
There is a section about other outdoor activities, besides hiking, that you can participate in with a dog. It is really just an introduction to these activities, and she never mentions snowshoeing or skijoring, though she did discuss winter hiking earlier in the book. She writes about mountain biking, bicycle touring, paddleboarding (and kayak and canoe, very briefly.) In this brief section, she does say that a dog should always wear a life jacket while on a canoe, kayak, or SUP, but she neglects to say that humans should also always wear one, to better help a dog in an emergency (besides, it is common sense to always wear a PFD). This chapter also neglects to mention a common prime paddle safety rule—do not leash your dog in a canoe or kayak, due to the entanglement hazard.
There is a two-page gear guide provided, but it is very brief in substance, and provides only cursory assistance for the selection of harnesses, leashes, water bowls, and booties.
Dog Hiking Resources
A description of some of the "best" dog-friendly hikes in each of the U.S. states is provided; the term "best" is subjective, and just as each dog is different, our preferences of hikes and perception of difficulty may vary. However, it is a helpful section, as it provides links for the major hiking organizations in each state, that can be used as a resource to locate more trails.
For additional information, I have found that most hiking associations offer information on hiking with dogs, such as the example I provided earlier from the Appalachian Mountain Club. The Adirondack Mountain Club, the Green Mountain Club, and the Washington Trails Association among others, offer videos, training tips, book suggestions, and even seminars and workshops on outdoor activities with dogs.
Following social media dog groups in your own geographical area can also lead you to events and seminars; some dog shelters even offer programs which train volunteers to take rescue dogs hiking, in order to showcase their potential as an adventure partner.
Keep in mind that no matter which resource you rely upon for help, not all suggestions or techniques may be suitable for your own dog. Be sure to keep you, and your dog's, safety, health, and happiness as a priority.
I found the Index to be rather brief; terms such as leashes, harnesses, wildlife, and barking are not included. You really have to search to find out some specific information.
As an experienced long-time dog outdoor adventurer, I did enjoy The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs, and would recommend it to others. It would have been nice to have this information many years ago (yes, 45 years ago!) when I first started hiking and paddling with a dog. But, as the author did, I learned from my mistakes, from others, and my experiences. I consider this book a good addition to our dog hiking library, and feel confident recommending it to those who may ask for a reference, or who may attend our dog hiking seminars.
I have been hiking and adventuring with dogs for 50 years, and have trained dogs for agility, obedience, and rally. I was a state police K9 officer, and trained and worked with a patrol dog for 6 years. My husband and I have given presentations on safe and responsible outdoor adventuring with dogs for community groups, hiking clubs, and at paddle sport shows. We are avid canoeists, campers, hikers, and snowshoers, and always include our rescue mutts in our fun!
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps
(Review copy provided by Falcon Guides)
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Current Retail: $24.95
9.25 in x 7.5 in