Taking your dog along on a hike is an amazing way to enjoy the great outdoors together. Whether it’s a day hike or a short climb, you and your canine buddy can enjoy the fresh air and the exercise as you both explore new places.
But keep these important points in mind:
Taking your dog hiking for the first time?
Most breeds enjoy being outdoors and getting down and dirty. But, that does not mean not planning before setting out on a hike with your dog. Dr. George Melillo, chief veterinary officer of Heart + Pawtent says it is important to plan for the activity when hiking with your dog, “so that it is pleasurable and healthy for all participants”.
Read on to know the dos and don’ts, including what you need to bring, do, or avoid while setting out on a grand adventure that’s a lot of fun for both you and your dog.
Devil’s Kitchen Part VI. The dogs and I are exhausted. I can’t remember the last time I saw the trail. My knees are bleeding & I realized that we are scaling a cliff like mountain sheep & it occurs to me that I have gone astray! #dog #lost #hike #outdoors #stateparks #explore pic.twitter.com/FK9CJGfNuF
— Julie Smith (@Strivn2Thrive) September 9, 2022
Preparing your dog for the trail is crucial if you want to enjoy quality time away from home. But before you get all excited about hiking with your dog, you’ll need to acknowledge that not all dogs are fit for hiking. It is important to be realistic about what you are asking of your dog to not risk its health or safety.
As a responsible pet parent, it is up to you to ensure your dog is physically and mentally fit to accompany you on a hike.
So how do you do that?
By following certain precautions. Read on for the dos and don’ts.
Here’s what you’ll need to do before you set out on a hike with your dog:
“Before any hiking trip, it is wise to consult with your vet to ensure your dog is fit for the hike. Some dogs are more tolerant to intense exercise compared to others”, advises Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Maureen K. Murithi.
Therefore, schedule a visit with your vet to discuss what safety measures to follow before and after a hike with your dog. You can compile a list of questions to go over with them that include:
Your dog will need to undergo a physical examination to ensure its bones and muscles are well-developed and free from issues.
Your dog’s age will determine if taking it on a hike is a good idea, especially if you plan on tackling a tough trail. Some dogs may be too young or still untrained to withstand the rigors of the elements.
Certain vaccines or medications can protect your dog from exposure to contaminants on a hike. Lakes and ponds make ideal breeding grounds for infectious contaminants that could cause leptospirosis or giardia. Your vet can advise you on how to protect your dog’s health on a hike.
Training your dog to acclimate to hiking and respond to commands are crucial for a safe outdoor experience. You’ll need your dog to remain calm, responsive, and obedient on a hike, especially if you intend on taking a challenging route.
The best way to train your dog for a hike is to:
Following the rules set by a local or national park will ensure you and your dog have the best time. Look for a local or national park in your city or state that permits dogs. Remember that most locations don’t allow dogs to be unleashed, so keep a leash or two handy.
Certain hiking essentials can go a long way in ensuring your dog is comfortable during the hike. Keep a checklist of doggy essentials close so you don’t miss a thing. Here’s what to take when hiking with your dog:
A travel-size pet-friendly first aid kit should contain a mix of medical paraphernalia to tend to your dog’s injuries (if any). Always check the kit to ensure it’s stocked after a hiking trip.
Pro Tip: A pet-friendly first aid kit should contain antiseptic solutions, antihistamines, antibiotic ointments, supplements, antibiotics, gauze, stretchy bandages, a multipurpose tool with tweezers, blood-clotting powder, cotton pads and swabs, tick and flea solution, saline solution, fine-toothed dog comb, and gloves.
Pack doggy treats (without sugar to keep your dog’s energy up) and fresh, protein-rich dog-friendly foods such as bananas, sweet potatoes, peanut butter, and canned meat. Your dog’s favorite chew and cuddly toys will make great companions on a hike, so pack these too.
Hiking can be strenuous — long hours of walking and climbing on rough, cold, or hot terrain. The constant friction can lead to sores or tears, which you want to avoid. Dog boots will provide protection on rocky and challenging trails.
Your dog’s hiking arsenal should include insect repellents and even sunscreen specifically formulated for pets. If you thought sunscreen was just for humans, think again!
Richard Goldstein (DVM) shares how “it’s actually very important to put sunscreen on dogs, especially those with light skin and white fur or hair.”
Applying sunscreen on your dog 20 minutes before sun exposure and every 4-6 hours will protect it from UV exposure.
For easy application, choose a sun protector spray for furry dogs and a sun stick for short-haired dogs.
In addition to the above, you can also consider these fantastic hiking products for your dog.
It’s an all-natural food-grade wax that forms a protective barrier between a surface and your dog’s paws. The breathable substance doesn’t come off once applied and has an indefinite shelf life. It’s a must-have product to protect your doggy’s paws from bruises.
Ideally you should get your dog used to wearing boots to protect its paws when hiking through rough terrain. Ruffwear kicks are an ideal choice since these boots provide comfort and traction and can be used for practically any outdoor activity.
Your dog will require certain essentials on a hike and a dog backpack can be handy. I personally prefer this Kurgo backpack since it is spacious, lightweight, comfortable, and easy on your pet’s back.
Your dog too will need hiking gear before hitting the great outdoors. Be sure to add the following doggy accessories to your checklist too.
Added reinforcement is always a good idea for more control over your dog. You can attach more than one leash to a harness to make it easy to maneuver your dog on a hike.
A dog leash is a must-have accessory to take on a hike. Good leashes are abrasion-resistant and thick enough to withstand gnawing.
A collar-attachable night light will be a savior when you’re out in the country. It will prove handy during a hike when darkness falls.
Look for a collapsible dog bowl with a rigid base and wide mouth to fill with water or snacks.
Earth-friendly baggies make scooping up poop easier and help minimize plastic waste.
Your doggy will love resting on a camping blanket with adequate insulation and padding. Look for a nylon-based blanket that withstands dog hair, precipitation, and loose dirt.
Looking to take your dog’s sleeping arrangements a notch higher? You can ensure your pet is warm and snug with these tents that are suitable for dogs.
Exploring the outdoors with a pet trailer hitched to your bike gives your dog a comfy spot to take in the views. It’s perfect for those who want to cover more distance on a trek with ease. A bike trailer is also a good solution for physically incapable pets on a hike.
Wait, why not a backpack?
Although hiking with your dog in a backpack takes the load off your dog’s paws, it can put undue strain on your back and legs.
— Tranquil Sounds (@TranquilSounds2) September 4, 2022
The blistering heat of summer can be unforgiving. Keep your dog cool and hydrated during the hike so it does not get tired too quickly. A cooling core panel that uses evaporative cooling technology can stabilize your dog’s body and is a worthy investment if you plan on frequent hikes with your dog.
Alternatively, maintaining your dog’s body heat is crucial when it’s cold or rainy. Insulation-style vests fit most dogs weighing 35 to 100+ lbs and are an essential accessory for cold and wet locations.
Important points to remember while hiking with your dog
Dogs are curious creatures who love to explore. Seasoned hiker Malcolm Kogut observes how “dogs love to smell new smells, and the woods are full of smells not found at home.”
Your four-legged companion is bound to get caught up with the new sights and scents since “genetically dogs are hunters and being out in the woods may evoke latent or nascent thrills of the hunt.” explains Kogut.
Ensure your dog wears a tag on its collar or harness with crucial information such as your name, address, email id, and phone number.
Dog tags help other hikers or park officials contact you in the unforeseen event that your pet gets lost on the trail.
Traceable dog tags such as the QALO TraQ can input basic information as well as additional details about your pet’s medications or vaccines. It’s a smart and necessary accessory to have if your dog and you spend a lot of time outdoors.
The succinct answer to this smelly question is YES!
Remember the original tenet of backcountry travel – ‘pack it in, pack it out’? Well, it applies to your pet’s poop too.
But if bears and other wild animals can leave their poop lying in the woods why can’t your dog? For the simple reason that it can be very disruptive to the native fauna.
Most wild animals communicate using scent and leaving your dog poop lying around can impede territorial claims, causing distress.
In addition, staff at local and national parks work tirelessly to maintain their upkeep, and therefore cleaning up after your dog is the responsible and hygienic thing to do.
Carry biodegradable baggies so you can pick up after your dog. Consider double-bagging it if you must carry it for a while before you can responsibly dispose of it.
If you plan on camping overnight, remember to carry a shovel so you can bury any fecal matter. The rule is to bury it at least 8” deep and at least 200 feet from walkways, camping sites, and water sources. Lose the bag if you’re burying the doo-doo.
Good to Know: Backpackers, campers, hikers, and those frequenting local and national parks should know the Leave No Trace principles that dictate how individuals with or without pets should conduct themselves in public places.
It may not be easy to follow this rule if your dog has to pee on the spot but act quickly to move your dog away if it happens close to a water source.
You and your dog may have returned rejuvenated and hopefully unscathed after a hike. But your job doesn’t end there.
While preventive measures are important it’s always wise to check yourself and your dog for ticks after a hike. Use a dog comb to look for ticks. Also, examine your dog for injuries or bruises.
Pro Tip: Do a little research about the common poisonous plant varieties in the hiking location you’re going to. Plants such as poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak are just as toxic to dogs as they are to humans. The substances can easily transfer from your dog’s fur to your skin. Learning to identify these plants beforehand will save you and your dog from a severe reaction.
Medium to large dog breeds can hike for as far as 10 miles whereas smaller dog breeds can hike up to 2 miles. How long a dog can hike will depend on factors such as age, breed, physical fitness, and weight.
You also have to consider your dog’s stamina, strength, and agility, especially if it’s older. Weak joints, muscle problems, and obesity can make hiking a challenge for dogs. Brachycephalic dog breeds such as Bulldogs, Chows, and Pugs with flat muzzles may experience breathing problems that can lead to overheating of the body.
Yes, hiking with a dog is fine as long as you keep its physical fitness, strength, and agility in mind. It’s best to speak to your dog’s vet about these factors.
Dog boots or an occlusive wax (made specifically for dogs) can protect your dog’s paws on a hike.
As mentioned earlier, smaller dogs can hike up to 2 miles before they tire out. It’s best to stick to short trails or carry a pet stroller to make the hike easier on your dog.
Foods that are hydrating and rich in protein will keep your dog nourished after a long hike.
Several dog breeds make great hiking buddies. Popular among them are Huskies, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Labrador Retrievers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs. They’re not naturally made for challenging hikes but can be trained to keep up with you.
Hiking with your dog can be a thrilling experience, but like any other trip, it involves careful planning. Make your hike with your dog a memorable, safe, and fun trip with this guide.
A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.