Most dogs are a Grandma Gatewood at heart – waiting to put their Ked sneakers on to solo thru-hike their way through life. If they could speak, they’d be shouting at the top of their lungs to let them tag along on your Appalachian adventures.
With dog-friendly hiking trails becoming increasingly popular across the country, nothing is stopping you from living the dream of your life with your canine bestie—nothing much except one thing; thoughtful preparation.
Being hiking-plus-dog-enthusiasts ourselves, we know a thing or two (actually, more) about hiking with dogs. So, choose a trail, tie up your laces, read the following guidelines, and get ready to adventure on with your furry friend.
Check with the Vet
Even if your doggo is super fit—say, an Alaskan Malamute who regularly works out—it’s still a good idea to get the vet’s blessings before taking them on the trail.
Scoop up your dog, take them to the vet and repeat the following: “Hey doc, is my doggo up-to-date on their vaccinations? We were wondering if we could set out on a trail together.” The vet would give you the seal of approval if your dog is already vaccinated; otherwise, you can get them vaccinated in time before the adventure begins.
Why is this question important? Because many vector-borne diseases that might affect your bestie on the trail are easily preventable through vaccination. Having vaccination checked off the list, you can have a more carefree spree.
Are there any hiking-with-your-dog-related queries you were googling before you made it to the vet? Now would be the time to ask for a professional’s answers. List down all the questions in the back of your head on a piece of paper or on your phone, and bring them to your pet’s vet and check them off one by one as they answer. Remember, keeping the vet in the loop is imperative – they would prepare you well in advance for any prevention protocols you may need to take.
Hiking enthusiasts do a minimum of four workouts per week to gain endurance for the distance. Similar logic apply to our pets as well. A trail routine before the actual adventure on the trail can help improve your dog’s mobility, balance, and coordination. It also enhances their physical endurance during rigorous activity. The best way to ease into a trail routine is to start slow, with the following:
- Elevation training (climbing stairs)
- Short runs on the desired terrain
- Long walks
You can begin your pet’s obedience training before venturing out on the terrain – so people have no difficulty sharing the trail with your buddy.
Leash pressure makes communication with your dog incredibly easier when they are too distracted to listen to verbal commands. They can elicit certain behaviors if conditioned to specific leash pressures.
Bonus tip: You can train your dog to move in the direction of tension by gently tugging on their leash. Lots of reinforcement and treats can easily get you there.
Leash laws differ depending on the location – it’s best to check local regulations and the relevant jurisdictional boundaries before heading out. Your dog may be allowed on a particular stretch of the trail; even, in that case, it’s best to have them under a hundred percent voice command. The two most important things you must consider teaching your dog are a basic repertoire of:
- Hand signal commands (drop it, sit, stay, etc.,)
- Verbal commands (especially the recall command)
It’s a good idea to share the load with your dog – but not without consulting the vet first. If your dog will carry a pack, make sure it is ultra-light. Stuff in a water bowl, some food, and your dog’s own waste in their doggy pack. If you want to go a little above that, make sure to take your dog for a daily 15-minutes walk with the load to help them build the muscle strength for it.
Plus, most importantly, choose the backpack carefully. Make sure it is durable, comfortable, water-resistant, and cut just for your dog.
Ensure these essential items are on your gear checklist because your dog will absolutely need them during the hiking spree.
Food and water
Pack high-quality, freeze-dried, dehydrated dog food and plenty of water. It’s better to feed your dog smaller but frequent amounts of food throughout the hike. For hot-weather hikes, you can freeze your water-filled bottle overnight so that the ice melts as you hike and your dog gets refreshingly cold water.
A collapsible bowl
Collapsible nylon bowls are lightweight and easy to carry. Most of these come with a loop that enables you to attach them to your backpack, so you don’t need to rake through the bag every time you need it.
Litter bags or a spade
Be mindful of your obligations as a dog parent – they poop, you scoop. Put away your dog’s waste into litter bags and attach them to your backpack with a snap ring instead of putting them inside the backpack. Don’t like the idea? You can also use a spade to bury the waste dutifully.
Durable (glow-in-the-dark) leash
Your dog needs a leash on the trail; no arguments there. However, make sure the leash is durable and can endure rigorous hiking. Additionally, a reflective/glow-in-the-dark leash will help protect your dog at night.
If you’re camping overnight on the hiking trail, you’d need to bring a tent for your dog. Choose a tent big enough for both of you to fit inside, and ensure there is enough room for your dog to move around.
A dog whistle could come in handy during the hike. If trained, dogs can respond differently to different whistle cues (sit, stand, come). However, different whistles have different frequencies. So, ensure the one you carry with you to the trail is the same one you used during training.
You may also want to carry a dog raincoat and insulation/cooling jacket, depending on the weather and condition of the terrain.
Risks and hazards are present everywhere. And the trail is no exception. It’s your responsibility to make them avoidable. Likewise, there may be some troubles on the trail as well. Staying informed is the best way to prepare for them.
As a general rule of thumb, you and your dog would want to steer clear of the wildlife in your path – it’s their natural habitat, and you don’t want to be nosy intruders. You are settled as long as your pooch minds their business and is up to date on disease (like Lyme and rabies) vaccinations. Moreover, plants in some of these areas may be poisonous. So, if you notice your bestie chewing on something, make them stop and spit immediately.
Your little buddies are tough – they would follow you incessantly out of love and respect even when uncomfortable. Even when they are overheated. They cannot regulate their internal body temperature as effectively as humans do, so you should be cautious about hiking during extreme summer days. Of course, on days with normal temperature and plenty of water, there aren’t many chances that your dog will experience a heatstroke. Still, know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion to immediately identify and treat it.
Some common symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy panting
- Noisy breathing
- Glazed eyes
- Excessive drooling
- Bright or deep red tongue
- High body temperature
- Staggering or collapsing
Rocks, pits, and falls
Rocks, pits, and falls could conspire with the steep cliffs to wreak havoc on your dogs’ little toe beans. This is why it’s always a good idea to map out the trail in advance to avoid rock-strewn paths.
Pro tip: get your dog a pair of good-quality dog booties for the trail
Ponds and lakes
You don’t want your canine bestie contracting water-borne illnesses, so be sure to avoid water with foam, scum, or algal mats on the trail. Carry an ample supply of water to prevent your thirsty dog from getting excited at the sight of the water source.
Usually, when people imagine hiking with a dog, they conjure up an image of a cool parent-child duo on an empty trail that winds next to scenic sugar maple and white ash trees. In reality, even those of us who are fit may get winded from time to time and perhaps need frequent breaks to catch our breath. So remember to keep a close eye on your canine friend to accommodate breaks for them when needed.
Stick to The B.A.R.K Principles
Conclusively, follow The National Park Service’s B.A.R.K principles to make the trail experience wholesome for you, your dog, and the people around:
- Bag your pet’s waste
- Always leash your pet
- Respect wildlife
- Know where you can go
Done? Time to Be on Your Way!
Preparing ahead of time is the key to having a good (read: excellent) time with your dog on the trail. Once all the preparation and the training are done, you are set for one heck of a hike and making cherished memories with your best friend!
Dog Hiking FAQS
When can dogs start hiking?
Dogs can start hiking as early as six months old, provided they have been sufficiently exercised and in good health. However, it’s important to remember that puppies are not as resilient as adult dogs, so taking extra care when hiking with them is essential.
How long can dogs go without water?
Dogs can go without water for a surprisingly long time – as long as they’re not exerting themselves too much. Giving your pup water every 2-4 hours is a safe bet when hiking with your healthy adult dog. Puppies will require more frequent breaks and should drink water every hour.
How much can a dog hike in a day?
Dogs can hike for hours on end, but it’s important to remember that they will need plenty of breaks. Puppies should not hike more than a mile or two daily, while adult dogs can hike up to five miles without issue. Again, it’s always good to bring plenty of water and snacks for you and your dog.
What should I do if my dog gets lost while hiking?
First, take a deep breath and gather your calm. Then gather as many people as possible who are nearby and start canvassing the area. If you do not find your dog there, check with local animal control or the police department to see if anyone has turned in a lost dog. Finally, put up flyers in the area and contact local animal shelters.
It is important to make sure that your dog has your contact information on their collar or dog vest.
What should I do if my dog gets injured while hiking?
If your dog gets injured while hiking, it’s crucial to take action quickly. Next, clean and disinfect the wound as best as possible. Wrap the wound and transport your dog to the nearest veterinarian. If it’s a severe injury, you may need to call 911.
What kind of gear do I need for hiking with my dog?
In addition to a good quality dog leash and collar, you’ll need to bring along some other essentials like water, food, poop bags, and a first-aid kit. If you’re planning on hiking in the hot weather, it’s also a good idea to bring along a dog cooling vest.
Can dogs hike on a leash, or must they be off-Leash?
Dogs must be leashed when hiking in most areas, except for designated off-leash areas. Even if your dog is well-behaved and responds well to voice commands, it’s essential to keep them leashed for their safety and the safety of other hikers.
Do dogs need to wear a hiking harness?
Hiking harnesses are not necessary for most dogs, but they can be helpful in certain situations. For example, if your dog tends to pull on the leash or likes to run off-leash, a hiking harness can help keep them under control. Harnesses are also helpful for dogs who are uncomfortable walking on a leash.