Hiking with dogs is a great way to spend time in nature, but doing so can have impacts on both the land and your dog. Hike the right way with our pet-friendly tips below:
1. Make sure Fido is wearing identification tags. Every dog owner’s nightmare is losing their pup in the woods. If this worst-case scenario happens, at least you’ll be comforted knowing that if someone finds your pup, they’ll have current contact information. If you’re staying at a campground, consider attaching a tag that states which campsite you’re at.
Dog hiking at White Mountain, New Hampshire.By: stefatty, flickr
2. Keep your pup up-to-date on all vaccinations and other medical requirements. Your four-legged friend could contract diseases and parasites out in wilderness. Heartworm, contracted by mosquitoes, is one parasite your dog should be protected against.
3. Condition yourself and your dog before a trip. Don’t assume that because Fido runs around the yard a million miles an hour, he will be able to hike upwards of ten miles a day. Just like humans, dogs need to train up to longer hikes. Start out with an easier trail and work up to longer distance hikes. Your dog will love you more at the end of the day. Note that many dog owners wait until the dog is at least a year old before taking him on a strenuous hike to give the puppy’s growing muscles, bones and joints time to mature.
Hiking at South Boulder Peak, Colorado. By: rtadlock, flickr
4. Let Fido carry his own provisions. A long day out on the trail will require your dog to be properly fed and hydrated. This is especially important to those breeds of dogs that overheat easily due to thick fur coats or physiology. If you’re worried about the weight of your gear in addition to carrying food and water for your pup, consider purchasing a dog pack (here’s an array of packs that REI offers) so your dog can carry his own food and water. Make sure to train the dog (with the pack filled with food and water) before embarking on a lengthy trip. Many outdoor stores sell collapsible dog bowls for easy transport. Note that dogs should be at least a year old before carrying their own pack since a puppy’s body is still in the developmental stage. Also note that at least one hour should pass between feeding your dog and vigorous exercise (and vice-versa), especially in large, deep-chested breeds.
5. Be a responsible master, learn the rules. Depending on who manages the land you’ll be recreating on, there can be an array of dog-related regulations. Many national forests have trails that require dogs to be leashed (some don’t allow dogs), while others allow off-leash dogs as long as they are under voice control. National parks and many state parks do not allow dogs on trails. If you aren’t sure of the regulations, call the ranger station, national park or state agency in charge of the trail you’re about to hike. If I’m out on a trail, I prefer hiking with my dog always leashed – this allows better control in case they spook wildlife and can help alleviate issues with people, especially children, who are frightened of dogs.
6. Practice Leave No Trace. Blend your visit with the natural environment and take care of our public lands. Always remember to: keep your dog on the trail, dispose of your dog’s waste properly (don’t leave it sitting in the trail, pick it up and bag it or bury it in a cathole), respect wildlife (don’t let your dog chase wild animals) and be considerate of other visitors by making sure your dog has been trained in basic commands and is under voice control.
7. First aids kits aren’t only for humans. Always remember to pack a first aid kit with some canine hiking essentials. Here are a few ideas: tweezers for pulling out ticks or thorns in paws; adhesive tape and a sock to wrap an injured paw in; and a disposable razor for shaving fur around a wound. Check out this webpage for more doggy first aid kit ideas.
8. Do a thorough check in with your dog after a day’s hike. Since dogs can’t tell us what might be ailing them, we owners must be diligent in checking our pups after recreating with them. Make sure to look them over for ticks, bites, scratches and wounds (especially the pads of the dog’s feet. Use your doggy first aid kit to treat wounds.
There’s a wealth of knowledge out there about hiking with dogs. Click here for a list of books about the topic, including books listing dog-friendly trails in specific states.
Did I miss a tip? Share your ideas on how to keep your pup happy and healthy on the trail.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published July 15, 2010 and was updated in March 2013.