Many dog breeds seem like the perfect hiking friend. If they love long walks and adventures along the way, the transition is relatively seamless.
With all that said, there are certain things you should know before going on hikes with your dog. Seasoned hikers might not need too much help, but first-timers should have a plan in place to make it a fun and enjoyable experience. Here are a few top tips and tricks for hiking with a dog.
1. Pace Yourself and the Dog
Picking up a new hobby and hiking with dogs is exciting. However, one way to kill the buzz is to go out and overdo it the very first day. Not only is it going to leave you sore and hurting, but it could potentially hurt the dog.
Every single trail is different as far as difficulty is concerned. Whether it’s distance, elevation, obstacles, or anything else standing in the way, it’s important to start easy and then build up from there. Instead of thinking “how far can I hike with my dog” in the beginning, start with a shorter distance.
By easing into the hiking experience, it becomes much more enjoyable for everyone involved. If possible, also try to pick a cooler time of the year to build up stamina as well. Finishing the first hike and saying it’s too easy is fixable by just repeating the hike. Being stuck at a midway point tired and hurting is a challenge.
2. Make Great Use of Backpacks
A backpack is one of the most essential pieces of equipment a person can take on a hike. It’s pretty common to already have a backpack for a human, but what about a backpack for a dog?
Believe it or not, backpacks are made for dogs and designed so that they don’t put much pressure on them at all. They can’t carry nearly the same amount of equipment as a person, but it’s still worth looking into as a way to share the load.
Make sure to pay extra close attention to how the straps sit on the dog before going on a hike. This is another situation where it helps to go on a shorter trip with the backpack first to see how they react. Start to slowly build up stamina with a backpack on, and be willing to take it off in the middle of the hike if necessary.
If you’re planning a hike with just you and your dog, all the essentials could go in a standard backpack. Including the dog with their own backpack is just a simple touch to make hiking a bit more enjoyable.
3. Have an Up-To-Date Dog ID On
The middle of a hike is the wrong time to think about dog ID tags. It’s understandable for some people to forget to keep them up-to-date if a dog is only hanging out in the backyard. However, going into a big shared area with lots of hidden spots means you might be just a few seconds away from needing help tracking your dog down.
A simple dog ID with the most up-to-date information is crucial. It doesn’t cost much money to get a dog ID, and it’s a lifesaver in many instances. No one truly understands how much a dog ID makes a difference until they have to use it. It’s never a bad thing to check now before it’s the day of the next hike.
4. Pay Attention to a Dog’s Warning
Dogs usually find ways to spot trouble before humans. Maybe that’s because they can hear and smell much better than humans. If you’re on a hike and the dog’s mood changes, make sure to take a look to see why. Chances are, they aren’t just doing this randomly. It can be a warning that there is some type of threat nearby.
Most trails either have wildlife warning signs up. It can also be researched online to have a better idea of what to look out for. Unless it’s a brand new hiking trail, thousands of people have gone on that trail before and can give others a heads up on what might be out there.
Remember that as the seasons change, wildlife changes as well. The same goes for the time of day. For example, there are certain times during the day and year in which bear sightings are much more common. Large animals like bears are fast and protective. If your dog realizes that something is going on nearby, listen to them and start walking the other way.
5. Know the Plants
Wildlife on the trails can be scary, but there are some damaging trees and plants out there as well. Having some basic understanding of what plans to stay away from can help keep a dog safe. It will also help you stay safe if the dog is swaying in the wrong direction.
Plenty of plant-based toxins are out there, but the main ones to stay away from are poison ivy and poison oak. They are commonly found in many trail areas, and they affect humans and dogs virtually the same. Remember that dogs can pass the oils to humans after the fact if their coat is covered.
Learn more about poisonous plants for dogs so you can stay vigilant during your hike!
6. Do a Check After Hiking
There are a lot of hazards that could mess with a dog while on a hike. Whether it’s the early development of a rash, a bug bite, or anything else for that matter, it pays to do a quick check after hiking to see if there’s anything wrong with the dog.
- Debris in their coat
- Insects (they could pick up fleas/ticks)
- Cuts or scrapes (don’t forget to check their paw pads)
Depending on a dog’s coat, this could be a little bit time-consuming. Taking care of an issue early on will help minimize the challenges the dog might face later on.
7. Rules Matter
Trails are pretty open for the most part, so it’s important to pay attention to any rules they have. As cliche as it sounds, there are rules there for a reason. Most of them are to keep people and pets as safe as possible.
If too many dog owners break rules, trails will close them off to all pets. Don’t be part of the problem and ruin it for everyone else.
8. Check the Forecast
There are challenges throughout the year on most trails when it comes to weather. The summer can be very hot and dry in a lot of locations, leaving dogs susceptible to tiring out and also burning their pads. Try to avoid going during the middle of day if possible, and pay attention to how the dog acts in the heat. It’s important to know the signs your dog is overheating.
Rain and snow cause create their own problems as well. The more elevation to a trail, the more challenging it will be with precipitation. Bring coats, layers, insect repellent, sunscreen, and more essentials depending on the time of year. Some might be thinking it’s overpacking, but that’s what the backpack is for.
Humans could learn a little about hydration from dogs. Whenever they see water, they are very quick to drink as much as possible. You should be trying to stay as hydrated as possible during a hike, as that will keep the body fresh and ready to go.
Make sure to bring enough water for you and your dog. Yes, a water bottle can be pretty cumbersome, but no one wants to be on the trail without fluids. According to the American Hiking Society, you should “carry at least 8 oz of water per dog per hour of hiking.”
10. Respect the Trail
A trail is a shared space for not only dog owners and dogs, but all types of people looking for exercise. With so much traffic coming and going, it’s mostly up to those who use it to keep things looking respectable.
Most people by themselves aren’t going to do too much damage to the trail. However, a dog will use a trail as a restroom. Not only that, but they can start to pick at something and get into the trash that’s already existing on the trail. Cleaning up everything before moving on is a way to pay it forward to everyone else using the trail.
Are Hikes with Dogs Worth the Hassle?
Some of the tips and tricks above might make some people second-guess going on a hike with their dog. The fact of the matter is, these are mostly just about safety more than anything. When actually on the trails, it can be a perfect activity for you and your dog.
So, can I take my dog hiking? This is what you might still be asking yourself. Dogs who already love going on walks will enjoy all the added stimulation on a trail. Anyone who loves the outdoors will love getting the opportunity to switch things up and get a different viewpoint as well as a challenge. As time goes on, dogs and humans can get to the point that they are going on long hikes while getting the exercise they need to stay fit and healthy.