Hiking with my dogs is one of my favorite pastimes. I love it, they love it – it’s truly a win-win. From local parks to wilderness areas to big-name national parks, the three of us (and often our human and canine friends) hit the trails whenever our schedules – and skies – are clear. Now that we’re entering the prime hiking season of mid-summer through gorgeous autumn, there’s no better time to explore the great outdoors with your dog. Here are our tips for squeezing maximum enjoyment out of your outdoor adventures hiking with your dog.
Planning for Hiking With Your Dog
Before you consider venturing off into the wild, it’s best to have a plan. Give careful consideration to your pup’s physical activity as well as your own.
- Only take your pup hiking or camping when and if they’re ready. For any hikes that are moderate or harder, you’ll want to wait until your dog’s growth plates are closed. This varies from dog to dog, and breed to breed, but it’s usually around 12-18 months. A younger dog should be fine on short, easy hikes but do keep him safely within his limits and be prepared to do a shorter walk than you planned.
- Familiarize yourself with the regulations of the park for trail use and campgrounds. Not everyone loves dogs as much as we do (crazy, I know) and some trails simply aren’t safe off leash during certain times of the year. Local leash laws apply to trails unless otherwise posted, so check for signage about dogs in the park.
- Make sure your pup is fit enough for the trail. Just like people, dogs can gain (and lose) fitness. If your dog isn’t actively hiking with you yet, start with short, easy hikes and then slowly increase the difficulty. Hills, terrain, rocky paths, mud, water crossings – all of these might be new experiences for your dog so be aware that he might tire sooner than on a normal walk. If you notice your dog lying down, panting intensely or foaming at the mouth, these are all signs the dog needs to cool down, slow down and possibly turn back for home. For my older/senior dog, I carry my K9 Sportsack backpack, so when she gets tired, she can still enjoy the hike and relax. I love that she can still join us but not wear herself out. The backpack is also a smart safety measure: should anything happen to my dogs, like a medical issue or injury, I have an easy way to pack them out.
- Right of way. Hikers without dogs have the right-of-way, always. Restrain your dog, step aside, and allow them to pass. Mountain bikers are supposed to yield to hikers but you should remember that the bikers might be traveling with speed (especially on a downhill). Keep a short hold on your dog’s leash to keep them safe. If you’re on a multi-use trail that allows horses, keep your dog at your side at a safe distance from the horses until the riders have passed by.
- Supervise your dog at all times. Be aware of anything on the trails that your dog might ingest, or hazards he or she might step on or get tangled in. This includes sharp rocks, prickly plants, burrs, foxtails and various forms of wildlife. A park will often post signs at the trailhead or visitor information center about the hazards in the park – snakes, insects, etc – and post notices about any recent activity so check for these alerts before you start.
- Leave nothing behind. Make sure you have a pack and trash bags so that you can pack your waste and take it back with you. That includes dog poop as well as any food items or trash.
Planning What to Bring
Again, preparation is key. That’s especially true if you’ve worked up to longer hikes where returning to the car isn’t an easy option. Better to be safe than sorry. Here’s what we recommend bringing with you:
- Enough water for both of you. Your dog will drink more than normal when actively running up mountains, so be prepared. You don’t want your dog drinking from water that could cause giardia and other health issues.
- A bowl. Preferably collapsible for your pet to drink/eat from.
- Current ID tags with collar. You could consider a harness as well, giving you extra grip on your pet. I love to use the Ruffwear harnesses. They are rugged enough for me to grab the pups for extra support while climbing up rocks, but light and comfortable enough for them to run without any restrictions.
- Waste bags. Always a must!
- Dog Booties. Not all dogs need these, but some really benefit from them. Dogs like my Maggie wear their paw pads down rather quickly, so well-fitted booties help keep her playtime lasting longer. But if you use booties, remember that dogs sweat through their feet and shoes shouldn’t be left on for prolonged periods.
- Sun protection. If you have a pink skinned dog you may want to consider something that provides sun protection on the sunny days, these often have the added benefit of providing bug protection too. I love the UV and Bug shirt by Paikka.
- A tennis ball. Some of our hikes include a creek, a lake or an open field so, for these moments, I pack along a tennis ball for us to have a nice game of fetch.
- A travel first-aid kit. This is a nice-to-have for you and your pup. Mine has some band-aids, antibiotic ointment, and a roll of bandage tape in case I need to wrap a wound.
- A doggie pack. If your dog will wear a small pack, this can be a great addition to your hikes. But first, practice at home. Make sure the pack isn’t too heavy and the weight is evenly distributed.
When your hike is all done, do a physical check of your dog. Look at their ears, muzzle, and feet for any burrs, sticks, ticks or debris that may have attached to them. A good rinse of water when you get home is a great way to spot any ticks and also remove any dust and mud from your day out in the wild.
Hiking with your dog is so much fun! We hope you and your pup get a chance to have some fun, wooded adventures this summer or fall. Don’t forget to take lots of photos while you’re enjoying this peaceful time together.