Fresh air, beautiful scenery, excellent exercise – these are just a few reasons why people enjoy hiking so much. Some people prefer hiking in groups, whereas others like the solitude of hiking alone. Another option that can combine the best of both worlds is hiking with your dog. When you think about it, they really are the perfect companion for an activity as serene as hiking. And depending on the type of dog you have, they are probably up for the challenge just as much as you, if not more. Although hiking with your pooch is a great way to spend a day, there are some things you need to consider before heading up the mountain with your dog in tow. Here we’ll cover the following topics to ensure the perfect hiking experience for you and your dog:
- Determine if your dog is ready to hike.
- Preparing a dog pack before you head out.
- Other important dog gear.
- Preparing proper amounts of food and water for your dog.
- Keeping your dog safe on the trail.
Getting Your Dog Ready to Hike
You probably already have a pretty good idea of your dog’s activity level. It’s also likely that you’ve already determined if hiking is within your dog’s ability limits. But just because your dog is active and can run laps around your block doesn’t necessarily mean they are prepared for the type of terrain they will encounter on a hike or are calm enough to stay by your side when it comes to public trails. Here are a few things you can do to properly prepare your dog for this new journey.
- Check with your vet. Meeting with your dog’s vet is an excellent way to determine if your dog is ok to hike, especially if they are still a puppy or are an older dog. This is also a time to determine if your dog has the proper vaccinations they need to go out into the wilderness. Your vet can advise you on the proper precautions to take when taking your dog in outdoor areas such as this.
- Train you dog on a leash. Before hiking, your dog should be able to stay with you while leashed. If they are pulling you ahead, refusing to walk, then they are not ready. These are signs that more training is needed and that hiking is not yet a safe endeavor for both of you. Leashes are mandatory in almost all areas where dogs are allowed to hike. In some places, dogs aren’t allowed, so be sure to check before you go.
- Prepare your dog for trail etiquette. Not only is basic training necessary for your dog to be a good hiking partner, but there are other factors to consider. If your dog is easily spooked by other animals, hiking could be a dangerous proposition. Ensure that your dog is comfortable around horses, bikes, and other dogs.
- Start small. Don’t end up in a situation that your dog can’t handle. If you are new to taking your dog hiking, start with a shorter hike around an hour. Slowly work up to the trail time you’d like to engage in with your dog. This will help them build endurance as well as give them a chance to toughen their paws.
Prepare the Dog Pack
Just as you’ll have a backpack while you hike, your dog can have one, too! This can make the experience more authentic, which is fun. Beyond that, it can help your dog stay safe just like you.
To choose a pack for your dog, you’ll want to ensure a proper fit. This can be done by measuring the circumference of your dog’s chest. Once you have the measurement, it will fall in a size range perfect for your dog.
Once you have the pack, securely fasten it around your dog. You want it tight to the point it isn’t moving back and forth, but it should not be too tight that it’s restricting your dog’s movement or breathing. If it wouldn’t be comfortable for you, it won’t be comfortable for them.
Lastly, you’ll want to give your dog time to get used to wearing the dog pack. Allowing them time to wear it around the house or wear it for neighborhood walks will ensure that your dog is ready to wear it for an extended period of time on your hike.
Gather Other Necessary Gear
The dog pack is an essential part of your trip. But it’s not all your dog needs. Obviously, you’ll have some necessary items to pack within your dog’s pack. Here’s what you’ll need:
- First-Aid Kit – Just as you’ll want first aid essentials for yourself, you’ll want them for your dog, too. Considering your dog’s safety and health out in the wilderness is paramount. A couple of things to add on here could be Pedialyte in the event your dog gets diarrhea; tape and old socks can come in handy if your dog experiences sores on their paws.
- Water container – A collapsible dish is great for pouring frest water into for your pooch.
- Booties – Acclimating your dog slowly to hiking terrain is important for toughening up their paws. If you are concerned that your dog is not yet ready, booties can be used for a barrier against rocks and thorns.
- Cooling Collar – This a great tool to invest in for your dog if you’ll be hiking in higher heat. Dogs don’t sweat like we do, so this can keep them cooled down and safe.
If you’ll be backpacking for longer periods or overnight, some other items you may want to bring include: nail clippers, safety light, dog towel and dog coat.
Prepare Food and Water
You would never leave home for a hike without enough food and water for yourself, so it’s important you’re also mindful of your dog’s needs. Just as you’ll burn more Calories and become more thirsty while hiking, so will your dog. That means bringing extra beyond what they would normally eat and drink.
Not sure how much to bring? Here is a basic guideline:
- Food – begin by preparing your dog’s normal amount of food. Then, add one cup of food for every 20 pounds of dog weight. It’s better to have too much than not enough.
- Water – Small dogs under 20 pounds will need about 1.5 ounces of water per pound per day. Large dogs will require less per pound – needing 0.5 to 1.0 ounces of water per pound per day.
Keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior to look for thirst or hunger signs. Offer water and food at the same times you need water and food. If your dog’s nose every looks dry, that means your dog needs more water.
Keep Your Dog Safe on the Trail
It’s not a surprise that certain risks are present while hiking that you wouldn’t normally encounter otherwise. As your dog’s human, it’s your job to be aware of danger signs. Your dog may not realize that danger is present, and won’t be able to communicate even if he does. These are some things to watch out for:
- Don’t push your dog beyond their limits – Maybe you planned a 3-hour hike, but your dog is showing signs of struggle earlier on. First, take a break and give your dog some extra water and food. If that doesn’t seem to help, it’s time to turn around and head home. If your dog is limping, don’t push them to go further, either. You can always try another day.
- Wildlife – Even if your dog has always been comfortable around other animals, wildlife on the trail is more unpredictable. Be sure your dog is always on a leash – the number one way to keep them safe. Keep an eye out for ticks as well. Doing a full check of your dog mid-hike and afterward is as important for them as it is for you.
- Wild Plants – Do not let your dog eat any plants on the trail. Additionally, be aware of plants on the trail that might cause your dog’s body discomfort when walked on/through. Avoid areas with thorns and burrs as well as “foxtails.” These plants can be very dangerous for dogs, as mentioned in this article.
- Water Safety – Even if your dog can swim, you need to be wary of letting your dog loose in open water. If your dog can’t swim, pack a pet flotation device. Also, your dog should not be drinking natural water along your hike. Instead, he should be drinking the freshwater that you bring. Bringing iodine as a backup to treat the water is good just in case – The American Hiking Society offers some options, as well.
- Don’t be unsafe. Being in the wilderness can be freeing, but you also have to be safe and smart. If you are staying somewhere more off the grid where there aren’t a lot of people nearby or you plan to go hiking, you need to make sure you’re taking the proper safety precautions. This includes things like bringing sunscreen and bug spray, locking up your trash at night to keep bears away, paying attention to the weather, and bringing a satellite phone like Iridium 9575 Extreme or Iridium 9555 in case of emergency.