Hiking can be fun solo, with a buddy, or even with a group of friends. But what about hiking with your dog?
Many hikers love taking their four-legged friends on the trails with them. Whether it be a short day hike or a several-day-long backpacking trip, it's nice to have company (and added security). Plus, it's great exercise for your furry friend too! But, there are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to bringing your dog on hiking adventures.
Ready to start taking Fido on hikes with you? This article fills you in on suggestions, the gear you'll need, and training to keep you and your dog safe on the trail and have a great time.
Featured photo by Patrick Hendry
A lot of the same “rules” that apply to human hikers pertain to dogs as well. Keep these suggestions in mind when planning a hike with your canine.
- Don't overdo it. Do you have a small, older, or dog with disabilities? If so, a long hike is probably out of the question. Even if your dog is in good health, start with walks around the neighborhood before hitting a trail. Slowly add on distance over time.
- Visit the vet. It's highly recommended to consult your vet to make sure your dog is physically ready to hit the trail. Plus, you'll want to make sure they are up-to-date on their shots.
- Dress for the weather. Most of us have heard the saying, “If you're cold, they're cold”. You know your dog best. Bring an outer layer and/or booties if the weather might be cold or rainy. They'll thank you for some dog-friendly insect repellent during the warm months too.
- Bring extra water. It can be tempting to just let your dog drink from natural bodies of water, such as lakes or streams. However, some can harbor nasty bacteria that could make your dog sick. You can always check online or call the natural area you'll be visiting ahead of time. But, to be safe, carry enough water for you and your dog.
- Properly ID your dog. Make sure your dog has up-to-date information on their ID tag. Accidents happen. Make sure that whoever finds your dog has a way of contacting you.
- Be careful during hunting season. Most hikers know to wear hunter orange in hunting areas in season. Be sure to put a bright, reflective vest on your dog as well. It's also a good idea to keep them on a leash.
- Know the wildlife. Know what kind of animals live in the area you're hiking in before you go. One of the bonuses of hiking with a dog is that they can alert you to any potential threats. If you're hiking in bear country, consider outfitting your canine with some bear bells.
- Check for ticks. Most hikers know that ticks can sometimes carry diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Dogs are also susceptible to these illnesses, so be sure to remove any ticks from them too.
- Pick a dog-friendly trail. This should go without saying, but not all trails are welcome to canines.
- Pick up after your pet. Be a good pet owner and clean up (and properly dispose of!) your dog's waste.
- Keep them on leash. Unless it's an area they are allowed off-leash, keep them on at all times. Not everyone is comfortable with dogs. Plus, your pet might run off into the woods after a wild animal!
Just like we wouldn't head out on a hike without the proper gear and attire, your dog shouldn't either. Make sure you have all of these necessities before heading out.
- Waste bags or containers
- Durable leash
- Collar with ID tag
- Portable water bowl
- Dog food and/or snacks (Bring more than they usually eat at home. Just like us, they will need to consume more calories on the trail.)
- First aid kit
- Dog-safe insect repellent
- Weather gear (i.e. outer layer, booties)
- Dog backpack
- Cooling collar for warm weather
You wouldn't go backpacking with just a small bottle of water, a handful of snacks, and a day pack, would you? Like us, dogs need a few extra supplies for overnight backcountry adventures.
First, you'll need a larger tent to fit you and your dog comfortably. A single-person backpacking tent probably isn't going to cut it unless you have a small dog and don't plan on trekking far. You'll need the extra room for your dog's designated sleeping area. Aside from knowing your bed is not theirs, they need a sleeping pad to help keep them warm at night too. Closed-cell foam pads work well since your dog can't pop them. Also consider bringing a blanket to lay on top of it for extra warmth and comfort.
Speaking of tents, make sure your dog obeys your commands. They can easily tear up a tent if they're scared or just don't know better. Try a few practice rounds of camping in the backyard first.
Bring an extra towel for your doggo. This doesn't have to be a huge bath towel or anything. So long as it can wipe off muddy paws or wet fur, you're good.
Bringing a first aid kit is a good idea whether you're hiking with your dog or not. Plus, most of the items in your own can be used to treat any minor wounds your canine might get.
Get a dog backpack. Day hikes are one thing. But you probably don't want to add any extra items (or weight) to your own pack on a backpacking trip. Your furry friend can help carry their water, dog bowl, and even snacks. Just be sure to distribute the weight evenly. (We all know how uncomfortable a lopsided pack can be!)
It goes without saying that your pet's waste should be picked up and disposed of on longer excursions too. Don't feel like hauling around poo? Bury theirs the same way you do your own: in a cat hole!
For more great tips on backpacking with your dog, check out this article on the REI blog. This post from The Trek provides some innovative tips on dog-proof sleep systems.
When it comes to hiking, it's wise for people and dogs alike to train. But, this includes a lot more than building stamina for dogs. Check over the list below to ensure you and your four-legged friend stay safe and have a good time in nature.
- Increase distance gradually. We mentioned this above, but it's worth mentioning again. Start with longer walks around your neighborhood. The first time on a trail, consider going for a shorter distance than you expect your pet can handle. Just like us humans build our endurance over time, your dog should too.
- Teach your dog "manners". Nobody likes a misbehaving dog; owners, passersby, and other dogs included. Make sure your dog will obey basic commands and has been socialized around other dogs to avoid any unpleasant confrontations.
- Acclimate them to walking on a leash. This is a pretty obvious one. Taking your dog on a trail with a leash for the first time ever is a recipe for disaster. Practice first so you're not getting drug along the trail by your canine friend! If you plan on having your dog carry some of their items, it's a good idea to let them get used to wearing a pack ahead of time too.
- Teach them extra cues for a better time. It's also a good idea to teach your dog "leave it" and "quiet" for trail hikes. There can be trash, poisonous plants, wild animals, and more you won't want your dog messing with. You also don't want your dog to be barking constantly at every little thing either.
What is your favorite part of hiking with your dog? Did we miss anything above? Share your own insider tips in the comments section below!
For some amazing backpacking trips, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.
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