BATCHELDERS GRANT – Judy Higgins has watched her golden retriever, Abby, hike up mountains carrying rocks, sticks, even logs.

As if hiking a 4,000-footer is not enough, the ever-busy golden has to turn it into a job of “retrieving.”

Two weeks ago, Higgins enjoyed hiking through a canopy of color along with her three golden retrievers.

Higgins started by asking the dogs at the trail head to East Royce Mountain if they were ready to “hike,” and a series of howls ensued.

Outside of hunting season, Higgins hikes virtually every week of the year, right through the winter. And she does evsery hike with her dogs, because she said it’s simply better.

Taking several precautions before the hike and at the trail head, dog owners can get more out of their relationships with their pups by hiking with them.

David Chaplin at Falls Road Veterinary Clinic in Farmington sees loads of active dogs up in hiking country in the western Maine mountains. Chaplin said the biggest dangers dogs face hiking are diseases.

Chaplin suggests dog owners be wary or at least aware of the diseases that can be contracted outside, and the remedies.

The outdoor risks can be decreased by vaccines for tick-borne diseases such as Lyme and anaplasmosis, and for diseases such as leptospirosis, which is contracted from the urine of wild animals.

“If they go drink in a puddle where there is leptospirosis, then there can be very serious risk of it assaulting the liver or kidney. It can cause acute kidney failure. There is not a ton of it in the state, but it is being diagnosed,” Chaplin said.

Wearing tick protection also is recommended, Chaplin said.

But dogs also can contract other diseases, even with all these vaccines. Pups can pick up giardia by drinking from a stream, same as people. Chaplin said animals also can contract the intestinal bug from eating deer or moose droppings, an activity dogs relish.

And even with every precaution, a well-protected pup can get after a porcupine.

However, Higgins has found hiking is the perfect workout for a dog, following the natural migration ritual of the canine world.

And Chaplin said a good hiking companion may not be based so much on the breed or size as on the individual dog.

Smaller dogs, like a terrier or cocker spaniel, may do well. But older athletic dogs may not.

Deciding which dog can tackle a 4,000-footer is a common-sense call, Chaplin said.

Higgins pushes her pups, but they run with her most days. She said a dog owner should work a pet up to the challenge of a mountain hike and not expect it to go from inactivity to a rigorous half-day hike.

When Abby was 7 weeks old, Higgins started the dog hiking. Three years later, C.J. and Molly joined their pack-mate. But to Abby it’s always a mission.

One time the retriever carried a bird-sized stone up Mount Jackson in New Hampshire.

Higgins brings dog packs to slow the rambunctious canines. Making a dog carry the snacks helps it pace itself, Higgins said,

But even with this regimen, problems can arise with retrievers who like to swim in icy streams.

“That can be dangerous. There have been some soggy sandwiches,” Higgins said.

Higgins packs food and water for the dogs, and booties in case they cut their paws.

She also has an extra treat bag hooked to her own pack for quick rewards to help assure that her dogs will step aside for other hikers.

But Higgins said it’s the time together that makes her goldens so eager to follow her every command, even lining up and posing at the top of East Royce Mountain by the summit cairn.

“I have thousands of photos from hikes,” Higgins said. “They look so happy. They like doing this. It’s definitely bonding time.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]