Hiking with your dog is a great way to get yourself and your pup out of the house and out into the fresh air.
It is also a fantastically rewarding experience to share the out of doors with your best companion. Here are some tips and tricks for making sure your next hike with your dog is fun and safe.
Before the Hike
Prior to setting out on the trail, be sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date. Have you given them their heartworm medication? And don’t forget their flea and tick treatment. A physical exam by your pet’s veterinary is a good idea too.
Picking the Trail
Before heading out to the park or trail, think about the terrain you will be traveling. If you’ve never hiked a particular trail, go online first and try to read some reviews or find more information about it. What you’re looking for is any parts of the trail that may be difficult or even impossible for your dog to travel.
For instance, in the mountains, you may find that you have to scramble on rocks or cross slippery snowfields or traverse narrow ledges. In other areas, you may have to travel through areas with lots of wildlife or other animals. Think about the possible trouble spots you may run into on a particular trail. If you believe there may be any danger for your pup or sections that you’re unsure your dog can handle, physically or otherwise, pick a different trail.
Consider the Season
Spring - a great time to hike, mostly. Spring can also be quite wet in many areas so be sure you won’t run into swollen creeks and rivers or muddy bogs. All of these can be dangerous areas for you and for your dog. Wild animals are plentiful in spring and many have young ones they are protecting. Be sure you always have control of your dog so they don’t disturb animals you may encounter on the trail.
Summer - morning and evening hikes are fun in summer. Heat is going to be the biggest issue with summer hiking. Be sure you carry plenty of water for yourself and your dog. Stick to cooler times of day for hiking. Remember that dogs don’t sweat like you and me, so they don’t have an efficient cooling system and can get into heat exhaustion trouble pretty quickly. And don’t forget to apply for your dog’s insect protection in the summer months. I also carry some herbal bug repellant for dogs that I can spray on if the bugs are really bad on the trail.
Fall - perfect for hiking, fall is usually cooler, but be sure you are still carrying plenty of water and bug repellant. Temperatures may rise at midday even in fall, so be aware of the heat and how your dog is doing while on the trail.
Winter - can be fun, but also presents some challenges. Extreme cold and snow can affect your dog quickly. Consider a coat and/or booties for your dog to help keep them warm and dry on the trail.
Know Your Dog’s Physical Boundaries - You Set the Pace
Hiking with your dog is very similar to hiking with anyone else - you need to know the physical boundaries of whomever you’re out on the trail with. Know your dog’s limits and don’t ever push them beyond those limits. Keep in mind that you are the trip leader, so you set the pace.
Your dog will be so happy to be out on the trail with you that they may just go and go. Some dogs will keep going until they drop. Waiting until your dog is in distress on the trail is too late so observe them constantly. If they seem like they are getting tired or overheated, stop and rest. You may even need to turn back. Be prepared to do both. Remember BOTH of you are supposed to be having fun!
Different breeds will have different levels of tolerance. If you’re hiking with multiple dogs, pace yourself according to the slowest one. It may be tough to wrangle high-energy dogs in this case, but you’ll find that they will eventually settle into whatever pace you set.
Things to Bring With You on the Trail
Here is a basic list of items you may want to pack with you on a hike with your dog:
- First aid kit (make sure it includes a tick remover and an antihistamine for stings and bites)
- Cooling collar or vest
- Food (freeze-dried snacks work really well as trail snacks)
- Water & collapsible water bowl
- Extra leash/collar
- All-natural bug repellant for spot treating
- Vest or coat
- Booties (in case of rough terrain or snow)
- Pick up bags
Leashes, Harnesses, Packs
Most trails require dogs to be on a leash. A six-foot leash will give your dog room to walk comfortably but also allow you to maintain control of them. Be sure the leash has a comfortable handle for you-you're going to be holding it for a while!
What about a harness? Harnesses are great alternatives to collars when hiking with your dog. A harness distributes leash pressure to the strongest part of your dog instead of only to their neck. Definitely consider a harness, but practice with it before your hike as some Houdini dogs can slip out of harnesses! Make sure you get one that fits them securely.
Should you get a pack for your dog to carry? Having your dog carry their own snacks and water is a great idea - if they can comfortably do it. Practice with a dog pack several times before hitting the trail. Most dog packs double as harnesses.
Trail Rules and Etiquette
Know the rules of the trail before you get there and follow them! Rules are there for a reason, they ensure that everyone using the trail feels safe and enjoys themselves, and protects the trail from abuse. Most rules make sense and are not a big deal to follow.
When hiking with your dog, trail etiquette becomes really important.
Here are some trail etiquette tips:
- Pick up after your dog
- Keep your dog as calm as possible and under control
- Teach your dog trail manners before going on the hike
- Never let your dog run-up to another animal or person
- If you know your dog is hyper or getting overexcited, pull them to the side of the trail and let others pass you
- If you’re hiking with your dog off-leash, be sure they have excellent recall
A Word About Water
I always carry freshwater for my dogs when out hiking. Yes, often there are creeks and rivers on the trails we hike together. And my dogs will drink out of these creeks, streams, and rivers. Most of the time it is OK. But, like you and me, dogs can get sick from drinking out of these water sources. I try to keep them hydrated with the water I bring so they are not tempted to drink stream water. It is not always possible to prevent them from drinking from the creeks, so know that it could be a problem and it is better if they don’t do this.
A quick post-hike check on your dogs is a great idea. Look them over for ticks, burrs, foxtails - anything that may have attached themselves to your pup. I do this before getting back in the car. When you get home, consider giving them a bath. They may have dirt or mud on them, or worse - poison ivy residue. Poison ivy oils may not bother your dog, but can easily rub off on you and cause much distress.
The Rewarding Experience
Hiking with your dog can be extremely rewarding. Being out in the woods or wilds is great, but being out there with your best companion is even better. I love watching my dogs react to sounds, sights, and smells out on the trail. I see more because I see so much from their point of view.
So get ready, gear up, and get out on the trail with your dog!
Research and writing by Joyce Dierschke