Hiking with your four-legged friend can be one of the most memorable experiences either one of you might have. In fact, witnessing their energy and unfiltered enjoyment can motivate you to go farther while appreciating the breathtaking scenery—leading to a truly spectacular time in the outdoors.
However, it’s important to remember that your dog, while a part of the family, is still an animal, and there are precautions and safety measures you need to take to ensure you, your pet and other trail visitors have a safe time.
1. Obey All Leash Laws
We all like to think our dogs bring joy to anyone we meet on the trail—but, unfortunately, that’s not true.
Many people are frightened of dogs, or they have a dog on a leash that might get aggressive toward yours. There are a multitude of reasons why letting your dog off-leash on most trails just isn’t a good idea.
Do your research beforehand to make sure you aren’t unintentionally breaking the rules. Dogs are not allowed in most U.S. National Parks, for example, and most dog-friendly trails require you keep your dog on a leash six feet or less in length. Not following these rules can result in stiff fines and ruin what would have otherwise been a fun-filled day for you and your pet.
Many trails have off-leash designated areas, which are perfect for dogs that respond to voice commands. With that said, you must be honest about your dog’s training. If your dog responds to your voice only 50 percent of the time—he’s not under voice command. And if the second you let him off-leash he scurries out of sight, he could be harming sensitive habitat, getting in the way of a mountain biker or running into some unwelcome wildlife.
2. Pick Up After Your Pet
While keeping your dog’s feces in tow is far from pleasant, its benefits go beyond keeping other people’s shoes clean. Dog excrement contains harmful levels of bacteria that can harm and disrupt local wildlife, native habitats and groundwater supplies.
While many trails have dog stool bag stations, not all of them do, and you can’t guarantee the stations won’t be out of bags when you arrive. Always be prepared and keep bags with you anytime you head out on the trail. You can purchase portable doggie bags and doggie bag containers for around $10 that attach directly to your leash.
When it comes to disposing of your dog’s waste, be respectful of the environment and place doggie bags in a trashcan (preferably one with a lid). And, if camping, we advise you leave any pet waste at least 200 feet from a campsite.
3. Bring Enough Water and Food for Two
Anytime you head out on a long hike that requires you pack food and water, remember you have two mouths to feed.
Because dogs cannot sweat like humans and have fur coats, they are at a higher risk of overheating. While you might not need water for Fido on a walk around the block, anytime you head out on the trail, it’s a good idea to bring along plenty of liquids for the both of you. Just remember to bring a collapsible dish to pour some for him.
If it’s really hot, you can even supplement your dog’s water with some light electrolyte fluid (such as Pedialyte). It’s also important to keep your dog from slurping standing puddles of water or ingesting heavy amounts of saltwater. Standing water can contain a number of bacteria, parasites or algae that can make your pooch very sick, and saltwater can cause diarrhea and dehydration.
Bring along some dog treats for your pet to help keep their energy levels up on a long hike. If you took your pet on a very strenuous hike, give them a little bit more dinner to help them recover and prevent sickness and injury. Just like you need calories to stay energized, so do they.
You might also consider purchasing a dog pack so they can carry their own supplies. A fit and healthy dog can carry up to 25 percent of their bodyweight (depending on the breed).
4. Make Sure Fido is Fit for the Trail
Very young dogs and very old dogs simply cannot handle the same trail length or intensity as other dogs. Be respectful of your dog’s limits and don’t push them to exhaustion. If you have any questions about how much is too much for your dog, ask your vet.
If you notice your dog lying down, panting intensely or foaming at the mouth, these are all signs they need to cool down, slow down and possibly turnaround. Just like you, dogs can gain or lose fitness. If during winter your dog got used to short walks around the snowy neighborhood, don’t expect them to be able to jump off the couch and hike 10 miles with you come springtime. Gradually build up the distance and intensity with your pet so they can enjoy the outdoors safely.
5. Consider a Pet First Aid Kit
Similar to small children, pets can easily get into mischief on a trail. Keeping a small first aid kit (whether it’s pet-specific or not) in your car or on your person can help you doctor any gashes, bites, sprains or burns your pup might get.
The Kurgo Pet First Aid Kit is less than $30 and offers everything you’d need should your pet get hurt on the trail. Remember, dogs can’t take the same pain medications as humans (for the most part), so if your dog is hurt and in pain you should always consult your vet.
6. Consider Rattlesnake Aversion Training
If you live anywhere in the Western United States and frequent the trails with your dog, rattlesnake aversion training should be something you seriously consider for your dog. The clinics generally last less than an hour, and they could save your dog’s life.
Aversion training can range from $75 to $300 depending on the method (most use shock training, others use more natural methods), and should be repeated every few years.
7. Dog Clothing is Silly—But Sometimes Necessary
Putting an argyle sweater on your dog so he looks fancy on the golf course is not what we’re talking about. If you have a shorthaired dog or a dog that spends the majority of their time indoors, they could benefit from an extra layer against wet and cold conditions.
Ruffwear sells a variety of excellent dog coats for breeds of all sizes. If, conversely, heat is the issue, you can also keep your dog cool by putting on a dog vest that has been soaked in cool water.
Most breeds can also benefit from dog booties (shoes for dogs) for cold, snowy trail conditions, but they are also helpful if you’re heading out on very hot sand or scrambling over rocks. And yes, most dogs hate them, but there’s nothing worse than seeing your dog in pain because they’ve torn up the bottom of their paws.
8. Keep an Eye Out for Anything Your Dog Ingests
Mushrooms, cattails, dog poop, pinecones, random socks—the list of things dogs can eat on a trail goes on and on. And some of it can be very dangerous—even deadly.
If you see your dog chewing on something, make sure you figure out what it is, and if it seems dangerous, take some of it with you to show your vet. This is especially important with plants and mushrooms. You can avoid a lot of these incidents by keeping your dog on leash, but if you go off-leash make sure you keep an eye on them so you know what they’re smelling and eating.
9. Always Do a Post-Hike Pup Check
While you’re experiencing the trails from five- to six-plus feet from the ground, your dog is running through knee-high brush and sweeping past all sorts of plants, bugs and burrs.
Always check your dog’s whole body for ticks, cuts, burrs and burns when you get back to your car. If you find a tick, remove it carefully and place it in a sealed bag to take to your vet. If you were out for quite a while and your dog got very dirty, a post-hike doggie bath is a good way to check for ticks and injuries and prevent skin allergies that pop up occasionally.