People are bringing their dogs along on outdoor adventures more than ever. Dogs love new places to explore and sniff. This can be a fun experience for you and your four-legged friend but can also lead to issues or injuries if you are not prepared. A few precautions ahead of time will ensure a safe and memorable hike.
Assessing your Dog’s Hiking Capabilities
While most dogs love exploring new outdoor places, not all dogs are equipped to be hiking dogs. It is important to assess your dog’s capabilities, so they don’t overexert themselves or sustain an injury. Some dog breeds are more athletic than others and can enjoy longer or more difficult hikes. If your dog is older, overweight, has shorter legs, or is brachycephalic (dogs with shorter noses like bulldogs and pugs) they might not be well suited for hiking.
Some dogs may also have anxiety or behavioral factors that may make hiking a stressful experience for them. All of this should be considered and discussed with your veterinarian to assess your dog’s capabilities and tolerance for hiking. This is also a good time to make sure their vaccines and parasite prevention are all up to date, so they are protected once they hit the trails.
Once assessed, you can start by incorporating more walks into their day to build them up to hiking. Utilize tips from the AVMA design a safe walking program. Once your dog is ready for the trail, always start with a shorter, easier hike to “get their paws wet”.
If you have a dog that is eager to explore but can’t quite keep up, there are several options of backpack carriers such as the K9 Sport Sack. These types of carriers can give your pup a rest during the hike while still being by your side and taking in the views. Just be sure to acclimate your dog to the carrier prior to hitting the trail.
Gearing up For the Hike
Just as you’ll need to pack a bag for yourself, the addition of your dog means extra gear. Here’s a list of hiking essentials for your furry friend:
- A properly Fitted harness and leash (Choosing the Right Dog Harness)
- Microchip and/or ID tags (make sure they are up to date!)
- A travel bowl or bottle with a drinkable Top
- Water (bring extra just in case!)
- Poop bags
- Pet First Aid kit
- Pet wipes
For our advanced canine hiking companions, there are some “extras” you may want to consider bringing. These will help keep your pup safe and comfortable during long hikes and more difficult terrain or weather.
- Emergency sling in case of injury such as the Fido Pro Airlift
- Dog Booties to protect their paws from rough terrain
- Cooling Gear for Dogs
- Water Safety Gear if your hike includes a swim
- Eye protection for sun or dusty trails
- Dog jacket for cold weather
Keeping your Dog Safe on the Trail
Once on the trail, there are lots of exciting new things for your dog to explore. New smells, sights, and sounds can be overwhelming at first and send them darting off in all directions. Be sure to keep them leashed and use training cues and treats to keep them engaged and moving in one direction. Even if your dog seems to have plenty of energy, remember to stop and take breaks. Make sure they are drinking enough water and not overexerting themselves. Never push your dog to carry on if they are showing signs of fatigue. Take a break and let them rest for as long as they need. Hiking with dogs means letting them set the pace.
The weather is also an important factor in keeping your dog safe. Make sure the temperatures are suitable for hiking. Heatstroke can occur quickly in dogs and precautions should be taken as recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
If your hike is in a national park or wild area, familiarize yourself with any plants or animals that may pose a threat to your dog. Toxic plants and venomous snakes can be common in wilderness areas. Trails can unfortunately also be a common place for your dog to pick up fleas and ticks. Make sure they are on preventatives and perform a tick check after the hike.
Use caution if you come across a lake during your hike. While it may be tempting to let your dog take a dip, there could be hazards in that water. Lakes can contain bacteria or parasites, or even alligators, especially in the summer when algal blooms and bacteria thrive in warmer waters. Check for signs surrounding the lake.
Trail Etiquette for Dog Owners
Make sure the trails that you embark on your adventure are indeed dog friendly. Some natural areas do not allow dogs and with good reason. There could be dangers to pets on these trails or they may be protected wildlife habitats that your dog poses a risk to. Always heed trail warnings and choose dog-friendly routes.
Keep your dog leashed on the trail and remember that not every other person and/or dog on the trail may want to interact with your dog. Give other hikers plenty of space to pass and don’t let your dog jump on them. You may see some more experienced hikers with their dogs off-leash on the trail. This usually means their dog is well trained and has good recall. If your dog does not have a strong recall and does not stay on task, don’t attempt to unleash them on the trail. This is, however, a good time to practice their training so bring lots of small treats!
Don’t let your dog roam off-trail or disturb natural areas. Not only can this be destructive to the environment, but also be dangerous to your dog. They may encounter sharp rocks, biting insects, poisonous plants, or wildlife nests that become agitated by your dog’s presence.
If you spot any wildlife on the trail, keep a safe distance, and don’t let your dog approach. Heed any local warnings pertaining to area-specific wildlife.
Make sure to clean up after your pet and practice the leave no trace principles when enjoying the outdoors. These will ensure that you, your dog, and the environment all stay safe!
Now you are ready for a fun and safe hike with your dog! What trails will you and your furry pal explore?