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:
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.
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:
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.
A hike often turns into an overnight camping trip, which has rules of its own:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.