dog hiking

Hiking with your dog: the ultimate guide

Hiking with your dog is a great way to enjoy nature and stay active. If you live a few minutes away from a trail, consider yourself lucky. Many city dwellers (like myself) love making a weekend day trip for a trek! With a bit of preparation, your dog can be the ideal hiking companion.

Good behavior

Before you head out, make sure your dog is ready to hit the trails. They must be able to obey basic commands, and stay under your control for the entire hike. Following directions at all times is essential. There may be hazards, other hikers, or areas you want to avoid on the hike.

Good leash behavior is required. So if your dog is a puller, work on training your dog not to pull ahead of time. Practice loose-leash walking on your regular walks and work up to a longer distance. A hands-free leash and harness can help prevent pulling. If you intend to allow your dog off-leash, make sure their recall is reliable.

Check your dog’s endurance. Are they able to go long distances? Depending on how long you would like to hike, you may need to do some training. Start with smaller hikes and work up to your ideal distance. Make sure this is appropriate to your dog’s age, health, and breed. If you are unsure, check with your vet.

women hiking with dog

Map out your hiking route

Decide how you will get to the trail. Don’t expect your dog to walk back home if you have hiked for hours. I prefer hiking with my dog Thor at a location we will drive to. This way I can leave extra water in the car. While public transit may be okay, he may be super tired on the way back. This is definitely easier if you are hiking with a smaller dog, and can pick them up or use a backpack type carrier if needed.

As you determine your route, keep an eye out for any hazards or warnings. Depending on the season or time of day, you may encounter wildlife. Use good judgement and don’t bring your dog into any area that could be dangerous for either of you. Check the weather forecast for the area. Make sure there is enough shade if the weather may be hot, and shelter if there is a chance of rain.

Follow the trail rules

Make sure the trail allows dogs before you arrive. I have learnt this one the hard way. In my area, there is a park where dogs are not allowed. When I saw the sign, I was not having it! We marched right up to the parking gate and asked the attendant “why not?”. To my surprise, dogs were not allowed because in this nature preserve the coyotes are bold. They will approach leashed dogs! Obviously, we turned around and headed home. Sometimes, dogs are not allowed because it isn’t safe for them. Be open to changing your plans if this happens.

woman hiking with dog in snow

Aim to avoid hiking trails with high equestrian traffic. Horses can scare dogs, and dogs can scare horses. They move faster than dogs and hikers, and you will find yourself needing to move out of the way often. Trails with mountain bikes are also not recommended for the same reason.

Be a courteous hiker. Always follow the boy scout rule of leaving nature as you found it. This means pick up after your dog. Carry some doggy poop bags and a pouch or belt you can put full ones in. If you are nervous about leakage, double bag it. Never leave dog poop on the trail.

Say “hello!” to other hikers, and let them know your dog is friendly as they approach. At the same time, make your dog heel and stand beside you as you step off the trail to let others pass. Not everyone likes dogs, and some hikers may even be afraid of dogs. If you have a barker, teach him or her to stay quiet on the trail. Only let your dog off-leash if it is allowed, and you trust their recall skills. Hiking trails should be enjoyable for all visitors.

Equipment

Always bring water and treats. If you are going to hike with a dog during their usual mealtime, bring the meal with you. Bring water for both of you. Collapsible bowls may be a good addition here but some dogs don’t like them. Thor refuses food in collapsible bowls. So, I carry lightweight aluminum bowls in my pack. He knows these bowls are his “travel bowls”. Offer your dog extra food (I like to give about one third more) if the hike lasts longer than their usual walk. Your dog is burning extra fuel when he or she is active.

Check that your dog’s ID tags and microchip are all up to date, and have a small doggy first aid kit. Bring socks or booties in case your dog’s paw gets scratched or cut. A hands free-leash and a harness are how I like to equip Thor for hikes. He does not pull with this setup. Harnesses are generally better for a dog hike. You may need to cross hazards like shallow streams, mud, or fallen trees. Unlike collars, a dog cannot slip out of a harness. You may also want your dog to carry his or her own pack.

hiking trail, man and dog

Safety

Like us, dogs can get sunburn and heatstroke. Watch their behaviors for excess panting and what I call “dopey-ness”. If your dog is acting confused or very tired, they are too hot. If you see any of these signs, let them take a break in the shade, and get outta there. Even if it is not a hot day, take breaks. Take more breaks then you think are necessary. Our dogs will always try to please us, and they won’t always show tiredness.

Never leave your dog unattended. Do not allow them to drink from lakes, streams, or rivers. Make sure you are able to identify the poisonous plants in your area. Poison Ivy, poison oak, and sumac are common types in North America. Ensure that your dog does not approach any of these plants.

Stay a good distance away from animal nests and habitats, as they may feel threatened by dogs. Speaking of animals, check your dog for bug bites, fleas, and ticks when you leave the trail. Remove any ticks or fleas immediately. If your dog seems to have excessive bug bites or has been stung by a bee, wasp or hornet visit your veterinarian ASAP.

Summary

Hiking with your dog can be a great experience for the both of you. Before you head out, build your dog’s endurance. Make sure their leash behavior is appropriate. Check your trail rules and regulations. Be thoughtful and plan your hike including transportation to and from the area. Gear up to stay safe. Reward your dog for a job well done, and you will have an enthusiastic hiking pal in no time!

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