Hiking with Your Dog – Dos, Don’ts and Advice from Top Trainers

The vision of hiking side-by-side with our dogs, away from the hustle and bustle of the real world, at one with nature, brings smiles to our faces. You’ve probably seen beautiful pictures on Instagram of people with their loyal, obedient dogs, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at a mountaintop, overlooking the pine tree covered valley illuminated by the fuchsia glow of the setting sun.

But for most of us, our first time hiking with our dogs paints a different memory. Do you remember the first time you and your dog went exploring? Chances are, he or she was an energetic but naive pup, running around and pulling on the leash, trying to sniff out at anything that wasn’t dirt, and biting and picking up anything that could fit into a mouth.

And you probably remember some close calls (that you might laugh at now) and vowed to be much more careful next time. We all have moments of “Wow, we dodged that bullet,” especially when out in nature.

Dogs make excellent company for the outdoors, but as much as it’s fun to go hiking with your dog, there are some issues that could be avoided with simple knowledge and preparation. Here are ten tips to prepare a dog for hiking.

Top 10 Do’s (and Don’ts) for Hiking with Dogs

1

DO: Make sure your dog is fit enough

Although your dog may seem like a hyperactive furball, hiking can be a different story. A good way to gage is to see if your dog can be active at home all day without feeling tired.

Sometimes it can depend on the breed. If the weather is cold or if you’re going high altitude, be sure that your dog is fit enough for it.

Dogs that are very young or very old may not be physically fit enough for a hike. Since their main goal would be to keep up with you and be at your side, this could be too exhausting and your dog may not enjoy it.

Check with your vet to see if your dog is healthy and ready for action.

hiking with your dog

Don’t: Push too hard

Prepare to go easy at first. It’s easy to overestimate how active your dog could be, especially if he or she runs around all day without getting tired. As with anything exercise or new endeavor, start off slow.

2

DO: Know how long the hike will be

How far can a dog hike in a day? The answer will affect what supplies to take with you, such as how much water, food, flashlight, etc. This is also important for your dog because some breeds don’t have the endurance for hikes for more than several hours.

Don’t: underestimate the danger of hot weather

“The main way that dogs lose heat is through evaporation through their tongues and their respiratory tract … If it’s hot and humid outside, that really limits the dog’s ability to lose heat by its primary mechanism. Then if you add running in the heat and humidity on top of that, between the temperature gradient, humidity and the heat they’re generating as they run, they end up having more heat inside than they can lose.” – Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University [1]

3

DO: Obey leash laws and be aware of trail regulations

Many hiking trails (especially national parks) require leashes or don’t welcome dogs at all, so you’ll need to do your research ahead of time. And if they do, dogs may be restricted to designated trails. Take some time to get to know the rules and regulations of that trail can save a lot of time and headache: no one wants to drive for hours only to see the dreaded “No dogs allowed” sign!

obey leash laws when hiking with your dog

Don’t: Let your dog run loose on the trail

“Trails are not dog parks. You and your dog are guests on a trail, whether it is in the front or back country. If you take your dog on a trail you have a specific and EXTRA obligation to have them with you, either on or off leash (depending on how much training you have done). Trails are multi use, horse packers, llama packers, mountain bikers, bird watchers, etc. You should feel obligated to be respectful and kind to those around you, so everyone can enjoy their day out and about.”

Nancy Tanner, Dog Trainer [2]

4

DO: Know the trail beforehand

If your dog needs space in order to feel safe, narrow, crowded trails won’t be fun for your dog. Choose wider and less busy trails. Depending on the breed and fitness level of your dog, check the elevation levels as well.

“Look for trials that are ‘easy on the paws.’ Pick trails with leaves and dirt and avoid trails with sharp rocks and gravel. Also, check for any surfaces that can get very hot that can hurt your dog’s feet … Stay away from areas with heavy horse use and mountain bikes. They can come at you with little warning which can cause potential harm. ”

Craig Romano, author of Best Hikes with Dogs Inland Northwest

“Choose trails with switchbacks so you can see who is in front or behind, choose wider trails or less populated trails. Just because your friends are going to a certain hiking area doesn’t mean it is right for you and your dog. If you are going to bring your dog, you need to take what they can handle into consideration, and what you have done in order to help them be successful.”

— Nancy Tanner, Dog Trainer [2]

Don’t: Leave poop behind

They are not a natural part of the ecosystem. You and your dog are guests and have a responsibility for maintaining nature’s balance. If other people see your dog’s poop, they may also think it’s OK to not clean up as well.

5

DO: Make sure your dog is well trained, especially the “come” command

Imagine that you’re on a nice trail with your dog, off-leash, and suddenly he sees a potential dog-friend! He chases lunges to play with her but the other owner, eyes widening, yells out, “No, she isn’t friendly!”

Uh oh.

Hopefully, any tragedy is averted and you’re just left a bit embarrassed. However, there more serious possible dangers on the trail, such as snakes, coyotes, skunks, and other wildlife that your naive dog may want to “play” with.

Make sure that your dog is well behaved, and this is especially important on the hiking trail.

beware of skunks on the hiking trail and make sure your dog is well trained

Don’t: Let him bark at everything

This can be annoying to other hikers and alarm the wildlife. Controlling your dog’s barking is another behavior skill that’s needed on the trail.

6

DO: Bring enough water and food for both of you

Bring dry food with high protein and high fat to give your dog an energy boost. Give a small amount an hour before the hike, and small portions throughout the day. If the hiking trip would be a long one, consider dry, dehydrated food to lighten the load.

Whenever you need a sup of water, give some to your dog too, about every 30 minutes, depending on weather temperature and trail intensity. A collapsible water bowl would be ideal.

bring water on hikes with your dog

Don’t: Let your dog drink from bodies of water along the trail

This is especially true for still water such as ponds and puddles: these can have pathogens harmful to dogs.

7

DO: Bring a doggy first-aid kit

  • First-aid guide: do not rely on your smartphone in case there’s no signal. Have a hard copy at all times. You can download and print one from the American Kennel Club: Emergency First Aid for Dogs
  • Tweezers to pull out thorns, stingers, and ticks.
  • Antihistamines for pets. Useful for treating insect bites and stings.
  • Bandages, especially self-adhesives that will not stick to fur.
  • Betadine solution to protect skin wounds from possible infection
  • Canine sunscreen to prevent sunburn
  • Muzzle. “Not my dog,” you may say, but a dog that’s panicking and in pain can lash out. An injured animal can be very unpredictable.

Don’t: Panic when there’s an injury

Don’t leave your dog’s side and call emergency services.

8

DO: Invest in dog hiking gear

With all these suggestions on what to bring, you’re probably thinking how much you’d have to carry but fear not! Your dog would love to help you out by carrying his or her own load. Dogs love having a job to do: just make sure your dog gets used to it before your trip. Have him practice by walking around with the pack on.

And he’s going to look so cool doing it.

dog hiking gear and backpack

Don’t: Over stuff the doggy backpack

Most of the heavy equipment should be carried by the human.

9

DO: Be aware of pest prevention

As amazing as outdoor adventures are, they come with downsides, with pests being the most common. Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and heartworm can all play their part in ruining your hike, so take preventive measures. Before your trip, apply flea and tick preventives and give him heartworm medication.

Don’t: Let your dog romp around

This is especially around plants vegetation that’s unfamiliar to you. Keep your dog by your side at all times.

10

DO: A post-hike checkup

After the trip, always examine your dog from head to tail. The last thing you need is something from the trail to come back with you into your home!

 

Don’t: Forget to rest up after the adventure!

dog resting after a long hike

Remember that hiking is supposed to be fun for both you and your dog

It may seem like a lot of preparation, but it’s a very small price to pay for all the joyful adventures that you and your dog will have together.

We’ll leave you with this from the Dog Whisperer himself, Cesar Millan:

“Hiking with the pack is one of my favorite things to do. The level of happiness I feel on those mornings is beyond a ten! I feel really relaxed and have absolute silence within me. The only sounds are those of the nature around me and the hard breathing of the dogs. I love that sound. You hear and feel everyone and everything when your mind is silent.”

Cesar Millan, Dog Trainer [3]

Sources:

The New York Times, (2015, Aug. 13) The Dog Days Can Be Deadly for Dogs
Nancy Tanner, (2014, July 7), Our Trails Are In Need Of Better Etiquette
Cesar’s Way, Go the distance!, Hiking With Your Dog

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