When walking with your dog on the Katy Trail, there are many things to consider from heat related issues to encounters with other dogs, walkers, runners and cyclists not to mention the squirrels that do everything they can to derail the hard work you’ve put in teaching your dog how to heel. I’m on the trail most days and I’ve seen nearly every dog- related problem one can imagine. I’ve witnessed the poor, over-heated dog being pulled along as his running owner seems oblivious to the dog’s distress, the petiteYorkies attached to retractable leashes nearly jump into the mouths of passing Rottweilers and owners taken to the ground by their Blue Heeler’s sudden burst to the right to catch a squirrel. With a little bit of knowledge and awareness, owners can keep themselves and their dog’s safe when walking on our trail.

When it comes to protecting dogs from the heat, I like to take a preventative approach. Before you head out consider the temperature, the temperature of the surface your dog will be walking on (remember you’re wearing shoes, he isn’t), the humidity, your dog’s known tolerance to heat, the color of his coat, whether or not he is brachycephalic and if you will have access to shade and water. Some dogs have “heat intelligence” and some do not. While dogs will give many indications that they are overheating, it is important to remember their enthusiasm can be misleading. Some dogs’ excitement and eagerness to please their owners will cause them to push themselves to the point of collapse while others will seek shade, rest and water.

If it’s above 80 degrees, you’re in the danger zone. Don’t let the clouds be an indicator of comfort. The humidity, even on cloudy days, can be very difficult on your dog. Before you ask your dog to walk on a paved surface, place your palm on the surface for a few seconds to determine whether or not you feel you would be comfortable walking on that surface in bare feet. If the answer is “no”, it may be too hot for your dog. If your dog is new to you or you haven’t done much outdoor exercising with your dog, plan to take it easy while observing your dog until you learn his level of heat tolerance. The darker the dog the less tolerant he will be to the sun’s rays. If your dog is brachycephalic, e.g. Pugs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs his ability to cool himself is much less than that of a dog with a long snout. Some early signs to be aware of when trying to decipher whether or not your dog is in distress are heavy panting, excessive thirst, weakness, increased heartbeat, and bright or dark red tongue. My friend Bill, an employee for the Katy Trail, has helped drive one too many dogs on his golf cart to the vet clinic for emergency treatment for heat related distress. Many dogs die from heatstroke every summer. This fate is always preventable.

Another concern on the trail, aside form heat related dangers, are the distractions of other dogs, walkers, runners, cyclists and squirrels. Almost all incidents can be avoided with a little training, proper equipment and presence of mind. Most every potential danger related to distractions can be prevented with a four foot or shorter leash, walking your dog next to you on your right (yes, right) and being aware of who and what is around you. I have taught my dog to “heel” (walk at my side on the left) and “other side” (walk at my side on the right). This is very helpful on the Katy Trail. For most of the time, I keep Nitro on my right when on the trail. That way, all that are faster than us can pass us without having to worry whether or not my dog will interfere with their activity and in this way I insure Nitro will not be startled by someone coming up next to him. There is one time in particular that I make him come to a heel (left side) and that is when we pass the colony of feral cats living in the ravine. (It is the cats that terrorize my dog.)

Recently, one of my clients recounted a story to me about his medium-sized shepherd mix darting through the trees on the Katy Trail and scooping up a Chihuahua in her mouth. The Chihuahua was badly injured and all four of them spent the next couple of hours at the nearest veterinary clinic. Anyone hearing this story for the first time might think my client’s dog has aggression toward little dogs but listening to the details of the story I determined that the dog thought the Chihuahua was a squirrel. If my client had not been allowing his dog to walk on a retractable leash and chase the squirrels on a regular basis on the Katy Trail, the incident most likely would not have happened. I advised him to make her heel, teach her “other side” and walk her on a short leash next to him at all times.

For many reasons, it is very dangerous to let your dog off-lead or to roam at the end of the leash in front of you or crossing back and forth while on the trail. Not all dogs appreciate their space being invaded by another dog. This can prove very dangerous for the unsuspecting, friendly dog that merely wandered over to say hello not to mention the danger the owners are put in when breaking up a dog fight. If you are running with your Pomeranian on a retractable leash and he decides to dart to the left to visit a dog crossing his path, he can easily be trampled by other runners or a cyclist not to mention he might not be met with friendliness from the other dog.

The Katy Trail is a wonderful place to walk our dogs but we must take care when doing so. Give your dog some training so that walking is controlled, use a short leash and provide your dog with water and shade as necessary. For the safety of your dog, watch the weather and your surroundings to ensure that your time on the trail is enjoyable. Otherwise, you might end up spending your afternoon and your hard-earned money at the vet clinic instead of walking on the Katy Trail.