One of the best parts of summer is being able to enjoy outdoor activities with your dog. Playing fetch in the backyard, going for leisurely walks during the cool evening hours, or taking your dog for scenic hikes on nearby trails, summer is the perfect time to be outside celebrating the great outdoors. Hiking with your dog is one of the best ways to explore the outdoors together – you’ll love the fresh, colorful surroundings and your dog will enjoy all the exciting new sights and smells! So if taking your dog for a hiking excursion this summer is something you’d like to do, you’ll need to take a little extra time to plan and prepare for your trip before you head out to explore the trails together.
Before you go hiking with your dog, the first question to ask is whether or not your dog is physically ready for a hike. If your dog has been spending most of his time indoors lounging on a couch or playing in a small back yard, you’ll want to take some time to get him properly conditioned before you head out for your trip. You’ll want to first start out slowly by taking short trips on flat, level nature paths and gradually make your trips a little longer each time you go out. Once both you and your dog have become more physically conditioned to hiking, you can then work your way up to traveling on more challenging trails and taking longer trips.
As you’re trying to decide how long your hike should be, take into consideration what your dog is capable of and make sure the trail you select for your hike is a good fit for you and your dog’s physical level. You’ll want to look at the age of your dog, whether or not he is overweight, does he have arthritis, or is he generally in good physical shape. Also, some breeds are better suited than others for going on long hiking excursions. Longer haired dogs, such as huskies or shepherds, have thick coats and are more prone to heat exhaustion, while dogs with short muzzles and noses such as bulldogs or pugs typically have difficulty keeping cool and are not able to breathe or pant as effectively as larger breed dogs. So think about what is best for your dog – you want this to be fun for both of you! If you have questions as to whether or not your dog is a good candidate to take hiking, check with your vet to see what he recommends for your dog.
Before you head out for your first hike, your dog should be well trained in basic obedience. He should know how to properly walk on a leash, and should also know the basic commands of “Sit”, “Stay”, “Down”, “Leave It”, “Drop It” and – most importantly he should know the recall “Come” command. When you’re out hiking with your dog, there are going to be a lot of distractions that you’re going to encounter that you normally would not run into during a regular neighborhood walk. There are going to be countless new smells, or you might encounter some wildlife, and there definitely will be plenty of opportunities for exploration. So in order to minimize potential dangerous encounters with wildlife, wandering onto unsafe hiking trails, or possibly having your dog run off and become separated from you, your dog needs to be well behaved and obedient both on and off the leash. Depending on the situation, some people prefer to keep their dogs on leashes when they hike, while other people are confident that their dog is well trained enough to be off a leash and remain safe and respectful during hikes.
Finding A Trail
As you start planning where you want to go hiking with your dog, you’ll want to search for dog-friendly hiking trails and see what the rules are for that specific area. Whether you’re planning to stay for a few days at an RV park, go tent camping overnight with your dog, or just take a quick day trip, rules on the trails are going to vary from one location to the next. One good resource is PetFriendlyTravel.com which lists all US State parks that allow dogs, or you can check out dog friendly trails listed by city on BringFido.com. Some locations allow dogs to be off the leash at all times, while other parks allow off-leash dogs only in selected areas. And some parks may require that your dog is on a leash at all times during your hike. Many of the national parks, such as Yellowstone or Yosemite, are very specific about where dogs are allowed since these are nationally protected areas, so you’ll need to do a little research before you head out.
If you’re just starting to introduce hiking to your dog for the first time, you should choose a low-traffic trail until he becomes accustomed to the new adventures and unfamiliar surroundings – this could help you in the long run so as to avoid run-ins with other hikers or dogs. Also, find out what other types of recreational activities are allowed in the area where you plan to go hiking. Are there mountain bikes, 4-wheelers or horses that are also allowed on the trails? These types of distractions might be something you want to avoid when you first start taking your dog for hikes.
Once you’ve found the perfect spot to go hiking with your dog, check out the weather conditions for the day(s) that you plan to be gone. If it looks like it’s going to be hot during your trip, you’ll want to start your hike early in the morning to avoid extreme afternoon heat. If you can, try to choose trails that are shady or near water which will help you and your hiking companion stay cool. Also, keep identification with you at all times and make sure that your dog is micro-chipped and has a current license and ID tags before you leave. Lastly, make sure you tell people exactly where you and your dog are going for your hike and what time you expect to be back. If something does happen (hopefully it won’t!), it will be very helpful to have a relative, friend or neighbor who knows exactly where you are in case you need help.
What to Bring
What to bring with you on your hike is really going to depend on how long you plan to be gone, what the weather conditions are like, and what kind of terrain you’re going to cover. But being prepared is a key factor in having a safe, successful trip even if you are gone for just a short hike.
As you start planning what to take with you on your hiking trip, you’ll need to bring essentials for both you and your dog. Some people have doggy packs that their medium or large size dogs can carry, while other people prefer to carry the supplies themselves. If you decide that you want your dog to carry a doggy pack, make sure the weight that he is carrying is light and appropriate for his size and physical condition. You can check with the doggy pack manufacturer and with your vet to determine what size and weight is best suited for your dog, though most manufacturers recommend that 10% – 12% of the dog’s weight is a common weight for dogs to carry. Also, make sure that the doggy pack fits well and is comfortable for your dog, and make sure he is accustomed to wearing it before you leave on your trip.
Your dog is going to need a collar, leash (or harness) and id tags that are up to date with your current contact information. If you’re hiking in areas where there is water, you should get a life jacket for your dog, and if you’re in areas where there is rough terrain or packed snow, you should look into getting special booties to protect your dog’s feet. With both life jackets and booties, you’ll also want to make sure your dog is used to wearing them before you go hiking.
You’re going to need to bring plenty of bottled water for both you and your dog to drink – keeping yourself and your dog well hydrated is extremely important while hiking. You can either bring a collapsible water dish for your dog, or you can try a combination water bottle/water bowl that is designed so you to carry your dog’s water and bowl in one container. You’ll also need to bring food and nutritious snacks for both you and your dog; the dog food and snacks can be measured in advance and stored in sealed baggies or in waterproof containers. Also, if you give your dog joint supplements such as InflamAway HA, you’ll want to bring a supply with you. Another essential item that you need to bring is a first aid kit for both you and your dog – you can either put one together yourself or you can purchase one that is already assembled. Note: you can also learn basic first aid for dogs by taking a class at Petco or the Red Cross which could be helpful in case of an emergency on the trail. You’ll also want to bring waste disposal bags, an extra leash and collar, LED light, and bedding for your dog if you plan to stay overnight. You’re going to want to bring your cellphone, so make sure it’s fully charged before you start your hike. You’ll also want to bring a watch, a map and a compass just in case your cellphone is out of range or stops working.
These are just a few of the basics that you can bring on your trip –here is a list you can print out and use as a check list as you assemble what supplies you may want to bring on your hike.
During Your Hike
Most parks and hiking trails that allow dogs require them to remain on a leash at all times. There are some parks that allow dogs to be off their leash, but for the safety of you, your dog, other hikers and also wildlife, you might think about keeping your dog on a leash at all times. There are so many different sights and smells and no matter how well behaved your dog is, he’s going to be much safer if you keep him close to you. If your dog is on a leash or harness, you won’t have to worry about your dog being exposed to foxtails or ticks, or possible run-ins with other dogs or wildlife such as coyotes or venomous snakes.
During your hike, you’ll want to stop frequently for breaks and to relax with your dog in shady areas until you’re sure that both of you are well rested and ready to continue your hike. You and your dog are going to need to stay well hydrated, so be sure to drink plenty of water during your rest stops and offer your dog plenty of fresh drinking water. You might find water from ponds or streams during your hike, but this water may not be safe to drink since it could contain bacteria or harmful parasites. So be safe and stick with the bottled water that you’ve brought along for you and your dog. Also during your breaks, you and your dog are going to need a little extra fuel to help keep your energy up. So this is a good time for both of you to enjoy some of the nutritious snacks that you packed for your trip.
While you are on your hike, you’re going to want to be meticulous about cleaning up and make sure that you’re not leaving any trash behind. All of your trash and doggie waste should be bagged and carried out with you so that you don’t leave any signs that you and your dog were out hiking. With all the people and dogs that are hiking on trails and in parks each week, you should keep the trails beautiful and clean for future hikers.
During and after your hike, you’re going to want to check your dog carefully. Thoroughly inspect your dog for ticks, fleas or other parasites, paying special attention to his ear and neck area as well as his belly. You can use a fine toothed tick comb that can help you find ticks or fleas that might be hard to see visually. Also check your dog for foxtails or other weeds that he may have picked up during the hike. Check around his head, neck, ears and between his toes, since these are the most common places where you’ll find foxtails on your dog. If you notice that your dog is repeatedly shaking his head or scratching repeatedly in the same area, there may be an embedded foxtail and you’ll need to see your veterinarian for treatment.
So hopefully you and your dog can go out and enjoy some wonderful hiking trips – it’s a great way to bond and experience the outdoors together. And with a little planning and preparation, you’ll be able to have fun, stay safe and enjoy exploring! Where are some of your favorite places to hike with your dog?