The Ultimate Guide to Hiking With Dogs

June 15, 2022

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking With Dogs

Hiking with dogs is an enjoyable way to exercise together and strengthen the bond you have with your pet. While your loyal companion will always be willing to explore the great outdoors, you must keep in mind their safety - as well as yours. 

Check out this detailed hiking guide which outlines how to hike successfully with your furry friend. We’ll go over precautions, ‘petiquette’ guidelines, and supplies you’ll need.  

Start With a Health Assessment 

The first precaution you should take is determining if your dog can safely hike. Consult your veterinarian before the trip. Here are some factors they’ll consider: 

Your Dog’s Age

Puppies younger than 4 to 5 months shouldn’t start hiking until after they see their vet for vaccinations. After that, exposing them to hiking early is great for their health and socialization

Backpacking can be an excellent activity for senior dogs as well. Be sure to monitor how tired they are and consider choosing low incline hikes to ease stress on their joints. 

Your Dog’s Body Type

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and some are better suited for hiking than others. 

Choose easier hikes for smaller or overweight dogs. They’ll have greater difficulty hiking on trails with rough terrain. Therefore, you don’t want them on a trail they’ll struggle to navigate.

Your Dog’s Health

If your dog has health conditions, hiking may not be the best activity for them. Consult your veterinarian to determine how your dog’s health conditions could affect them on the trail. 

Your Dog’s Vaccinations  

Before hitting the trail or backpacking, be sure your dog is up to date with all veterinary-recommended shots. 

Hiking could expose them to other dogs, animals, and environments. Being fully vaccinated will help protect them and others.  

 

Prepare Your Dog for the Hike

When preparing your loyal companion for a hiking trip, you need to choose a dog-friendly trail that will match the hiking ability of your dog. 

Start with shorter, easier hikes and slowly work your way up to longer, more strenuous hikes. 

Consider how busy the area is when choosing an area. Trails with a lot of foot traffic and other dogs may not be a good choice for dogs new to hiking. 

A few other ways to prepare your pet include: 

  • Build up their stamina. Practice taking long walks or going up and down hills to evaluate their physical abilities. If a healthy dog is struggling at first, don't worry. With a bit of practice and exercise, they’ll be ready to hit hiking trails in no time.
  • Prep their paws. The trail terrain can be rough on your dog’s paws. There are products available to help prevent injury and wear on their feet, like hiking shoes and paw protectors. 
  • Practice training cues. If you haven’t done so already, train your dog to pass people and other dogs in a narrow area. Practice controlled walking on a short leash. Having a well-trained dog is not only polite but crucial to the safety of your dog and those around you.

  • Bring the Right Supplies 

    Having all the necessary supplies for your dog is essential to a safe and positive hiking experience. Review this list while packing for your hiking trip: 

    Plenty of Water

    Water is the most essential thing to bring on a hike. 

    Carry at least 1 cup of water per hour of hiking. And, don’t trust water sources on your hike unless they are specifically marked by reputable signs as drinking water. 

    If you’re hiking in hot weather, try freezing water bottles before the hike. As they melt, you and your dog will be provided with a cool source of drinking water.

    Dog Food and Treats

    Depending on the length of the hike, you may need to bring a full meal with you. If not, bring treats for positive reinforcement. 

    Your pet will be using a lot of energy while hiking. You need to be sure they’re well-fed and hydrated. Try not to feed them human food while hiking, as some of it is harder to digest.

    Leash and Collar

    When choosing a leash, you need one that’s short and easy to control. 

    Also, check for any park regulations regarding leashes. Some trails require the leash to be a certain length or shorter. 

    As for the collar, make sure it’s snug and includes tags with your personal information.

    Dog Waste Bags

    You don’t want to forget these as it’s proper pet etiquette. 

    Clean up after your loyal companion by using dog waste bags. If you don’t have access to a trash can, you can bury the waste away from foot traffic.

    Paw Coverings 

    Not all dogs will need this. However, depending on your dog and the type of hiking trail, paw coverings will protect their paws to prevent injury.

    First Aid Kit

    It’s smart to be prepared if your dog gets injured or ill. A basic first aid kit should include gauze, bandages, antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, tweezers to remove ticks, and a bottle of Tecnu in case you come across poison ivy or oak.  

    If your dog is prone to sunburn, you will also need to include dog-safe sunscreen.

    Reflective Collar or Jacket 

    Is there a chance you’ll be hiking at dawn or dusk? If so, be sure your dog is wearing reflective attire. This will help them be seen by other people, keeping them safe. 

    Pro Tip: To make space, give your pet a backpack of their own. These small packs are shaped like a horse saddle and have a pouch on each side. Place lighter items inside it, and be sure to pack it evenly for your dog’s comfort.

    Understand Trail ‘Petiquette’

    Proper dog etiquette while hiking includes a few guidelines that may be new to pet owners. 

    For example, you’ll need to keep trails clean by cleaning up after your furry friend. You must leave zero trace of dog waste.

    Also, don’t let them run free. You won’t be the only ones on the trail, so keep them on a short leash. 

    Here are some other dog hiking tips to remember:

    • Keep an eye on them, always. 
    • Yield to faster hiking parties by stepping off the trail until they pass. 
    • Don’t let your pet destroy plants or interact with wildlife. 
    • Ensure they’re calm and happy by keeping them hydrated.

    Safety Concerns to Watch Out For

    Unfortunately, backpacking and hiking with dogs present certain dangers. Dogs trust their owners to keep them out of harm's way and rely on them to help them when in need. 

    Therefore, it’s vital to be aware of potential threats and prevent them from happening. 

    Here are some safety concerns to keep in mind:

    Watch Your Step

    For starters, you’ll ONLY want to hike on dog-friendly trails. Otherwise, you run the risk of your pet getting hurt, injured, or scared.

    While hiking, keep an eye out for uneven ground, loose rocks, and steep drops. While many dogs are agile and can navigate the terrain, some are unfamiliar with it. 

    Don’t Interact With Plants or Wildlife 

    The great outdoors is home to critters and itchy leaves that can put you and your loyal companion in danger. To stay protected, check the local hiking guide for any threatening animals or plants in the area.

    Not all dangerous animals are big, like bears and wolves. Small threats like ticks, spiders, scorpions, and snakes may also be present. They can approach and bite quickly with little time to react. Always check your dog for ticks and other bites after exploring the outdoors. 

    Further, many dogs have the habit of chewing and eating grass. Keep them from doing so when hiking. You don’t know what they’re consuming and it can be very difficult to identify which plants are poisonous or prickly. To be safe, avoid them all.  

    Avoid Exhaustion

    To prevent exhaustion, only choose trails within you and your dog's physical abilities. Monitor your dog's breathing and take breaks when needed. This is especially important in hot weather when heat stroke and exhaustion go hand in hand. 

    If your dog shows signs of exhaustion, move them to a shaded area to rest until their breathing is under control. Pour cool water on them to slowly reduce their temperature. 

    Stay Hydrated

    Dehydration is a significant issue that is easily prevented. Be sure to carry plenty of water with you and instruct your dog to drink as often as you do. 

    Also, don’t let your dog drink from natural water sources. Dogs are extremely susceptible to waterborne illnesses. If you run out of water and are in desperate need of it, only guide your dog to clear running water. Never let them drink stagnant or colored water. 

    Enjoying the Great Outdoors: Final Thoughts

    With these tips in mind, you and your pet will be well on the way to a successful hiking trip. 

    Don’t let the long list of supplies and potential hazards deter you. Hiking with dogs is a fun and rewarding outdoor activity. You’ll build lasting memories with your four-legged friend, all while getting some exercise and fresh air. 

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