Lexi is a super-fit, ball chasing, stick chomping, fell running, rock scrambling 6 year old Drakeshead Labrador. As well as all these hobbies she is also the company mascot of my company Lakeland Mountain Guides and my wife’s Lakeland Dog Walker. She is a regular on the fells and always becomes the most loved member of the group. When not out 'working' with my groups she plays referee on the numerous Lakeland Dog Walker pack walks. On average she will exercise about 25 hours a week but it’s not always been that way. In this short blog we will try to help you understand and plan how to get your puppy to become a pro mountainhound in the kindest way to their growing body, as well as providing some hints and tips of where to go and when.
As an outdoor enthusiast I was keen to get a dog to join me on my adventures but I soon realised it wouldn’t be as simple as just getting stuck in to some running with my new dog. It’s plain and simple, if you over exercise your puppy too soon it could have long term debilitating effects on its body which just isn’t fair for the sake of getting that summit shot.
General advice from the Kennel Club is that you should provide '5 minutes of exercise per month of age, up to twice daily', so unless you live right next to a small hill, hillwalking is probably out of the question with your pooch until it is nearing one year of age. Different breeds however have different exercise demands, and a Border Collie, Spaniel or Labrador may be raring to go and capable before this time, but that brings its own hazards too. Spaniels in particular love to run in circles getting in amongst everything, usually at speed. This charging around can lead to them jumping off of rocks, fallen trees and even small crags depending on their bravery! It is worth being conscious of where you’re exercising your puppy to prevent too much impact going through those young joints if they are of a bouncy nature.
So we’ve established a couple of things to be conscious of with regards to exercise, but what about developing our puppy’s brain to make it mountain savvy?
Numerous clients have made comments about Lexi’s ability to scramble up rocks with ease – usually as they’re gripped on Striding Edge as Lexi dances along the crest without a care. At a very young age I took the time to get Lexi and myself on little patches of rough ground so she could start to acclimatise herself with the challenges it poses. I didn’t even need to go on to the fells for this as there are plenty of opportunities on the shores of the lakes, with Friars Crag near Keswick being one particularly memorable experience. A key objective I wanted Lexi to achieve was to gain the awareness of when something is safe to challenge and when there may be higher consequences. To date Lexi must be nearing a couple of hundred traverses of Striding Edge, all with minimal help or management required from me.
What does make Lexi a dream to go into the fells with is her lack of interest in Sheep – I reckon Lexi has actually been chased by more sheep than she’s chased! Being able to run or walk without needing to keep her on a lead or trying to get an eye around that hillock looking for livestock before she sees them is a dream, and in truth I’m not sure I’d enjoy being out with her as much if I had to do those things. Again, at a very young age we nipped it in the bud. There are multiple techniques worth researching as to how best to shake that sheep chasing desire. We went with a simple method of walking her in close proximity to sheep whilst on a lead and just gently tugged on her lead when she showed an interest. It didn’t take long before she showed no interest at all.
A final thing I would recommend working on until it is perfected before making way for those big hills is recall. Hopefully you’ve managed to get your dog trained to a point where it can be off the lead and won’t be hunting out that sheep, but knowing it’ll come back to you at a call or gesture will put your mind at ease for your days out. It is worth remembering that sometimes words can easily get lost in the wind so maybe consider training your dog to a whistle as well, or even going that one step further and having an obvious arm signal your dog will know to come back to.
So what Lakeland Fells make great starter walks for when they are capable?
All of the above walks can be completed in around 60-120 minutes depending on where you’re starting from.
As you progress on to the higher more rugged fells do consider the effect the terrain will have on your pooches’ pads. The more exposure it has to rough terrain on the build up to these more challenging walks the better their paws will fair. Here in the Lake District fells such as Scafell Pike, Great Gable or Bowfell can be particularly wearing on those paws.
I certainly hope this short blog provides some food for thought on how to best approach turning your new puppy into the ultimate mountain hound! We wish you many happy adventures with your four-legged friend for many years to come.
Article written by Matt Le Voi, Lakeland Mountain Guides.