Going on a hike is a great bonding experience and exercise opportunity for both you and your dog. But all big trips need a bit of training. Here are a few things you need to do to prepare your dog for their first hike.
But before you start preparing for a hike, ask yourself this question:
You need to consider if your dog is ready for a hike. A day trip could be too much for a puppy or an adolescent dog. You don’t want to put your dog under strenuous activity until they’ve finished growing. Otherwise, it could lead to issues with their growth and development in the future. Aside from that, younger dogs haven’t built up any stamina yet. They’re at increased risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke. You need to wait until your pup is a fully grown adult until you consider taking them on a day hike.
Older dogs can’t go on hikes either. They have lower stamina and strength than their younger contemporaries. The hike could damage their joints and bones along the way, and you’d do your dog more harm than good. Like puppies, it’s best you keep your golden gals and guys at home as opposed to making them hike a long trail.
Another thing you need to consider is your dogs breed. Short-nosed breeds such as bulldogs, boxers, pugs, etc. are less than ideal to go hiking with. Their shortened, narrowed nasal passageways make them prone to exhaustion and heatstroke under strenuous activity. But if you have dogs like a Siberian Husky, Bernese Mountain Dog, Portuguese Water Dog, Australian Shepherd, or Labrador Retriever, then by all means, take them on the trail!
Consult with your veterinarian about any additional shots that your dog may need for the trail. Your furry friends are more susceptible to Lyme disease or leptospirosis while they’re on the hike. You’ll want them protected from any potential threat.
Both dogs and people need to build up endurance before going on a big hike. Work your way up by going on short walks and slowly lengthen the time you spend on your mini trails with your dog. We all have different endurance goals — how we get there also varies per person (and dog). On hotter days, take your dog out to walk either in the morning or the early evening when the pavement has cooled.
A good way to practice is by going on short hikes on the outskirts of town. The kind that you can finish in a couple of hours. Exposing your dog to different trails not only builds up their endurance, but they also grow more tolerant and observant of the world outside of their homes. Dogs are naturally territorial creatures but when they’re outside, what’s familiar to them, they tend to act out. Your dog will encounter many (small) animals along the way. You will have to teach your dog how not to chase after every squirrel they see, or you’ll be spending half the time of your hike chasing your dog through the woods.
We were taught never to leave food sitting out in the open campsite because it could attract animals to your area. The same rule applies to your dog. While their kibble won’t exactly be luring bears in, it could potentially bring in disease ridden pests like raccoons or skunks who could possibly be carrying rabies. Implement the ten-minute rule on your dog — get them excited to eat, hype them up, and if they don’t finish their food in ten minutes, take their bowls away. Repeat the process until your dog has learned to finish his or her food the first time you do this. By implementing the ten-minute rule, you teach your dog not to leave any kibble behind.
A dog’s backpack should only be 10% to 15% of its body weight, otherwise it would be detrimental to their spine. Most dogs aren’t used to carrying backpacks and they need to practice before you put a backpack around them. We’d advise you to buy your dog a detachable backpack — one that can easily link to their vests and be removed when your dog gets tired.
The best way for your dog to get used to the idea of carrying weight on its back is by putting these things in his or her backpack during your practice hikes.
1. Portable water bowl and collapsible food bowl
Your dog will need plenty of water on the hike. Estimate a liter of water for every three miles that your dog hikes. Never allow your dog to drink from rivers, streams, or standing water. It’s full of waterborne pathogens that could potentially harm your dog. If it’s not possible for you to bring water for your dog on the hike, bring purifying tablets or a portable water filter.
2. Dog food and treats
The easiest thing for you to pack is dry food. Stash enough kibble in your bag to last the duration of the hike — and a few pieces of jerky or chewy sticks in case they get hungry along the way.
3. First-aid supplies
Your first aid kit should come with:
4. Extra leash and collar
If you have extra clothes in your bag then your dog needs an extra leash and collar — or harness if that’s what you prefer. You never know what could happen on the hike. On such rough terrain, your dog’s leash is subject to wear and tear.
You may encounter a downpour during the hike, or go for a swim in the river (provided it’s clean). A dry dog is a happy dog and a dry dog is a healthy dog. Having a highly-absorbent microfiber towel to keep your dog dry will save them from chills and discomfort. Your dog’s towel should be light enough to store in their backpacks, so don’t pack anything bulky in their bag.
6. Brush or comb
Thistles, dirt, and debris will get stuck in your dog’s hair. Brush them out to keep your furry friend clean. Plus, it’s a good way to keep ticks out of the way.
All these things need to fit comfortably in your dog’s backpack. As you recall, they shouldn’t be more than 10% to 15% of their body weight. It’s easy to find travel versions of everything mentioned above. The smaller the items are, the easier it will be for your dog.
Hiking means that your dog gets to run off leash, but it comes with quite the responsibility. There may be other hikers on the trail and some of them may not be comfortable with your dog — which means they need to be on their best behavior.
They don’t need to learn any fancy tricks, just basic obedience. All they need to know are commands:
Now that you’ve got all that out of the way, here are some things you need to do if you’re sure you’re taking your dog on a hike.
✔ Have your pet micro-chipped
All dogs need to be micro-chipped. The microchip is like a permanent collar. In case you and your dog are separated, it’s definitive proof of ownership. If your dog strays from the trail and ends up on the highway, all someone will need is a device to read your dog’s information to find you.
✔ Attach a tag with your contact information to your pet’s collar
The tag should have your name, contact number, address and emergency contact information of someone who’s not on the hike. Both you and your pet need an information tag to keep you safe in case of emergency.
✔ Use a GPS tracker on the trail
Although it would be ideal to have your dog on a leash the entire time you’re hiking, sometimes it’s just not possible. Purchase a GPS tracker that you attach either to your dog’s collar or their vest to avoid your dog from straying too far. At least if you know you can track your dog on the trail, it will be easier for you to look for him or her.
✔ Do not bring more than two dogs at a time
As Andy Warhol says, “one’s company, two’s a crowd, and three’s a party.” If you can’t handle one dog on a hike, what makes you think you can handle three? We can assure you that you’re cutting your hike short by bringing more than two dogs. Unless your dogs are military level trained, stick to bringing one (at first). Once you’ve gotten used to having a hiking companion, only then can you bring a second. But leave it at that, or else you’re giving yourself unnecessary trouble.
✔ Keep your dog on leash while passing through the trail
As much as possible, have your dog by your side while you’re going through the trail. You can let them run off leash when it’s time to stop for a bathroom break, but other than that, keep them with you. This is not only for your dog’s safety and yours, but for the other hikers with you. Some people (sadly) are afraid of dogs. They might run away and potentially injure themselves if they see a dog excitedly charging towards them. This person could misinterpret this action as a sign of aggression, when in fact all your dog wants to do is play with them.
While this may seem like a lot (that’s because it is), the hike you’re going on will be one of the most memorable trips for both you and your dog. As long as you’re prepared and take all these precautionary measures, it should be smooth sailing from hereon. Or should we say hiking?