Hiking with Man's Best Friend: Dog-Friendly Hiking Tips
Search for Trails That Work for Your Dog
If your dog isn’t used to hiking you don’t want to take them out on an expert trail. Instead, look for a dog-friendly trail:
- It should have plenty of shade.
- Choose a path that’s soft – with either leaf or needle-covered terrain.
- Skip paths with lots of sharp rocks.
- Avoid routes with steep drops.
- Don’t choose a path with lots of horse use.
- Don’t choose a path that’s popular for mountain biking.
Protect Your Pooches Paws
One of the best things you can do for your dog is to invest in dog shoes. They’ll protect their feet from rocks and other debris and will also prevent hot pavement from burning their feet. Be sure to get your dog used to them before your inaugural hike.
Bring a Dog Harness or Pack
Depending on your dog, you may let him run free once you’re safely on your hike. However, you do need to bring his dog harness for more populated areas. Make sure the harness fits properly and it’s snug enough to stay on but not so snug that it will chafe.
You can also find dog harnesses with saddlebags. You can load them up with everything your dog needs:
There are several types of packs. The best ones have some or all of these features:
- Dividers to keep food and water separate from the rest of your supplies.
- A collapsible food dish that will fit perfectly inside or zip on the outside.
- A pocket that allows you to add a cooling insert. This is perfect for hiking in hot climates.
- A top handle makes it easy for you to hang on to your dog as you’re crossing shallow streams or are passing small ledges.
You can even add extra gear for you if you have room but remember to weigh both sides of the pack equally and ensure the total load isn’t more than one-third of your dog’s weight.
5 Rules for Overnight Camping
A hike often turns into an overnight camping trip, which has rules of its own:
- Keep your dog on a leash or harness when other hikers are around, when you’re near bikers or horses, or when they’re on slippery or steep terrain.
- For day hikes, pack the poop and dispose of it normally. For longer hikes, follow LNT regs: bury it away from the trail and away from water sources.
- Use a camp towel and / or brush to clean your dog and dry them before you let them in the tent. Be sure to trim their nails before the trip so they won’t rip the tent floor.
- Bring something for your dog to sleep in. Dog sleeping bags are a great choice, especially in cold weather.
- Put a glowstick bracelet or LED light on your dog at night so you can easily find them.
Feeding Your Dog on a Hike
It can be challenging to figure out how much to feed your dog on a hike. Start by giving them their regular brand their normal portion size. You can increase that amount by about 50% depending on the fitness of your dog, the difficulty of the hike, and how much exercise your dog generally gets.
The general rule of thumb is that a dog should get one cup of food for every 20 pounds they weight. You can also give him a small serving an hour or so before the hike to boost his energy.
Keeping Your Dog Appropriately Hydrated
Just like you, your dog is at risk of becoming dehydrated on a hike. Use your own thirst as a guide as to when your dog needs water. Generally speaking, you should both take a water break every 15 minutes to a half an hour – depending on how hot out it is and how difficult the trail is.
Dogs can get Giardia, which comes from drinking contaminated water. If you’re in an area with lots of campers or lots of cattle, keep your dog on a harness and don’t allow them to drink from lakes or streams.
Build Up to Long Hikes
You shouldn’t start on a long hike right out of the gate. Whether your dog is an adult or a puppy they’ll benefit from starting on shorter hikes so they can develop the stamina they need and their paw pads can toughen.
If you’d like to take a puppy at least wait until they’ve had all their shots. This should generally be at about five months old. You should be sure to keep hikes less than an hour when you’re first starting out with a puppy.
First Aid for Your Dog
Some of the items you’ll need in your dog’s first aid kit will be the same items you’d need but some will be unique to them. Here’s what we recommend:
- Iodine or another antiseptic for wounds
- Liquid bandage made specifically for pets
- Tweezers to remove ticks
- Dog toenail clippers
- Canine eyewash
- Calamine lotion for bug bites
- Baking soda for bee stings
- Stop-bleeding powder
- Non-stick pads
- Adhesive tape
- Muzzle (remember that even the most docile dog can become dangerous when injured)
Is Your Pooch Healthy Enough to Hike?
If you’re not sure if your dog is healthy enough for a hike then you should contact your vet before you take them out. However, there are two common issues that generally mean your dog shouldn’t be hiking:
- Nursing Dogs. If your dog has recently had a litter of puppies it’s not a good time for her to go on a hike. Wait until all the puppies are weaned. They need their mom nearby and the dog’s body is under lots of stress from caring for her pups.
- Hip Dysplasia. Your vet may be able to provide you with some medication to lessen your dog’s pain from this chronic condition but be sure not to give it human anti-inflammatories like Advil or Motrin. They can actually be deadly to your dog!
Proper Vaccinations for Hiking Dogs
In most areas the rabies vaccine is the only one that the law requires but if you’re hiking in wild areas with foxes, coyotes, and other wild creatures then you’ll want to make sure your dog has all the vaccines they need – not just the one required by law. Talk to your vet about what they need, which may include:
- Bordetella (often called kennel cough)
- DHLPP (protects against distemper, hepatitis, parvo, parainfluenza, and leptospirosis)
- Heartworm prevention
- Tick control
Does Your Dog Meet the Behavior Requirements for Hiking?
You may think of hiking as an outdoor activity that takes place in the wild but that doesn’t mean you’ll always be alone. Before you take your pooch out on the trails with you, you should be sure they can:
- Come at your verbal call
They should be comfortable on a leash or harness and they should be more likely to stay by your side than chase a squirrel. They should also be well socialized both with humans and other dogs. Trails can be very narrow and you may end up very close to people or dogs on the trails.
Take Your Dog’s Size into Consideration
If your dog is over 4 pounds, is in decent shape, and has good manners then they should be fine as a hiking dog. That doesn’t mean small dogs can’t handle the trails. In fact, a terrier in good shape can run circles around a black lab that isn’t in shape.
That said, keep in mind that smaller dogs have to take more steps to cover ground. They’re not able to stretch as far up or down on rocks so they’ll need help when larger dogs wouldn’t. Advanced trails with many difficult passings are likely not good choices for large or small dogs.
Age is More Important than Size
As dogs age their joints get stiff, they can get arthritis, and they’re likely to have other ailments that affect their physical abilities. It’s true that smaller dogs are likely to live longer, but any dog that’s older than ten is likely only a candidate for the smoothest hiking trails.
Likewise, be careful with your puppy. Steep, uneven trails can affect the development of their joints, hips, and shoulders. These areas aren’t completely formed until they’re between nine months and a year old, depending on the breed.
Special Weather Considerations
No matter how hiking-savvy your dog may be, if it’s hot and humid you’ll want to stick to a route with extra shade and perhaps a pond nearby. Remember to bring your dog sunscreen and dog shoes to protect his delicate parts from the hot sun and hot rocks.
Doggy Etiquette on the Hiking Trail
Most trails have few official rules and many have none at all but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow a few guidelines to be sure you and your dog are being good citizens.
- Make sure you’re in control of your dog at all times. If they’re off leash they should be within your sight and range of your commands.
- Don’t have more dogs than people because it can be hard to quickly control more than one dog at once.
- Don’t have more than two dogs per hiking group even if there are many more people. When you have three dogs together – or more – you’re dealing with a pack, which can be intimidating to other hikers.
- Hikers without dogs should always have the right away. When you come across other people snap your dog harness on your dog, move out of the way, and tell your dog to sit until the hikers have passed.
- Say hello to anyone you come across so they know you and your dog are
- If you see a loose dog while hiking, put your dog on a leash. You can’t control the other dog but you can control yours.
- Don’t allow your dog to beg. Be sure you have enough snacks and water so it doesn’t feel compelled to do so.
- Clean up after your dog. They aren’t wild animals and their feces is not just a part of nature.
- Don’t allow your dog to damage or otherwise disturb wildlife or plants. Your dog should stay on the trail or rocks. There are many plants that can be destroyed by trampling and soil can become compacted by your dog’s paws – which speeds up the erosion process.
How to Keep Your Dog Safe on a Hike
Not all hikes are meant for dogs and even those that seem like a good fit may pose dangers to your pet. Before you choose a route, keep these things in mind:
- Cliffs Can be a Hazard. It’s not likely your dog will jump off a cliff on purpose but it will be able to sense if you’re nervous or excited – which is likely to make it nervous or excited. It could go bounding ahead. If you pick a route with cliffs be sure your dog is on a harness as you approach.
- Ladders Should be Avoided. Some hiking routes require you to use a latter to get to the top spot. The higher a ladder is the less likely it is that your dog can find a different route. It’s not safe to carry your pet up or down a ladder.
- Dogs Can be Victims of Waterborne Illness.Don’t let your dog drink from natural water sources. Keep it away from even dry creek beds as it could contaminate the water supply.
Taking your dog for a hike is fun for both you and your dog. Just be sure you bring the right gear, you properly vaccinate your pooch, and you follow the simple rules of etiquette.