Hiking with Dogs
Dogs can be great trail companions for several reasons. First of all, they enhance your mood. Dogs may even help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Dog owners are found to have healthier hearts, and petting dogs helps overcome depression. In many ways, they help owners deal with emotions, PTSD, ADHD – and exercising with them even helps with arthritis! All this is of course on top of many health benefits of being outdoors.
If you are lucky enough to have a dog, you should seriously consider the perks of taking him on a hike with you. Here are just a few things to keep in mind…
Is Your Dog a Good Hiking Companion?
Hiking with your dog can be a blast, but not all dogs are made for the trail. Here are some important things to keep in mind before taking your dog along on a hike that he may not enjoy as much as you:
Your dog may not be in the best fitness condition to do a strenuous hike. Consider how much exercise your dog typically does. If he is overweight, he may struggle to hike far distances, hike for an extended amount of time, or even move very quickly.
If you are concerned your dog is overweight, you might consider increasing his exercise with simple walks and playtimes to bring him to a healthier fitness before attempting a hike. Similarly, if your dog seems to be underweight, do not risk overexerting him. Instead, consider having him evaluated by your vet.
If you plan to hike around other people, you should know how your dog behaves with others, including children. If your dog tends to growl or even bite, you should keep him on a leash or restrained in some way. Leashes with harnesses are great for restraining dogs without pulling on their necks – check out our guide to the best dog harness for hiking.
You should know how skittish your dog is or how excited he is by other dogs, birds, and wildlife in general. You don’t want to risk a hike when you haven’t brought a leash, and your dog runs away. You will also want to be on guard if you expect these kinds of behaviors – even with a leash, a dog can startle and slip away before you can react.
Another factor is how old your dog is. Obviously, much older dogs may not be well-suited for a hike. Perhaps they do enjoy hikes, just much shorter ones that are walked quickly and which aren’t particularly strenuous. Older dogs may tend to trip on things they don’t see or have trouble climbing certain obstacles. You should change your hiking plans if age is a factor, and make sure you bring water and other supplies in case your dog does have an injury or fatigue.
On the flip side, very young dogs – including puppies – may be overexcited, have bursts of energy and trouble focusing on the trail, and might jump on other hikers or be encouraged by children to prance around. Puppies under one year are still developing, so they should only go on half-day hikes so as not to injure themselves.
Fitness and age can be factors related to health. It is always a good idea to have your dog see the vet for a full physical review. You may have missed subtle changes in your dog that a vet might identify as something problematic. You don’t want to put a dog in a situation where his health could be worsened.
If you plan to have your dog walk your pace beside you the entire trail, you should consider how big he is. Certain trails might be easy enough for any dog to walk down; however, some trails might be long and filled with high obstacles that a small dog will have trouble tackling. If at any point you plan to hike across a stream that has some flowing water, this could pose an additional risk to smaller dogs. Medium and large dogs should fare well on most trails so long as they’re healthy and fit.
“Come, Here boy!”
Getting your dog to listen to you falls under his behavior – although it is essential to correctly identify whether or not your dog responds to a “come back” call. Assuming you plan to have your dog hiking without a leash, or even if he is startled and scatters, you should be prepared for calling him back to you. It is often recommended that you master a call that works for your dog before considering taking him out for a hike.
Preparing Your Pup for the Trail
Planning is vital for all hiking trips, but there are some additional steps you should take to ensure your dog is safe. Besides, your hike shouldn’t just be about you – what should you do to make sure your dog is having fun as well?
Especially if you’re planning to take your dog into the outdoors when he’s not as accustomed to it, you should make sure your dog is up-to-date on important vaccinations. A stop at the vet will clear up any concerns.
In particular, you should be concerned about rabies and make sure your dog is wearing his rabies tag. Prevention against fleas, heartworms, and ticks are crucial for outdoor excursions. You should also make sure your dog doesn’t have any wounds or injuries that might worsen if out hiking. Ensure your pet has been microchipped, and make sure the information on his collar is updated too.
Pro Tip: Check Where the Local Vet Is
If you plan on hiking/backpacking a fair distance from home, make sure and look up the closest vets and make a note of their number in case of a pooch emergency.
The fitness of your dog is important when considering hiking. Unfortunately, preparing your dog may take some time and effort, so you shouldn’t expect to take your dog out on a tough hike out of the blue.
Begin with some small walks, especially in the morning or evening when it’s cooler, and gradually increase frequency and intensity. Not only will this be an excellent way to support your dog for whatever hike may come his way, but it will also help with your fitness – and give you some insight to how he will behave.
If you want to hike with your dog, it doesn’t have to be a full-blown mountain trail. Those are great, too, of course, so long as you bring enough supplies with you for that kind of trip. However, there are many ways to hike with your dog that are simpler and more accessible. For example, try parks or even trails around lakes and neighborhoods. Beaches are another great place to take dogs, whether it’s a beach by the ocean or one next to a lake. Wherever you go, just make sure you’re both prepared first!
The All Important Dog Pack
Yes – there are packs for dogs, and they can be handy! Your dog can carry supplies in his pack, but it’s important that the pack fit properly.
The Dog Pack
Dog hiking backpacks come in different sizes – and for different sized dogs. There are packs designed for a full day of hiking as well as packs that are smaller. Some packs even come with guards against brush, covers to keep out moisture, and core cooling characteristics to help make your dog more comfortable. Some packs are even for multi-day excursions.
Packing and Strapping on the Pack
There are plenty of things that can go in these packs, including safety kits, collapsible water bowls, and snacks that are for your dog. The trick is making sure you pack the bag well so that it’s not lopsided, lumpy, or too heavy. Additionally, check the tightness of the bag so that your dog is comfortable. You can watch his behavior after you strap the pack on to gauge his discomfort.
Packing the Rest of Your Dog Gear
If you truly want to be prepared, take some time to bring extra things that will keep you and your dog both happy and safe. These are things besides the basic food and water needs that you may or may not think about.
“Dog First Aid Kit”
By taking a backpacking first aid kit and adding to it, you can very efficiently make a pack that works for the both of you. Dogs are prone to injuries ranging from stings and bites to serious cuts or even broken bones. Packing an eyewash or saline means you can rinse out a dog’s eyes after it’s been sprayed by a skunk or gotten any other foreign objects in them. Benadryl can be given to your dog at about 2mg per pound every eight hours if he shows hives or other reactionary signs of an allergy, although it may make him drowsy.
Bandages that stretch are great for making wraps until you can have an injury properly looked at. Dogs tend to bleed a lot, so a styptic pencil dabbed on small cuts can prevent too much bleeding from occurring.
Multitools are useful for anyone, including if a quill or thorn is stuck in your dog’s paw. A slip lead or muzzle is useful to quickly reel in a dog as dogs tend to revert to their instincts if injured or frightened.
Mylar emergency blankets are helpful for dogs and humans alike to maintain body temperatures after injuries. Musher’s wax can protect cracked paw pads on your dog, medical staplers can seal severe cuts, and tick nippers can properly remove the whole tick.
Finally, as with allergies, dogs can take specific forms of pain medicines – but not the over-the-counter kind. Consider looking into a canine prescription that they can chew.
Booties and Other “Clothing”
An injured paw needs protection. Dog booties can offer that in a cinch. These booties are also useful for protection against snow in the winter if a dog’s paws tend to get snow built up between pads. Booties are also great for hot surfaces, like pavement but also rocks that have been in the sun all day. You can, therefore, use booties in response to an injury or you can put them on your dog to protect them from the elements for the longevity of the hike.
If you plan on going on a very long trip, your packing list will have to include many of your dog’s things, especially if you’re overnighting somewhere with him. Otherwise, you can keep it simple – and enjoyable. Consider bringing a couple of toys.
If your dog likes to play fetch, bring a ball or frisbee. Maybe he just likes to play tug-of-war with a cloth toy. Or maybe he prefers a rubber toy to chew on at a break along the trail. You can even bring a little peanut butter to put inside some toys to give him something to chew on while also getting a little bit of energy.
Food & Water Planning
Of course, you’ve got to bring the food and water! It’s hard enough figuring out what you need for yourself on these hikes, including snacks that don’t melt in your pack and fruit that doesn’t squish. But what about your dog?
Ideal Trail Snacks for Dogs
Think about how much your dog typically eats during the length of time you’ll be away from home, then bring with you even more. Dogs will burn more calories than usual – just like humans.
The foods you bring can include full meals that he would typically eat, depending on how long you plan to be gone. Kibble can be great as a snack as well. The best thing, however, is to bring some treats that you can feed your dog periodically along the trail. This can include nutritious and easy-to-pack snacks like dog biscuits, training treats, dog food rolls, jerkies like dried liver, or bars made especially for dogs.
Bringing Water for your Pooch
Knowing how much water to bring for your dog on a hike is vital – and depends on several factors. First of all, the breed of your dog and his size can impact how much water he needs compared to dogs of other breeds and sizes. Also, the weather conditions of the day will affect him just as they may impact your intake of water.
How long you plan to be on the trail is, of course, another critical thing to consider when packing. Collapsible water bowls are a great way to encourage your dog to drink. You’ll want to give him a little throughout the day to avoid over-hydrating or him drinking so fast he gets nauseated. This will also keep him from finding puddles of water that he encounters along the trail and that may not be clean.
Doggie Trail Hazards
What to watch out for on the trail…
Other animals on trails could include large animals like bears or cougars, but realistically many others can be just as dangerous. There may be venomous snakes or even coyotes. There are also other domestic dogs who may pick a fight. Even small animals such as raccoons could be seen in the daylight, a sign of rabidness. You’ll have to be alert to keep your dog safe from sudden surprises.
Snow and ice can cause problems if it builds up in a dog’s paws. If the weather is excessively wet or cold, you may have to monitor how your dog is getting along without a chance for a break in some shelter.
Heat is also dangerous, so be sure to not over-exercise your dog – especially in direct sun or without enough water. And, of course, if the weather is dangerous to people, it could be dangerous to dogs. You’ll have to take special precaution that your dog stays safe and not startled if lightning strikes or if a sudden threat like a tornado or dust storm surprises you nearby.
Dogs and people alike can over-exercise or overexert themselves. It’s important to make sure you’re both well-fed, have sufficient water, aren’t in the sun for too long at a time, and get the breaks you need. Dogs may push themselves too far to stay with you and please you, so be aware of how your dog is feeling. If any injury occurs, you’ll need to be careful in how you proceed.
How good is your dog at swimming? You should be wary of any large bodies of water, including lakes but also streams that may be deep in places or which may flow very quickly. A dog could choose to swim on a beach but experience strong undercurrents. You don’t want to be in a situation where you risk yourself trying to get your dog out of deep water. Also, Giardia poses a threat to dogs that get into contaminated water supplies. It may take weeks for the symptoms to appear so that you realize your dog has been in contact with the parasite.
If your dog is running along the trail, he may not spot a sudden cliff edge. Also, he may be startled or chase a chipmunk, finding himself racing into a new territory with a distraction. If you’re near the edge of a cliff, make sure your dog doesn’t get too close in case the ground breaks away. Just as with humans, cliffs and heights can be seriously dangerous to dogs.
Although there are rules in many places for trapping, not everyone follows those rules. Even legal traps can pose a risk, however. Traps can be snares or leg holds and they may strangle your dog. It’s best to make sure your dog stays on the trail as these traps are purposefully baited and hidden out of sight.
Backcountry Etiquette for Pooch
If you’re out in the wilderness with your dog, there are some essential things you should keep in mind.
When picking a trail to take your dog on, make sure you’re allowed to have dogs. Some trails are designed as dog-friendly, so please abide by those rules.
There are specific rules for many trails about leashes. Even if your dog doesn’t require a leash to behave, you may need to put him in one anyway. If he refuses to use a leash correctly, he may not be a good companion for a trail with a leash law.
Yield to Others
Hikers know about yielding to others who are on the trail. When you’re with your dog, you should yield to everyone – and make sure your dog is out of the way and not going to harass the other hikers as well.
No one hiking in the woods should go off the trail and damage the wildlife. This applies to you as well as to your dog. If you find him rooting in something, encourage him to stop, and prevent him from disturbing the wildlife.
Pack In, Pack Out
Finally, all of the wrappers or supplies you bring in should come back out with you. Also, you should carry something to pick up after your dog’s waste. This is good etiquette regarding Leave No Trace principles.