Hiking is great exercise and a fun way to connect with nature. It can also be an enjoyable form of outdoor recreation to share with your canine companion. Hiking with your dog requires advance planning. But if you know how to prepare, what to take along and what to watch for along the way, you and your dog can can enjoy lots of wonderful trail adventures.
Can I Take My Dog Hiking?
Not every dog makes a good hiking partner. Your dog’s hiking abilities depend on several factors; including the age of your dog, its breed, the dog’s physical capabilities and its personality. Very young dogs and very old dogs may not be good candidates for hiking, as well as dogs with health issues. One of the first things you should do if you’d like to try hiking with your dog is run it by your vet. Not only do you need to make sure the dog is up-to-date on vaccinations but you can ask your vet’s opinion on hiking with your dog. You’ll want to ask about preventative measures for waterborne pathogens and treatment of ticks and even snake bites, as well as tips to avoid hyperthermia or heatstroke. If your dog isn’t microchipped, you may want to consider it in case you get separated on the trail for any reason. Another topic to address is proper care of your dog’s feet for hiking.
Preparing Your Dog for Hiking
Once your vet gives you a thumbs-up and you have the basic necessities, it’s time to start acclimating your dog to hiking. Begin with a series of short hikes on easy terrain. Then gradually work your way up to more challenging surfaces, seeing what your dog’s response is to each. Every time you take your dog out, try a more difficult trail and a longer distance. Just like with any sport or activity, gradual increases are key. This will help your dog build up strength and stamina over time, creating a great hiking companion.
What to Take Along – The Basics
Dogs need the basic necessities for any hike, just as if you were headed out for a walk around the neighborhood, even the poop bags. Make sure your dog has a collar with up-to-date tags that include your contact information. A leash that is six feet or less is recommended. Most park trails require that dogs be kept on a leash so the owner can maintain proper control and second. The longer the leash the more likely it is to get wrapped around things along the trail and pose a safety hazard to your dog. Even if you happen to be hiking in an area that does not require leashed dogs, a leash is a great way to protect your dog and keep it close.
Much like humans, water is one of the most important things to have on the trail for your dog. Your best gauge of when to give your dog water is when you are thirsty and stop for a water break. The amount of water you need to pack for your dog depends on the dog’s size. You can ask your vet for a good starting point and adjust accordingly, depending on the trail difficulty and the temperature. And don’t forget a collapsible bowl!
Your dog will need food or snacks with high protein and fat content for added energy. Pack what your dog would normally eat during the time you’ll be hiking. Plus extra to account for the additional energy your dog will expend on the trail. It’s a good idea to feed your dog about an hour before heading out on the trail. Then give small, frequent snacks throughout your hike.
Trail Etiquette When Hiking with Your Dog
You’ll need to be able to keep your dog under control while hiking for its safety, your own and those around you, as well as the natural habitat. Make sure the dog has enough training and can follow basic commands. You don’t want to worry about it jumping on other hikers or getting in the way of mountain bikers. Always yield to other trail users and be prepared for others to ask if your dog is friendly and okay to pet.
In keeping with Leave No Trace practices, be sure to collect and carry out your dog’s poop. It’s the best way to avoid disrupting the natural habitat. Even if your poop bags are biodegradable you shouldn’t leave them on or along the trail.
Potential Trail Dangers
Whenever you’re hiking there are always potential dangers to be aware of. That’s no different when hiking with your dog. Always know the weather forecast and try to avoid extreme temperatures, both cold and hot. Make every attempt to stay out of the midday sun on extremely hot days. Also be prepared for the heat with extra water. Consider the terrain when planning your hike. Use extra caution when traveling trails with sharp rocks, unstable terrain and slippery surfaces. Keep your dog close in steep areas or at overlooks.
It’s helpful to have your dog on a leash at all times so you can keep it away from plants, wildlife and water sources. There are a wide variety of poisonous and prickly plants that can harm your dog. Snakes, ticks, bears, coyotes and other animals can also be of concern. Remember that contaminated water sources can make you sick and your dog as well. Always be sure to stay away from stagnant water.