1. While winter temperatures in Southern California deserts are mild, heat can still build up fast inside a car. Be very, very cautious about leaving your dog unattended, even for a short while. If you must step away for a few minutes, make sure the outdoor temperature is below 60 degrees, and leave the windows cracked.
2. Bring water—lots of water. Dogs, like people, need frequent hydration in a desert climate. It’s a good idea to carry water for both of you wherever you go, whether on foot or in a vehicle. If your dog isn’t trained to drink from a water bottle while hiking, carry a collapsible bowl.
3. Carry a Leatherman tool or similar device incorporating pliers or tweezers for extracting cactus thorns from your dog’s paws. Check pads and between the toes frequently. Even if you never leave the parking lot, thorns will get in there!
4. Be constantly aware of the temperature and texture of asphalt, sand and gravel under your dog’s feet. Pads can burn and abrade more easily than you might expect. Your local pet supply store should have a variety of booties that you should carry when traveling in desert areas.
5. Why all those restrictions on dogs in California’s desert parks? While it’s unlikely your well-trained pup will chase or harass a bighorn sheep or come nose-to-nose with a rattlesnake, it does happen in the desert. Park officials also cite the fact that because wildlife senses all canines as predators, dogs’ presence on trails causes other animals to retreat, thus reducing their habitat.
6. More compelling reasons for not letting your dog run free in the desert, perhaps, include hazards posed by snakes, stickers, thorns, fire ants, coyotes, mountain lions, valley fever and hanta virus-carrying rodents.
Our suggestion: If you want to hike desert trails with your four-legged friend, seek out BLM or forest-service lands where few restrictions apply.
7. The beauty of the desert demands respect and care by all who visit, including us Trekkers. Please do your part to preserve this special environment. Pack out what you pack in, always clean up after your dog and take only pictures—leave only footprints and pawprints.