If you love hiking and you also have a dog, chances are that your dog will be one of your favorite trail companions. What’s better than hiking with man’s best friend?!
Your dog might even love hiking more than you do, but they will require some extra planning and care for their well-being and safety while on the trail.
1. Physical Readiness
Depending on the length and type of trail you plan on taking, you need to be sure your dog is up to it physically. Longer, more strenuous trails are best for dogs who aren’t too young or too old without physical handicaps or ailments. While it may seem like dogs are endless sources of stamina and energy, they have limits too! Monitor your dog closely while hiking for panting and fatigue, you’ll know when it’s time to take a break.
2. Vaccinations and Preventative Treatments
Be sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations and preventative treatments such as flea, tick, and heartworm. Your dog may come into contact with any manner of diseases or parasites on the trail from wildlife, droppings, and water sources. Even things like canine distemper or parvo—these are devastating illnesses and you’ll want to be sure your dog is protected.
3. Food and Water
Depending on the length of your hike, you may need to increase their meal size. Feed a little before the hike and more snacks along the way when you take your rest breaks. You will also need to pack extra water and a bowl to offer it in. Be sure you have enough for yourself and your canine companion.
4. Obedience and Trail Etiquette
It is almost inevitable that you will meet others while you are out on the trail, so you need to know how your dog will behave when coming into contact with people, wildlife or other dogs.
Dogs are family members and it’s easy to think that everyone who meets our dog on the trail will be just as happy to see them as we are, but that’s not the case.
Many people are afraid of dogs, and some people may have their own dog with them as well, who may or may not be friendly. There will also be wildlife around—some that your dog may want to chase, and perhaps some that may want to chase your dog. The best prevention from potentially dangerous encounters is to keep your dog on a leash, especially if they do not obey your commands in a moment of temptation.
5. Waste Disposal
Hiking with a dog is no different than hiking without a dog when it comes to following Leave No Trace principles. At some point, potty breaks will happen and you need to be prepared to either bag up the waste and pack it out, or bury it off the trail. Carry gloves, waste baggies and a small hand shovel for burying waste.
6. Rest and Water Breaks
Take breaks frequently and offer water as often as possible. When your dog starts to show signs of overexertion like panting or lethargy, you know it’s time to take a break! Look for a shady place to rest and while you’re there, offer a little bit of food and water.
7. Essential Supplies
Along with your own supplies, you need to bring some extra things for your hiking companion. If you don’t have enough room in your pack, you can get a dog pack so your dog can carry their own supplies. If using a pack, be sure it fits properly, is evenly weighted and does not weigh more than a 3rd of your dogs weight. Get them used to wearing it and going on walks with it fully loaded before trying for a hike.
- Water container: A collapsible bowl works best for hiking because it’s easy to store and carry with you.
- Food and Water: Bring enough of your dogs favorite food to keep their energy and strength up during the hike and for recovery and enough water to keep them hydrated.
- Booties: those paws can get sore after hiking all day over rough terrain! Keep a pair of booties on hand for your dog to wear over rough, cold or hot terrain. Bring spares – dogs often lose booties!
- First Aid Kit: Bring any medications your dog may currently take, antihistamine in case of an allergic reaction and standard first aid supplies.
- Dog Brush: Keep a dog brush handy to remove tangles, burrs, and foxtails from your dog’s coat.
- Dog Coat or Cooling Collar: depending on the season you may want to pack some extra warmth or cooling assistance.
- Sleeping Pad and Blanket: If you are camping, be sure you also have something cozy for your pet to sleep on. Unless they’re sleeping with you or are used to sleeping on cold, hard ground, pack a little something to help them get a good, restorative nights rest.
8. Park and Leash Laws
Be sure you brush up on park regulations and leash laws on the trail that you are planning to hike with your pet. Most National Parks don’t allow dogs, and some allow them only on certain trails. Be sure you are in accordance with all local laws and restrictions for the safety of you and your pet.
Potential Trail Hazards
Always be aware of your dogs condition and the potential hazards on the trail. To keep your dog safe, look out for these things:
- Overexertion & Heat Stroke: Know the signs of heat stroke in dogs. Heat stroke can be potentially fatal, and many dogs have trouble regulating body heat on hot days. Heat stroke signs include panting, dehydration, excessive drooling, little to no urine output, seizures or irregular or rapid heartbeats. If you notice any of these signs, get to the vet immediately.
- Wildlife: You will likely encounter many types of wildlife on the trail! Some may present potential hazards to your dog. Your dog may chase an animal into rough terrain and in some regions, you may encounter predators. Ticks can also be hazardous as some of them carry Lyme disease. Be mindful of the fauna in the area and if not using a leash, keep a close eye on your pet. You may consider a GPS beacon for their collar if they are prone to chasing.
- Wild Plants: Don’t allow your dog to chew or eat any wild plants and keep them away from Poison Oak, Ivy and Sumac. Carry antihistamines for any potential allergic reactions.
Along with internal issues that can come from wild plants, there are external dangers as well. Thorns and burrs can cause irritation and foxtails can be very dangerous. Foxtails grow on a variety of grasses throughout the spring, summer and fall, and attach to fur very easily. Foxtails work themselves in deeper with every movement, and can embed themselves in skin, ears, genitals, nasal and throat cavities.
They present dangers to internal organs and can create serious complications. Keep a brush handy and thoroughly check your dogs coat during each break and after the hike. Excessive sneezing, gagging, head shaking, eye discharge or an abscess can be a sign of an embedded foxtail. Have a vet check it out immediately.
- Waterborne Pathogens: Dogs are vulnerable to the same waterborne pathogens as humans are. Common ones found in water are Listeria, Giardia and Coccidia. Signs of illness from waterborne pathogens include vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. Never let your dog drink stagnant water and keep them clear of drinking stream water if you are in an area with a heavy cattle or farming presence.
Taking a hike should be a fun adventure for everyone – including your dog! Be prepared before you go and take care to keep your beloved pet safe, happy and hydrated. Always remember to do a post-hike checkup! Check for foxtails or burs in the fur, ears or face and check paws for thorns and raw areas. Once you’ve done that it’s time to relax, unwind and plan you and your dogs next great adventure.