Tips on Hiking With Your Dog

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Hiking with your dog can be a lot of fun. It's the perfect way to combine your love of nature with your best friend! Hiking allows you and your dog to get some exercise while reinforcing the bond you share. If you are relatively new to hiking, make sure you first read up on the basics of hiking so you can prepare to do it right. When you are ready to bring your dog hiking with you, here are some important things to consider:

Does Your Dog Know the Basics?

Before trying to hike with your dog, you should be sure your dog knows how to walk on a loose leash. You certainly won't enjoy any kind of hike that involves your dog pulling on the leash. Your dog should also have a good foundation of training and socialization. Otherwise, you could be dealing with your dog's poor behavior or even fear during the hike, and that's no fun for anyone.

Is Your Dog Healthy and Fit?

Not all dogs are in the right physical shape to safely go hiking. Talk to your veterinarian before you start hiking with your dog. Senior dogs might be better off going for walks. Young puppies should avoid hiking when it involves high endurance and long distances, as this could damage their growing bones. Dogs with certain health problems should also avoid hiking. You don’t want to be too far from civilization in case something happens!

Come Prepared

Before heading out for your hike, here are some dog supplies you should bring:

  • A good basic dog leash (no retractable leashes when hiking or your dog will get tangled up in something)
  • A sturdy dog collar with current identification in case your dog gets separated from you 
  • A microchip is ideal in case the collar falls off
  • A brightly colored bandanna is a good idea so hunters will not mistake your do for a wild animal
  • Plenty of fresh water (double the amount you’ll need for yourself in order to account for your dog)
  • Healthy dog treats (for long hikes)
  • Some basic first aid supplies
  • Poop bags (unless you plan to bury your dog’s waste)
  • A dog backpack if you want your dog to carry her own gear and waste. Make sure it is sturdy and fits comfortably to avoid chafing. Keep the weight balanced on each side and don't overfill it or your dog will tire out very quickly. It should weigh less than one-third of your dog's body weight (or even less if your dog is new to hiking).

Start Slowly

When your dog first starts hiking with you, it’s best to start with short, easy hikes and take frequent breaks to rest. This will allow her to build up endurance and also toughen up her paw pads (hikes can be hard of the paws). You don’t want to get out too far and find out your dog is getting worn out or is in pain. Dogs often push themselves to the point of injury or exhaustion just to keep going with you. Know your dog’s limits. Slowly increase the distance and difficulty of hikes over time so your dog will enjoy each hike from start to finish. Make sure to always allow time for rest breaks.

Minimize Risks

Dogs love being outdoors and exploring all the good smells of nature. However, nature has some not-so-pleasant things to give back. Make sure your dog is fully vaccinated to protect her from diseases. She should be on regular parasite prevention to protect her from heartworms, fleas, ticks and intestinal parasites. Avoid letting her drink water in streams and ponds as it may contain parasites that can make her very sick (even the monthly prevention cannot protect her from some parasites). 

Don’t allow your dog to run off-leash and explore out of your sight. She might find some unfriendly wildlife or toxic plants. A snake bite can kill your dog. Skunk spray is very unpleasant to deal with. Other wildlife creatures may carry dangerous diseases like rabies. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with basic first-aid for dogs

Check your dog’s paws regularly for cracks, wounds or foreign objects. Hiking can be tough on the paw pads. Burs, thistles, rocks and even insects can embed in the feet. The terrain can really irritate your dog’s paws. Take a break every few miles to check those paws. 

Avoid hiking with your dog in hot temperatures. When in doubt, keep your dog at home. If you hike with your dog on warm days, take frequent breaks and provide extra water. Stay in the shade as much as possible. Dogs cannot cool themselves by sweating like we humans can. They must rely upon panting to release heat, which is not very efficient. Heat stroke and exhaustion are very common in dogs. The hot ground can also burn your dog’s paw pads. Know your dog. Certain breeds, especially those with short muzzles, are extra sensitive to heat and should only hike short distances, no matter the temperature.

Before heading home, check all over your dog. Look for ticks and other insects. Check for burs and other plant life that might be caught in your dog's fur or between toes. Remove whatever you don’t want in your house!

Respect Nature and the Community

Don’t ruin it for others. Be responsible and follow the rules of basic dog owner etiquette:

  • Note that dogs are not allowed on some trails. Find a dog-friendly trail and follow any posted rules. 
  • Keep your dog under control. In most cases, your dog should be on a leash, even if there are no leash laws on the trail. If your dog is exceptionally well-behaved, you might consider allowing her off the leash, but only if you can keep her right by your side (and the trail permits off-leash dogs, which is uncommon). If your dog gets away from you, she might disturb other hikers or even put herself at risk.
  • Clean up after your dog. Dog poop is not part of the scenery. Pick up the waste or bury it properly (in a cathole at least six to eight inches deep and at least 200 feet from water, camps, trails).
  • Don’t allow your dog to dig, destroy plants, or interact with wildlife. The plants and animals are all part of the ecosystem. Your dog is not. Plus, messing with nature could actually be harmful to your dog.

When hiking with your dog, have fun and be safe!