Exercise, nature, fresh air—hiking is a great way to bring you and your dog closer together. Few activities will excite dogs quite like exploring the wilderness with their very best friend. However, it’s not as simple as just grabbing your furry buddy and heading for the trails. Preparation and proper tools are needed to ensure that you, your dog, and fellow hikers all enjoy a safe, responsible and rewarding hike. Here are some tips to make the most of your dog-friendly day on the trails.
Physically Prepare Your Dog
Just like you, your dog needs to be in shape to undertake a hike. First off: all puppies less than a year old should probably be left at home. The demanding nature of hiking—uneven trails, steep inclines, long distances—is often too much for their young bodies. In some cases, hiking can even cause permanent harm to puppies’ still-developing bones and joints. For adults: weight, age, and breed should all be considered. Older or overweight dogs are obviously not the best candidates for hiking. Snub-nosed and smaller dogs also tend to have more trouble with hiking than other breeds (though they often excel on shorter, easier hikes)
Fortunately, conditioning your dog for hiking is not difficult. In fact, the process is similar to how humans prepare for hiking. Training should start with small walks and slowly progress to higher mileage and more difficult terrain. The aim is to build up your dog’s endurance and toughen their paw pads. If you see your dog licking their paws, panting excessively, lagging behind or tucking up their tail, you should stop, rest and give your dog some water and a snack. These are signs of an exhausted dog. With proper and patient physical training, your dog should be ready for their first hike in just a few weeks.
Train Your Dog For Obedience
When hiking with man’s best friend, basic obedience is critical. Well-trained dogs are simply far less likely to hurt themselves or others on the trail. “Sit,” “stay,” “come,” “heel,” and “leave it” are all essential. If your dog is not familiar with these commands and thoroughly socialized with both humans and other dogs, they’re not yet ready to go hiking. Wild animals, other hikers, other canines, poisonous mushrooms and berries—hiking trails are full of potential pitfalls that could endanger both you and your pet if they’re not properly trained. Aggressive, loud, and overly protective dogs are also not good candidates for hiking.
Research The Trail
Before choosing a trail for you and your furry buddy, it’s best to do a little research. Some areas and trails require permits or have other strict regulations concerning dogs (for example, most National Parks do not allow dogs on hiking trails). Waste disposal, leash requirements, breed restrictions—all trails have at least some rules. To save yourself a fine and a really short day on the trail, it’s best to know what rules are in place before starting a hike.
For your pup’s sake, it’s advisable to look for trails that are dog-friendly. Softer trails—leaf or soil covered, free from particularly rough or sharp surfaces—will help prevent common paw pad injuries. It’s also best to avoid trails with unusually steep inclines, ladders, drop-offs, and those heavily trafficked by bikes or horses. To find a dog-friendly trail near you, visit hikewithyourdog.com.
Consider The Weather
Before heading out for a hike, check the weather. Cold weather, unless it’s way below freezing, can usually be solved with the proper gear—dog booties, dog vests, coats or sweaters. Hot weather, however, poses a greater health risk to your pet.
High heat and humidity, in particular, can cause breathing and hydration problems in canines. Heavy panting, increased salivation, a bright red tongue, and general weakness are all signs of a tired and possibly dehydrated dog (if you spot any of these, stop, rest and hydrate immediately). Remember to take rest and water breaks every 15 to 30 minutes. Use your judgement: if it’s too hot, postpone the hike for another day, or seek out a shadier, less demanding trail, instead.
Pack The Proper Gear
Here’s a list of the things you’ll need when hiking with your dog:
- Leash (the shorter the better) and collar, complete with current ID tags
- Plenty of food and water for both you and your pup. Bring a little more than you both would usually need (Rule of thumb: 1 cup of food per 20 lbs of dog, per day)
- A dog bowl for water and food (collapsible bowls are the most convenient)
- All natural, nontoxic Insect repellent (especially important due to Ticks)
- Dog-ready first aid kit
- Hiking dog booties for cold weather, or in the event your dog incurs a paw injury.
- A towel for post-hike cleanup
- Poop bags
- Carabiner. This will allow you to go hands-free with the dog leash if necessary.
- Dog coat or vest in the event of cold weather
- Dog brush (for tangles, burs, and to check for insects)
- A dog pack (Tip: your dog should never carry more than a ⅓ of its body weight)
Treat Your Dog For Fleas, Ticks and Mosquitoes
Hiking is an easy way to pick up bug bites. While most of the insects you’ll encounter in the wild are relatively harmless to you and your dog, some can be outright lethal—particularly ticks and mosquitoes. Ticks can transfer a number of serious diseases to your dog, and mosquitoes bites can lead to deadly heartworm disease.
Treating your dog with a naturally sourced insecticide and repellent is the best way to keep bugs off your pet when hiking. Choosing a non-toxic alternative to chemical pesticides is important, as most insecticides—even those specifically marketed to dogs—contain toxins that are dangerous for people, pets and the environment. In addition to treating your dog’s coat, try soaking a bandana in a naturally sourced repellent and tying it around their neck for added protection against fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.
Follow Trail Etiquette
While laws and regulations vary from trail to trail, there are general etiquette rules that apply to every hike. For the safety and enjoyment of you, your pet, other dogs and other hikers, be sure to follow these guidelines:
- Give hikers without dogs the right of way. Be sure to say “hi” and act friendly, too, so your dog knows these individuals pose no threat.
- Whether on-leash or not, keep your dog in sight and under control at all times
- Keep a 1:1 ratio of dogs to people. If you’re hiking alone, just bring one canine buddy at a time.
- Leave the trail as you found it, cleaning up after both you and your pet as you go. Dog waste should be backpacked out of the trail or buried about eight inches underground, somewhere far away from water sources.
- Keep your dog on the trail and prevent them from disturbing wildlife. Many plants, for example, are delicate and cannot survive being trampled. Obviously, this is for your dog’s protection too, as this will prevent him from encountering dangerous animals and any harmful plant life like poison ivy.
Do A Post-Hike Check
After a long hike, it’s easy to just brush off and head home. However, it’s important for the safety of your dog to do a post-hike check as soon as your adventure is complete. Brushing throughout their coat, check your pup for burs and other needle-like plant life—like foxtails and cacti. Also check for ticks, fleas, and other biting insects that may have found their way into your dog’s fur. Be sure to check all areas of your pet, especially in hard to reach places like in between toes and under armpits. Lastly, check your dog’s paw pads for any severe cracks or other injuries.