A dog isn’t just your four-legged best friend; your pooch can also be your hiking partner! However, for both your dog’s health and safety and yours, you want to both you and your pet to be prepared for hiking together.
These tips will help you and your pet begin the exciting journey of hiking together! From making sure your pet is physically capable of hiking to knowing what to do in case of emergency.
Prepare Your Dog Physically
Train your dog to hike just as you would train yourself. If your dog is new to hiking, begin with shorter hikes on flatter and smoother terrain. Once your dog has successfully completed a few shorter hikes, you can gradually increase the steepness and distance of their hikes.
It’s not just your dog’s fitness level that will need to adapt to hiking. Dogs have soft paw pads and, unlike us, they don’t wear hiking boots (usually) to protect their feet from rocks, roots, and dirt. The first few hikes may irritate their paws, which is a reason to introduce them slowly to hiking. Bring along gauze to wrap any abrasions and consider investing in dog hiking booties if your pup has sensitive paws.
Young puppies will need more time to adapt to exercise. Their bodies are still growing and their musculoskeletal systems are not fully developed until they reach 9 months to one year.
Check Trail Regulations Ahead of Time
While we love the National Parks, many of them do not permit dogs on their hiking trails. You can easily check a park’s website or a trail finder website to know in advance if your next hike is dog-friendly.
When in doubt, keep them leashed
Most public trails require that dogs be leashed for safety reasons.. On trails that allow dogs off leash, you can let your dog roam off-leash if they are well-trained, calm, and you are on a trail with very few other hikers and no risky ledges. However, in most scenarios, it’s best to be safe and courteous and keep your dog on a leash. You never know what type of wild animals or terrain you may encounter on a hike.
Some breeds such as beagles will follow their nose while other breeds like Border Collies may attempt to herd other hikers. It’s in the dog’s nature! Leashing your dog will prevent these natural tendencies from becoming dangerous or a nuisance to other hikers.
A hands-free leash is the safest and most convenient option for hiking. A handheld leash can cause muscle imbalances as your dog pulls and increase your risk of tripping. A waist leash leaves your hands for trekking pole and navigating up and down rocky areas. Additionally, since the waist leash anchors around your hips rather than one arm, your balance won’t be thrown off as much as with a traditional leash.
Practice Good Trail Etiquette
Leashing your dog shows respect for other hikers, since sharing the trail is the most basic rule of hiking etiquette. While you may love dogs, not everyone does - and some people like small children may even be fearful of dogs.
You should teach your dog good manners for interacting with other dogs, as you will likely encounter other pooches on your hike. If your dog barks, nips, or growls at other dogs, spend some time training them before taking them on a hike. Dog parks and obedience school offer safer environments where they can learn to interact with other dogs before you take them on the trail.
Bring Food and Water for Your Pooch
You wouldn’t go for a hike without water or food - so don’t expect your pet to go without these! Make sure you pack water, a small bowl or collapsible water system, and treats or pet food for your dog.
Since unfiltered water can carry a host of bacteria, be careful about letting your pet drink from fresh water. Never let your dog drink salt water, standing water, dirty water, or water in a city park.
Keep a Dog-Specific Emergency Kit on Hand
Spend a few minutes before your hike learning how to do CPR on your dog in case of an emergency. (And if you don’t know how to administer CPR on people, take a class - it’s a valuable skill to know).
Just as you carry your own emergency kit, carry a specific one of your pet. While it’s not pleasant to think about, you should learn what to do in case of a fall, snake or animal bite, ripped paws, or broken bones. Your dog is your best furry friend - make their safety a priority!
Pack It Out
The leave no trace principle of hiking applies to your dog’s poop. Bring bags with you to pick up their poop and carry it to the next trashcan. If you are unable to bag your dog’s poop, bury it away from the trail and water, just as you would with human waste.
With these tips, you and your dog can begin your hiking journey together! Always remember that your pet’s comfort, health, and safety should be a priority, so if you dog demonstrates signs discomfort or pain, head home and leave the trail for another.