Hiking with Dogs: Everything You Need to Know
Hiking with your furry companion is an excellent pastime, it gives you valuable pet-owner bonding time, and it’s good fun and great exercise for dog and human alike. Any hiker who owns a dog knows the joys of taking man’s best friend on the trail; they’re the perfect hiking companion. However, before hiking with your pup, there’s some important information everyone should know.
When hiking with your dog instead of solo or in a group, there are extra considerations to take into account. You are fully responsible for your dog on the trail, for the safety of your pooch, the wildlife, and other hikers in the area. From properly packing out your dog’s waste to the prevention of heatstroke, there’s a lot to keep in mind. Dogs who go on hiking trails must be well trained, appropriately prepared and conditioned, and above all, the owner should be well prepared too. When hiking with your dog, you need to know dog first aid, you have to carry all the necessary items, and you must be confident in your pooches training to name just a few things.
Not all hiking trails are open to dogs, and this is another factor to consider. Don’t worry though, as some of the most beautiful hiking trails are open to our furry companions. The trail to summit Mount Whitney is open to dogs, so your pooch can even see the highest peak in the continental United States. To find out more about the Mount Whitney Trail and others, read about the best hiking trails in California.
Why hike with your dog?
Hiking with a canine companion may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, as there’ll be much more preparation required than for your average hike. However, the rewards are huge, for you and your pooch. Going out and exploring the backcountry is a highly enjoyable experience, and taking along your beloved dog only enhances the fun.
For dogs, hiking can be very fun and exciting. Being in the wilderness means lots of new sights, smells, and sounds, so your dog will get a mental workout as well as a physical one. It takes a lot of planning and care to hike with your dog, preparation is always so important. However, it is so worth it; with the right effort, you’ll have the perfect trail buddy, who’s never grumpy and won’t argue with you!
Can I hike with my dog?
Although hiking is a great form of exercise and entertainment for most dogs, it’s not suitable for every pooch. Before ever taking your dog to even the smallest trial, you must make sure that the hike is appropriate for them. There are several factors that might mean hiking isn’t right for your dog, so read carefully and make sure to always consult a vet before making any decisions.
- Age: Very old and very young canines may not be up to the challenges of the trail. Older dogs can tire and injure more easily, whereas younger pooches might not have the experience required to do well in the backcountry. As well as lacking stamina.
- Health: Of course, your dog will need to be in good health and physical condition in order to hike miles of trails with you. For pups with a pre-existing health issue, check with your vet first, as they may not have to miss out.
- Vaccinations: Puppies and young dogs will have needed to have all their vaccinations before hitting the trail, and owners of older dogs should double-check that everything is up to date.
- Breed: Certain breeds of dogs just aren’t built for strenuous hikes. Brachycephalic breeds (short-muzzled dogs) like bugs and boxers don’t make the best hiking companions. Their shorter muzzles affect their breathing, making it harder in hot conditions and on endurance hikes. These breeds of dogs are at more risk of heatstroke and other problems, so use caution when adventuring. Always start with a short, easy hike, and don’t push your pooch too far.
- Personality: Certain pups, often for reasons related to their breed, can become overly excited in nature. If your pooch is a scent- or sight-hound, the onslaught of stimulus on an adventure hike can make them forget their training and they may become disobedient. Although it may be a happy sight to see your pooch bounding excitedly through fields of wildflowers, you must always make sure you’re in full control of your pet. If your furry friend can’t obey your commands on the trail, then it’s less safe for other hikers, for the wildlife, and for your dog itself.
Preparing to hike with your dog
To hike with your furry best friend requires a lot of preparation, but it’s well worth it for the enjoyment you’ll both get. Putting in the effort to prepare properly means you won’t have to worry on the trail, and can concentrate on having an enriching adventure experience with your pup.
If you’re beginning to hike with your dog for the first time, you’ll need to build up their stamina. Start with some short and easy hikes, no more than an hour long, where both you and your pooch can start getting accustomed to being hiking buddies. Just as you wouldn’t run a marathon before building up some endurance, you can’t take your dog straight to a 30-mile trail. Starting with easy hikes will help your pooch strengthen their endurance, building up their endurance before moving on to more challenging treks. Judge how exhausted your dog is after a hike; if they seem especially tired, choose an easier hike next time before increasing difficulty and duration.
Obedience training is more important than ever out in the wilderness; it’s a highly serious safety issue. Every dog should know basic commands such as “sit”, “stay”, “come”, and “leave it” before ever hitting the trail, and it is the hiker’s responsibility to ensure their dog behaves. Untrained dogs on the trail are in danger from other dogs, other hikers, wild animals, and trail conditions, and the same applies in reverse. If your dog is improperly trained, they may do unpredictable things such as attacking wildlife. No matter how well you know your furry friend, you cannot predict how an animal with such highly developed senses will react when exposed to the wild.
If your dog has never been on an overnight camping trip before, then it’s a good idea to practice this in your backyard first. Similarly, if you decide to equip your pooch with booties or a backpack, they’ll need a little time to get used to them before a long hike. Finally, possibly the most important things to make sure you have before a hiking trip is an ID tag and microchip. The nature of exploring and adventuring with your dog means there’s always a risk of loss, so having an ID tag with your contact details (or better, an implanted microchip) will give you some extra peace of mind.
How to keep your dog safe on the trails
Of course, your main concern when out hiking with your furry friend is their safety. When you take your pet on the trails, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from just watching them. You want your pet to have the best time possible, but at the same time, you want to ensure they leave as happy as they arrived. There are several measures you may need to take before setting off on the trail, to be certain your pup will be safe and well, and some things to look out for once you set off.
Make sure your pet has a health check before their first adventure, as a vet will know best if hiking is suitable for your dog. You’ll need to make sure your pooch is up to date on all regular vaccinations such as rabies, as well as getting extras that are necessary for outdoor expeditions. Parasites such as ticks and fleas pose a threat to man’s best friend, as some carry dangerous diseases. However, problems are easily preventable using parasite preventatives, available in a range of options that your vet will be able to explain.
All well-prepared hikers carry a first aid kit with them, it’s just proper backcountry practice. Just as you would be prepared for a small accident for yourself, you should be so for your furry companion. Canine first aid kits should include a guide on pet first aid, saline, antiseptic, antihistamines (bee stings are a common injury), gauze, bandages and a tick removal tool (also useful for yourself). You should, of course, add any special medicines your vet has prescribed. If you’re planning to do some serious expeditions accompanied by man’s best friend, we recommend taking a basic first aid course for dogs. The Red Cross has a short and handy guide on pet first aid, readers will be prepared for most accidents and have less to worry about.
The best way to make sure your furry companion is well on the trails is to be attentive to them. Pay attention to your dog’s behavior and energy levels; if they stop to rest, allow them to, and offer them plenty of fresh water. Water borne pathogens in lakes and ponds can be dangerous to your dog in the backcountry, so discourage them from drinking any other water by offering them plenty of fresh and clean water regularly. You can never rely on finding fresh water on the trail while hiking with dogs, always pack enough drinking water just as you would for yourself.
What to bring when hiking with a dog
There are certain obvious items you’ll need to bring when hiking with dogs, such as water bowls and dog food. However, there are some you may not have thought of, such as a small flashlight or glow stick so you can see your pup when it’s dark. Here’s our checklist of useful and important things to bring along when hiking with dogs:
- Food: Your pup will need to eat, the best option is dry food with high levels of protein and fat. This will give your pet extra energy on the trails, and you should also feed your pet up to 50% more than usual. Increase your dog’s portion size depending on their fitness level and the difficulty of the hike. It’s best to give your pet small and frequent meals, just like you yourself would snack to keep your energy up on a hike. For long hikes or multi-day trips, consider buying a freeze-dried dog food which would weigh much less.
- Water and bowl: We’re always talking about the importance of hydration for a reason, it’s so important that you and your pup both drink plenty of water! We recommend stopping to rehydrate every 30 minutes at a minimum, depending on trail difficulty. Another hugely important element is temperature; make sure in warm temperatures you give your dog plenty of cold water, it’s one of the best ways to stay cool in the heat. Remember to bring along a bowl too, this collapsible water bowl on Amazon is easy to pack and clean.
- Dog first aid kit: We already covered this one, but don’t forget it!
- Poop bags or trowel: We’ll go into more detail in the trail etiquette section, you should never leave dog poop on the trails under any circumstances.
- Spare leash: It’s of paramount importance to carry a spare dog leash on the trail, you never know when you’ll need it. It’s a good idea to carry a short leash, around 6 feet or less, as this is the safest option for emergencies. A dog’s leash is one of the most important pieces of equipment, for obvious reasons, so make sure you get one of the best dog leashes for hiking.
- Collar with ID tag: We’ve already gone over the importance of this one, make sure your dog is easily identifiable to anyone who might come across it, even for short day hikes.
- Brush/comb and towel: Your pooch is certain to get messy out on an adventure, it’s part of the fun for them. It’s not quite as much fun when they get mud and debris all over your gear afterward, so make sure you have supplies to clean up and dry off.
- Sleeping pad/blanket: Unless your pet is used to sleeping on cold and hard ground, bring along something to make them comfortable for multi-day trips. In cold weather, you may need a dog sleeping bag to keep them warm, like the ones from Ruffwear.
- Socks or booties: Dog booties go over your dog’s paws to protect them from rough terrain. Sharp rocks, thorns, snow, and other ground debris can all injure the pads on your dog’s paws, so offer them some protection, especially on strenuous hikes along rough terrain.
- Dog backpack: If your dog is an appropriate size and breed, they may be able to carry a backpack. This means they can carry a little bit of their own gear, and some dog backpacks come with cooling pads to help prevent heatstroke. If you decide to use a dog pack, make sure you let your pooch get used to it first, and build up the weight slowly before a man and dog backpacking trip.
- Small flashlight or glowstick: It’s very useful to have a small light to attach to your dog’s collar, so you can see them in the dark. Without, overnight trips in the backcountry can turn sour quickly, as you won’t be able to see your pooch once the sun goes down.
Trail etiquette when hiking with dogs
All hikers know about trail etiquette, the things we must all do in order to make sure everyone can enjoy the trails properly. When hiking with dogs, there are a few extra things to think about:
- On-leash is always best: Many state parks and hiking trails allow dogs only if they remain on a leash at all times, so make sure to check the leash laws before you go. This is the best policy for safety reasons, even if your state park allows off-leash dogs, on-leash is always safer for peace of mind.
- Yield to other hikers: When you come across other hikers or bike riders, step off the trail to let them pass always, and hold your pooch out of the way.
- Leave no trace: On day hikes, always pack out your dog’s waste in dog poop bags, you can double bag if you’re worried about leakage. If you’re on a backpacking trip, use the same leave no trace guidelines as you use for yourself; bury dog poop properly with a trowel, at least 200 feet away from trails, camps, and water sources. Keep a watchful eye, and be prepared to intervene quickly if your pet begins to urinate in or near to a water source.
- Protect the wildlife: When you bring a dog into the backcountry, you are responsible for the danger it poses to wildlife. Don’t let your pooch stray too far, play in the water, or chase animals. In general, just be attentive and prevent your furry friend from doing any damage.
Where to go hiking with dogs
You can’t just take your dog on any old hiking trail; there are only certain places where canine companions are permitted. Always check the individual trail rules, as well as the state park or national forest regulations. If in doubt, you can always ask a park ranger or member of staff.
Ensure the terrain you’re hiking is appropriate for your pet, as some dogs can’t handle rocky scrambles or icy paths. Similarly, the weather conditions need to be favorable, never take your dog on a hike that might be too much for them. To find dog-friendly-trails, you can use a website like AllTrails. Here, you can even see whether leashes are required.
Hiking with dogs is a fun and enriching activity, for pets and humans alike. There’s a lot to bear in mind when hitting the trails with a furry friend, but the well-prepared hiker should encounter no problems. Most of the measures you need to take before hiking with your pup are easy and will cost you very little. Putting in the proper effort to make sure your pooch is safe and happy is so worth it, as if you do, you can both enjoy hiking on trails for years to come.
Bonus tip: Check out this video on the most important commands your pooch needs to know!