Man’s best friend can be a great companion on your outdoor adventures. With just a little planning and preparation both you and your pup will safely enjoy hiking and backpacking trips.
1. Before you go
None of us can go from a sedentary lifestyle to hiking 20 miles a day. Neither can Fido—no matter how many squirrels he chases! Be sure to start with short distances and increase the mileage slowly.
In addition to building up endurance, your dog will need to toughen their paws. Dogs can be susceptible to torn pads and other injuries. Consider protecting your pup’s paws from injuries and in rough terrain with special nylon dog boots.
Hiking will take you into the areas where foxes, coyotes, and other wild animals live and transmit diseases. Depending on your dog, the climate, and other factors, your veterinarian may suggest a few extra vaccines or preventative measures, including:
- Leptospirosis (Lepto)
- Flea, tick, and heartworm—most pet owners use flea, tick, and heartworm medicine regularly but it will be particularly important to use a strong enough product regularly and remember to check your dog for ticks and hitchhiking insects after each hike.
- Bordetella (also called kennel cough)
Take time to brush up on obedience. Your dog should at least obey basic commands (heel, stay, sit, and come) and be well mannered on a leash or harness.
Study the trail maps and surrounding area. Make sure there are no obstacles or parts of the trail your dog won’t be able to navigate (like ladders). Have a bail plan in the event something happens to you or your dog.
2. Fido needs to carry his own gear
Especially if you and your dog are hiking long distances, it’s important that Fido carries his own bowl, food, treats, and water in a specially made dog pack.
There are many varieties of dog packs with seemingly infinite features and designs to choose from. The most important thing is to make sure you get one that fits your dog properly.
To find the proper pack fit, measure your dog around the widest part of his rib cage (the circumference of the chest). Most packs are sized based on a combination of this measurement and the weight of your dog. Make sure the pack fits snugly to avoid chafing or slipping, but not too snug to interfere with movement and breathing.
If your dog is new to packs, start by letting Fido sport his new, empty pack around the house. Being in a familiar environment will help him adjust to the feel of the pack more easily.
Once your dog has acclimated to the pack, gradually introduce weight. Make sure to add weight evenly to both sides of the pack. Just like you want your backpack to sit evenly on your shoulders, your dog needs his pack to carry evenly.
Check with your vet to determine the recommended carrying capacity for your dog. Factors like age, size, and strength will impact that answer, but a general rule of thumb is no more than 25% of your dog’s total bodyweight.
3. Bring water for two
Be aware of water availability for both you and your dog. A good rule of thumb to avoid dehydration is to take a water break every 15 to 30 minutes.
Read up on the signs and symptoms of dehydration from PetMD so you know what to look for. The most obvious signs of dehydration in your dog are:
- Loss of elasticity in the skin: if you pull the skin away from the body, healthy skin will quickly return to its original place. Dehydrated skin will take longer to sink back down and return to normal
- Xerostomia: your dog’s gums become dry to the touch and sticky instead of moist and smooth. The saliva also thickens.
Generally your dog needs one ounce of water for each pound of body weight. Your dog may drink more while out hiking, especially in hot weather. If you are bringing extra water for yourself, bring extra water for Fido.
Prevent your dog from drinking lake, pond, or stream water. Dogs can get giardia and other water-born bacteria just like humans.
4. Safety first
It’s always a good idea to carry a first aid kit when hiking—even when going to familiar areas. There are a few items you will want to add to your first aid kit (or make sure you already have) for your dog’s safety:
- Dog toenail clippers
- Liquid bandage made for pets
- Iodine or other antiseptic
- Muzzle (even the most docile dogs can become aggressive if injured)
- Stop-bleeding powder
Watch out for foxtails and burrs. They are spiky and can become embedded in Fido’s ears, skin, and paws. Foxtails in particular can even get sucked up into your dog’s nose and cause extreme discomfort and infection.
Throughout the hike, keep an eye on your dog’s body language. If he’s limping, favoring one paw or lying down and unwilling to continue on, then he’ll need some attention.
5. Leave No Trace
On day hikes make sure to pack out your dog’s poop. Fido can even carry the poop bags—both empty and full.
It’s bad trail etiquette to bag your dog’s poop and leave it to pick up on your way back through. Wild animals may take it and the bag—even if biodegradable—can endanger wildlife. It’s also unsightly for other hikers.
During hiking and backpacking trips of any length, be sure to follow the Leave No Trace principles. If you are camping, dispose of human or dog waste by burying it 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from any trails, campsites, and water sources.
What are some of your tips for taking your dogs on adventures? Let us know in the comments below!