Your Guide to Hiking Safely with Dogs

Reading time: 5 minutes

 

Hiking is a wonderful activity and hiking with your dog makes it so much more enjoyable. When hiking with your best furry friend you want to be certain your dog is happy and does not become injured. And you want to be considerate of other people and animals that share the trail. 

Here are points to consider to prepare for an outing on the trail with your dog:

  1. Be certain your dog is physically ready for hiking. The age, breed and fitness of your dog will determine how ready your dog is for hiking.

  2. Have the right gear for a safe and enjoyable hike with your dog. Having the right gear will ensure that you have an enjoyable and memorable hiking experience with your dog.

  3. Ensure your dog is trained for hiking on trails. There are basic rules and an etiquette that you want to follow when you share a hiking trail with other people and animals.

  4. Keep your dog safe and be mindful of potential hazards. Wild plants, water pathogens and wild animals are some things to watch out for to keep your dog safe and healthy on the trail.

 

Is Your Dog Ready for Hiking?

First, it’s important to determine if your dog is suited or ready for hiking. Dog breeds and mixed breeds weighing over 18kg (40lbs) are more suited for long or strenuous hikes.

Small breeds love being outside and can be great on hikes but their shorter legs might not be suitable for long hikes or for steep climbs, drops or obstacles.

The age of your dog is an even bigger factor. Dog breeds age differently. As a guide, dogs over 10 years of age are senior and can have health challenges such as arthritis or hip dysplasia which can slow them down.

If your dog is a puppy, be patience. Puppies need time for their bones to develop before attempting any strenuous hiking. Wait at least one year so your dog is fully developed, has a good immunity and has received their vaccinations.

 

Before You Go Hiking

Being well prepared for a hiking adventure with your dog will ensure that you have a wonderful and memorable time.

 

Know the Regulations

Always review and be familiar with the regulations for the area where you will be hiking. Parks at the national or regional level have different rules. Some national parks in Canada and the U.S. do not allow dogs on their trails. Parks at the provincial, state or regional level may allow dogs on trails, but have specific rules. Leashes are usually mandatory in all parks.

 

Take some time to get to know the rules and regulations of that specific trail or campsite, and familiarize yourself with the wildlife (and possible dangers and hazards) to watch out for. Backpacker

 

Visit the Vet

Be certain to visit your veterinarian with your dog before embarking on any significant hiking. Some key questions you want to ask are:

  1. Is my dog physically ready?

  2. Does my dog need any preventative medicines or vaccinations?

  3. Is the immune system of my dog ready for plants and other finds on the trail? 

 

Training and Trail Etiquette

An important part of hiking safely and having good etiquette on the trail is having a well-behaved dog that is suitably socialized. Your dog should know basic obedience commands like “come”, “stay” and “sit”. Your dog should also respond to a recall command in case they become loose.

 

Some additional behaviors to work on include leave it and a “quiet” cue to curb barking. From poison ivy, to animal waste, to other hiker’s trash, there are many dangers on the trail that could seriously harm your dog. A strong “leave it” cue will ensure your dog doesn’t eat or mess with anything hazardous. And, stopping any excessive barking will help keep your patch of nature as peaceful as possible. American Kennel Club

 

 

Trail-Training

It’s best to ease into hiking with your dog. Start with hikes of about an hour and assess how your dog did and its energy level after the hike. If you feel that your dog did well, increase the duration of the next training hike. Your goal is to work up to the planned length of the time you plan on being on a full hike.

 

Good Trail Etiquette

Know these rules and good etiquette when on the trail with your dog.

  • Keep your dog under control at all times. Use a leash that is 183cm (6 feet) or less so your dog does not jump onto other hikers. A long leash also can get easily tangled. Even when at a campsite, your dog should be on a leash.
  • Make way to other hikers.Move off the trail to let other hikers pass and make your dog heel when other people approach you.
  • Only bring one dog on a hike.Don’t try to handle two or more dogs when hiking. If you want to bring two dogs be certain there are two humans that are able to handle a dog.
  • Leave no trace. Bring bags to collect and carry out your dog’s poop. If you can’t bring the used poop bags with you, bring a small shovel, like a trowel, to bury it 70 paces from walkways, camping sites, and water sources and at least 15cm (6”) deep.

 

Tip: Your poop bags might be biodegradable, but they should never be left on the trail. It is never acceptable to leave your litter in nature under any circumstances. Bring used poop bags with you or bury them.

 

  • Protect the wildlife. It’s best to keep your dog on a leash and not let them stray off the trail to potentially chase wild animals and run through the undergrowth. The natural environment needs to be protected and it’s best to keep your dog out of harm.

 

Things You Will Need

Most importantly, when on the trail for any length of time, your dog will need more food and water than it usually consumes.

Tip: When you are thirsty, hungry or tired, your dog will usually be feeling the same way. Take a break with your dog to drink, have a snack and rest.

Also consider the following gear and accessories to make a day-hike with your dog as enjoyable as possible. Other gear will be required for hikes over multiple days and requiring an overnight sleep.

  • Sturdy collar with ID tags 
  • Strong 183cm (6 foot) leash
  • Portable water bowl
  • Dog backpack to help your furry friend share the load
  • Dog first aid kit
  • Pet-safe insect repellent
  • Poop bags and trowel to bury poop
  • Dog booties for hiking in rough or cold terrain
  • Dog coat, especially if your dog has short fur and temperatures will be low
  • Flashlight

Tip: If you use booties to protect your dog’s paws, remember that dogs regulate body temperature by sweating through their pads and by panting. Never cover your dog’s feet if it can create an overheating risk.

 

Staying Safe

Here are some safety tips when hiking with your dog:

  • Stagnant water. Never let your dog drink stagnant water as it may contain pathogens that are harmful to your dog. Always bring fresh water to drink.
  • Wild plants. Never let your dog chew on plants. Many contain poisons or other elements that may cause serious digestive problems with your dog.
  • Wild animals. Always keep your dog on a short leash, especially if you suspect there may be wild animals nearby. Be respectful of wild animals in their natural habitat.
  • Watch how much your dog is panting. If it seems excessive, take more breaks or shorten your hike. Also watch for limping. It’s a sure sign that your dog is tired or injured.
  • Examine your dog after the hike. When your hike is over, check your dog for ticks and remove them as soon as you can to prevent illness. A bath or grooming after your hike will also allow you to remove burrs, foxtails or other debris that may have caught in your dog’s fur.

 

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