Hiking with Your Dog – A Guide for Active Dog Owners
How Should I Prepare to Take My Dog Hiking?
Summertime offers many opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors and for many that includes hiking. From dense woods to majestic mountains and everything in between, hiking our planet’s diverse terrain rejuvenates our mind, body and spirit.
Of course, your beloved best friend will want to tag along. Their love for being outdoors combined with spending time with you make this a perfect activity to do together.
Before trekking out for a long hike take a moment to get a better understanding of hiking with your dog.
Can All Dogs Go Hiking?
In our previous post we mentioned that all dogs have different and unique capabilities regarding physical activities, with hiking this is no different. While some dogs may not be capable of swimming, hiking is an activity that almost every dog can enjoy.
Factors such as age and physical strengths will need to be accounted for. An older dog or one that has health issues may be better suited to simpler hikes that are shorter and on more even terrain. They will need extra breaks and might move at a slower pace, but the fresh air and physical activity will benefit their overall well-being.
If you have a new puppy that is over 6 months, their enthusiasm and energy while hiking might be challenging but also very enjoyable. Again, easier hikes of under an hour that are on level terrain and offer lots of breaks will be important for them at this age.
Regarding temperament and personality, almost every dog will enjoy some sort of hike. The new smells, wildlife around them and not to mention hanging out with you are a recipe for happiness in all dogs.
Here is a list of dogs by hiking skill level.
Dogs Best Suited for Longer/Difficult Hiking
- Siberian Husky
- Border Collies
- Australian Shepherd
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Alaskan Malamute
- Portuguese Water Dog
- German Shepherd
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- American Pitbull Terriers
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
- Tibetan Terrier
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- Shetland Sheep Dog
- Doberman Pinscher
- Jack Russell Terrier
Dogs Best Suited for Easy/Short Hikes
- Bull Mastiff
- Bassett Hound
- Chow Chow
- Great Dane
- French Bulldog
- Old English Sheep Dog
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Shih Tzu
Certain dogs are not made for long or deep woods hiking, they can go for short walks or hikes on the rails-trails or other easily accessible trails that limit their time hiking and where they hike. These breeds include:
- Scent hounds that will spend their time excited about hunting prey and are more likely to run off. If you are a lucky scent hound owner and would like to hike together be sure to have your dog trained properly before hitting the trail.
- Brachycephalic dogs (pugs and boxers) have short muzzles are not known for endurance or handling heat well. They are best suited to shorter hikes when the weather isn’t too hot.
These lists are not exhaustive but a starting point for dog owners.
Training Your Dog for Hiking
As with anything, practice and patience make perfect. Once you have a better understanding of your dog’s abilities you can begin to hike with them.
Initially you will want to take them for a short hike on simple terrain to see how they manage and what their energy and physical state is after. Have them wear their backpack if that is what they will be doing on the trail and keep it under 30 minutes for the first hike.
Depending on how they perform, each hiking adventure after the first one you can increase the length or type of terrain slightly. After each change you will want to access how they are physically, looking for signs of extreme exhaustion or overtiredness, difficulty breathing or fast heart rate.
Depending on how your dog reacts physically to each hike will determine when you have reached a comfortable plateau where you and your dog are enjoying the great outdoors together while hiking. For each dog this level will be different. Some dogs will only be able to hike short or easy trails while others can rough it with the most experienced hiker on difficult or lengthy hikes.
Depending on your dogs age, personality and physical skill, once you have reached this plateau you can sometimes increase their endurance along with yours. This should be done slowly and with caution since they can’t fully express how they feel physically to us. Consulting with their veterinarian prior to beginning this is very important for their overall health.
Items to Bring when Hiking with My Dog
- Food, plenty of water and bowls (collapsible would be perfect)
- Poop bags
- Dog hiking booties
- A dog backpack if using
- Dog rain jacket
- Extra leash (A waist belt leash would be good), harness or collar
- Comb or brush and a towel
- A small trowel to bury dog poop out of the bag
- ID tags
- GPS tracking device or dog collar
- A pad for resting
- LED collar lights
- Ziplock baggies for collecting anything the dog ingests, sniffs or bites
- Dog first aid kit (Add Benadryl for poisonous bites, Tecnu for poison ivy/oak, instant ice pack, salve for their paws, flea, tick and parasite prevention)
Precautions For Keeping My Dog Safe
- Investigate the area you will be hiking prior to doing so for common threats and dangers to your dog
- Investigate weather conditions in the area before hiking
- Only allow them to drink water that you have brought along
- Always keep them in your sight, especially if you let them off the leash
- Don’t allow chasing of wildlife or running through flora and fauna
- Be wary of steep trails that have cliffs or edges
- Consider a Leptospirosis vaccine to protect your dog against pathogens in wildlife urine
- Watch for signs of heavy breathing or fast heart rate which are signs of over exertion
- Keeping an eye out for limping or unusual walking which could mean injuries.
- Be careful of unstable terrain (a dog backpack with a handle or a dog harness makes it easier to retrieve your dog.
- Feel their nose periodically for dryness which is a sign of dehydration.
- Have a list of local poisonous plants and carry with you.
- Watch where they walk. Overgrowth, hollows in the ground, under trees and the cracks between rocks can harbor snakes and other wildlife that can be dangerous to you and your dog.
- Keep an eye on what your dog smells or ingests and take a sample with you in case of illness. Anything from an out of place sock to mushrooms and cat tails can harbor viruses, bacteria or unknown poisons. This sample will allow the veterinarian to identify if illness strikes.
- When hiking with more than one dog, there should be one human per dog for safety.
Prior to your hike you will want to:
- Make sure dogs are allowed where you will be hiking.
- Know the park or areas rules and regulations, including leash laws.
- Be aware if the location allows ATV’s, horses or mountain bikes.
- Refresh your dog’s training commands and trail etiquette together.
- Note where the closest animal hospital or facility is for injuries.
- Check with your dog’s veterinarian first to ensure they are physically healthy to go hiking.
- Have an emergency plan compiled should something happen since cell phone service can sometimes be spotty while hiking.
- Check the park or area for any recent siting of bear or other wildlife that could put your dog in danger.
- Make sure their backpack (if using) is in good working order and filled properly for their comfort.
- Ensure that they have rested well, are in good physical health that day and are properly hydrated.
Throughout your hike with your canine buddy you should:
- Always keep them under control and within your sights.
- Yield to other hikers.
- Watch for signs of wildlife that might bring danger to your dog.
- Never assume a hiker is a dog lover, communicate proactively with other hikers.
- Leave no trace of your dog.
- Take frequent breaks for rest, hydration and inspection of your dog’s overall health. Change booties if needed, inspect their backpack for wear and comfort.
After your hike with your canine buddy you should:
- Brush or comb to remove debris or particles from your dog’s fur coat.
- Inspect thoroughly for ticks, cuts and other injuries.
A Word About Bears, Food and Poop
Who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh right? Well these cuddly, large creatures can be dangerous unlike their cartoon counterparts. Generally, it is discouraged to take a dog into bear country. If, however a dog owner chooses to do so, there are some extra cautions to note.
In Black bear country, on short hikes it should be fine to take your dog along but always keep them on a leash. For longer treks into bear country or if you will be hiking in Grizzly bear territory it is best to leave your dog at home. If, however you are hiking in a pack of people and dogs it is a bit easier, the more dogs and humans, the more noise, the better, although caution should still be noted in Grizzly bear territory.
Avoiding a hike during dawn or dusk will lessen your chances of a bear encounter. Carrying a bear spray on the outside of your backpack in a holster can also protect you and your dog.
When thinking of hiking and food together, on a short hike, leave the food and other scented items in the vehicle for when you and your dog return. For lengthier hikes consider purchasing bear canisters for you and your dogs’ food. These canisters are made of hard-shelled plastic with a lid and come in a variety of sizes to fit your needs. They keep the scent of what you carry in the container preventing a bear from hunting you down for a snack. You can find ultra-lightweight canisters here.
Most wildlife use scent to communicate, letting your dog poop in the woods and not cleaning it up properly can cause territorial wars and distress in local wildlife.
Federal and State parks follow the Leave No Trace rule so when it comes to cleaning up after your dog you can either carry it out or bury it in a 6-8-inch hole no less than 200 feet away from trails, camps or water. This rule should be followed even if you are hiking somewhere other than a State or Federal park to protect our natural resources.
Bonus – How to Fit/Load a Dog Backpack Properly
Consult with your dog’s veterinarian prior to fitting them for a backpack, age and health issues can determine whether they can carry one. Some dogs may not be able to carry the weight but can benefit from wearing an empty backpack while hiking for safety reasons.
You want a dog backpack to fit them snugly but not where it will chafe. Make sure to adjust the harness accordingly, you want to be able to fit two fingers under it. Remove the saddlebags prior to this if the back allows you to do that. A good dog pack should have extra padding for your dog’s comfort.
Load food, water (some packs have a hydration bladder), bowls and other gear. The weight of the contents should never exceed one third of your dogs’ total weight and should be equally distributed on each side. Try to distribute items equally in shape and size for comfort.
Some dogs find a backpack strange and don’t want to wear it, but patience and persistence will prevail. On the first hikes you take together you can have them wear it empty, gradually adding weight a little at a time to see how they handle it and determine what they can carry.
Remember during those first short hikes that a 15-minute hike with the backpack on is equal to a 30-minute hike without the backpack on. Give them time to adjust to the weight and gain endurance while wearing the backpack.
Hiking with your dog can be a very enjoyable experience for you both. Discovering new territory together among natures beauty will have you and your dog repeating this adventure over and over. Possibilities are endless for the adventures you both can have.
How about turning your hiking adventure into a camping adventure with dog.
See our article 7 Tips for Summertime Camping with Your Dog
Stay tuned next week for a guide on Bicycling with your dog!