Nose twitching, tail a blurry wag, your dog loves to get outdoors with you and where better than surrounded by a world of exciting scents in the forest?
I adore my cocker spaniel Freddie, and love taking him with me when I go on holiday; sure that means staying reasonably close to home - no exotic beaches for a start! - but watching the pure joy on his face as he scampers about, snuffling happily at all those new smells and then listening to his contented snores as he curls up at my feet, flat-out after a day exploring by my side makes it all worthwhile. So here are my top ten things to think about when you pick a forest holiday for you and your dog.
1. That first moment when you walk into the forest and see your dog’s tail go into a frenzy of wagging. Freddie always races ahead and then comes back and jumps up and down with glee in front of me, as if to say thank you, before zooming off into the undergrowth for a good sniff. Unbeatable.
2. As the seasons change in the forest, so too does its landscape. From spring and new growth to full-blown summer and those lazy long sunny days. And yes, there may be much less wet dog to scrub down (don’t forget a towel!) but to me, nothing beats a long walk in autumn, my wellingtons crunching through a carpet of scarlet, orange and lemon-yellow leaves with an excited dog scampering in front of me.
3. The forest is home to any number of wild creatures and birds - all of whom your dog may want to chase, sorry Freddie - these are not your toys. The Countryside Code states that dogs need to be under “effective control” which means on a lead, or in sight at all times with confidence that they will return to you promptly on command.
4. It’s said that stress travels down the lead and it’s certainly true, whenever I feel anxious or stressed out, I can be fairly sure Freddie will respond and act out too. Spending time surrounded by the greenery of the forest isn’t just good for dogs, it’s good for us humans too. In Japan they call it shinrin-yoku “forest-bathing.” Taking a stroll through the trees with the dappled light shining through the canopy of leaves above gives you a sense of feeling restored - thanks to being surrounded by nature.
5. Respect for other creatures is essential when you’re getting back to nature and so don’t forget that between 1 March and 31 July you should be aware of any ground nesting birds that may need protection. That means keeping your dog on a short lead if you enter their habitat.
6. For many dogs, one of the joys of forest walks is the other dogs that they meet along the way. Socialised dogs enjoy playing with others and nothing makes a dog more likely to curl up happily in their basket at the end of the day than a play session with new friends.
Did you know?
Always make sure your pet stays hydrated, or it may try to drink water from puddles which may be high in toxins which could make your dog sick.
7. If your dog is anything like my spaniel then they’ll love rolling in horrible-smelling things! While you’re out, enjoying nature, your dog may be rolling in a pile of fox poo - and believe me - that is no fun to try and scrub off. If you spot them about to roll, call your dog in a high pitched, excited tone. Yelling never helps! If you’re too late then hopefully you’ve packed the dog shampoo.
8. Bored dogs are destructive, barky dogs. Dogs need to be exercised everyday and yours will thank you with wonderful good manners and a display of their absolute best behaviour after a few hours romping in the forest. Dogs see the world through scent and all those new smells, combined with all that exercise will guarantee the perfect pooch.
9. Just as you make sure you’re prepared before heading off into the wild, make sure that your dog is prepared too; they should have a collar with a tag with your phone number engraved on it. Responsible owners have their pets chipped, it takes a few seconds in the vet - it’s just a quick and painless injection under their skin of a microchip - and it means that your dog can ‘tell’ a vet how to contact you.
10. Finally, stay safe - if you’re really not sure about your dog’s recall then you risk possible heartbreak by letting them run off lead. The best purchase I made was a 50’ long lead - it meant that Freddie could run off and play with the lead trailing behind him, but it also meant that I could easily grab it if he ran off! He stays safe and still has fun and I don’t have to worry about him getting into mischief.
Did you know?
Breathe in those amazing smells in the forest, now imagine what your dog - who has an olafactory sense one hundred thousand to one million times more sensitive than yours - can smell!