Hiking with a dog – all you need to know for a fun and safe hike

Hiking with a dog, your best friend,  can be a great experience and can bond you even more….
But before you take your dog on a long hike or camping trip, take your time to prepare. For you and your dog. So you can have a great, relaxing trip plus return happy and healthy.

We often might think that our dog have unlimited energy but just like humans, they do have their limits and some of them even need some training.

A little training a few weeks before your first long hike with your dog could be a great idea, starting with short hikes and building from there.

Hiking with a dog:
1) Is my dog fit enough?

While a lot of dogs are perfectly fine to bring on your hikes, even on multiple day hikes, not all dogs are actually capable of hiking. 

Very young or old dogs might lack the stamina and strength and the immune system might make them vulnerable.

Any dogs with health issues or dogs that aren’t fit enough to exercise all day might not be your best hiking buddy.

Short muzzled dogs like pugs, boxers, etc. are not known for their endurance and do not well in heat. Their short muzzles make it actually quite dangerous to take them on hikes or out in the heat. 

Breeds with a high prey drive or those that get overly excited in nature are not ideal for the wild either. They are very likely to just take off if they smell something and don’t react on any commands anymore.

Dogs that don’t follow commands can also become a danger to themselves, to wildlife, and even to other hikers so they should be left at home.

Hiking in Bulgaria with dog. Photo credit @Irina Dorosieva

2) Can I bring my dog everywhere/on every hike?

If you’ve determined that your dog is indeed capable of joining you on a hike, next thing to consider is the location. 

Most us will be wanting to take dogs to hike in publicly owned national or state parks and forests. You need to do your own research ahead of time as many trails and campsites require leashes or don’t allow dogs at all. 

To protect the native flora and fauna, it is very understandable that most park authorities don’t allow dogs and if they allow them they definitely require leashes at all times and that you keep your dog on paved trails. 

Normally  these requirements are very clearly outlined on the parks website. 

Take your time to do your research and to get to know the rules and regulations of that specific trail or campsite. Learn about the wildlife and possible dangers and hazards  in the area your planning to go to, know what to watch out for.

Try to choose trails with soft, leaf- or needle-covered terrain and shade. Try to avoid paths with sharp rocks, off-trail routes with steep drops, and surfaces that gets very hot. 

3) How to prepare your dog for hiking

Putting some time aside to prepare for a  hike with a dog is the best way of guaranteeing that both you and your dog will have the time of your life, returning home fit and healthy!

We often like to think that our dogs have unlimited energy but the reality is that just like us, they too have their limits (as much as they wouldn’t want to admit it!). A training regime may be needed in the weeks leading up to a hike, starting with short outings and building from there.

And a “short-walk-around-the-block-on-asphalt” dog would need more training than a dog that is used to long walks and who is used to rough surfaces. (Comparable to:  a human who is only running once a week needs more training for a half marathon than a human that runs 100km a week.)

Practice with small hikes:

 With a series of shorter hikes you can train with your dog before longer trips. Start with short and easy walks, and make them longer and a little more difficult from there. Slowly building up stamina and strength and prepare your dog’s feet to go the distance and to get used to rough surfaces. For overnight hikes, you should also consider paying the vet a quick visit for a general checkup and to ensure your dog’s vaccinations are all up to date.

Trimming dogs nails

If you are up for a camping trip trimming your dog’s nails could be a good idea. Sharp nails and tent materials don’t go well together. And nobody needs a hole in a tent on a rainy night.

Train your dog

Lastly, but very importantly: if you do have any plans of letting your dog off-leash at any time (also please remember this is not allowed in a lot of parks/forests) take your time and train your dog to immediately respond to any verbal commands from your site.

It is your most important job to keep your pet under control at all times. Both on- and off-leash.
Your dog should always be within your sight and close enough to hear your commands even if you think you are alone on the trail. Wildlife could be hidden off trail somewhere and the next hiker could just be around the corner.

No matter how well-trained your dog normally is, the excitement of the new setting, the new and adventurous scents, mostly needs a refresher course. So during your practice hikes, make sure to train how to listen, sit, stay, heel, and come.
Maybe even consider training with a whistle that can be heard 400 yards away.

You think she will just come back after a while? That could be true, BUT there can be numerous hazards that your dog could encounter while running through the woods. From snakes to poisonous vegetation to steep cliff edges. If you want to give your dog more freedom to explore, then take responsibility to make sure you can save them from danger.

4) Rules and trail etiquette for dogs

Yes, there are trail rules/ a trail etiquette for dogs too. More and more people are enjoying the outdoors and more and more people are bringing their dogs on hikes so it is important to follow these rules and train your dog after this etiquette.

  • Your dog should be under control at all times: Always keep your dog within eye-sight and close enough to hear your commands.
  • Use the leash if the trail requires leashes.  If your dog is jumpy and if there might be a chance that she might jump up onto other hikers, keep her on a short leash. 
  • Make sure other hikers or riders feel safe around you and your dog. Give way, step off the trail and make your dog heel when others approach. You never know if somebody feels uncomfortable around dogs, so don’t let your dog run towards people you don’t know.
  • Communicate:  If you meet someone on the trail, keep your dog on leash and communicate. Let them know that your dog is friendly and calm.
  • Leave no trace: Bring some bags to collect and carry out your dog’s poop. Or bring a shovel to bury the poop in a “cat-hole” that is at least 8” deep and at needs to be at least 200 feet from walkways, camping sites, and water sources.
  • Protect the wildlife around you. Yes your dog plays an important role in your life, but natural flora and fauna needs protection! Don’t let your dog chase animals, run through protected areas, or play in water. The natural flora and fauna is a reason why we love to hike and and it will need to be protected from your pet’s curiosity and enthusiasm. And never forget that some plants are poisonous, and some animals can bite back…

5) How to proper deal with Dog Poo on trail

I know we all hate it, but cleaning up after our dogs is very important!
It not only keeps the trail and environment as natural as possible, but also prevents the potential spread of diseases.

So the good old rule ‘pack it in, pack it out’ also applies to dog poop, not only human trash.

The best option is to take some small sized, tough, plastic bags with you on the hike. If you want to carry it in your bag, double-bag the waste to prevent any unwanted accidents. Or use a container (for dog poop bags only). Then, pack it away in your backpack (but not close to your food) for disposal on your return to civilization.

Another option, if you don’t like to carry your dogs poop or if you’re on an overnight hike, is to take a small shovel and dig a so called cat hole (at least half a foot deep) to bury the poop. You’ll be doing this for your own poop anyway, so this won’t mean any extra effort. 

But please remember: DON’T use a plastic bag or biodegradable bag if you bury the poop! The plastic bag (even if it is called compostable or biodegradable) is not gonna break down in the wild or if it get’s buried. They do need perfect conditions that only occur in compost facilities! 

“Can I Leave the Poop Unburied If It’s in a Biodegradable Bag?”

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I hear/read this tooo often: “yeah finally, I found biodegradable bags. Now it is not an issue to throw the poop bags into a bin it will break down on landfill.”
(I really don’t hope that people actually think they actually can leave bagged poop in nature if it is a so called biodegradable plastic bag. Because:…)… 
Even if you use a so called biodegradable plastic bag even if it is made of plants, it’s certainly NOT okay to leave it on the trail. Why? First of all because biodegradable plastic bags are not breaking down quickly in the wild. It will take them many years, if ever… If you want to leave the poop in the woods, you need to bury it. It is also “shit” for other hikers if they step into your dogs poop if you leave it behind.

Biodegradable plastic bags won’t break down on landfill either. They do need perfect conditions that you only find in compost facilities.

6) Danger and threats for dogs on trail

Actually the threats to dogs on trail are not different from those to humans: Extreme weather, falling, injuries, etc….

  • Freezing temperatures, snow, slippery ice, heat exposure, or dehydration all pose a danger. Keep your dog and yourself out of the sun and midday heat. Pack extra water on a hot day.
  • Hiking can be exhausting for dogs. Keep an eye on your dogs breathing and heart rate. If your dog is still exhausted and can’t recover after a break, consider to make your camp early or return back home soon.
  • In territories with cliffs, steep trails, and unstable terrain a harness or doggie backpack with a handle, comes very handy so you can keep your dog close and can help your dog climb.
  • If your dog is not used to running on sharp rocks and rough terrain the paws could get injured. Pack booties if needed. If your dog is limping,  you should stop for the day.
  • Wild water contaminated with Leptospirosis, coccidia, or giardia will make your dog sick. Signs can include diarrhea, vomiting, and weakness. In so called high-risk areas where there are lots of cattle or campers and standing waters, don’t your dog drink from lakes or streams. Stagnant water should always be a no-no if you don’t have a water filter or can’t boil the water.

Insects, creatures, plants and other diseases

The environment could expose your dog to all sorts of biting insects, poisonous plants and other diseases that they don’t encounter at home. Think about bringing mosquito repellent for dogs and think about a tick treatment.

Creatures: depending on where you are hiking cretaures like ticks, scorpions, snakes, coyotes, and other predators can become potentially dangerous.

Poisonous plants (poison oak, poison ivy, sumac, certain mushrooms, and hemlock, among others) or prickly plant (burrs, foxtails, thorns, and cacti) can also do damage.
If you are in the wild and are not familiar with wild plants and you see your dog grazing on any greens, make him stop immediately…

7) Hiking Packing Tips for your dog

Packing the right things is essential when going on a hike. If you still need some tips on what to pack for yourself check my Hiking Packing List here.

The hiking essentials  for dogs are “same same but different”  😉 Find hiking gear recommendations for dogs here.

-Backpack for Dogs

Get a good fitting backpack for your dog* and let him carry some of his stuff. Most dogs really like to help carrying some stuff. Just make sure not to pack too much weight for your dog.

-Food

Walking more, means your dog needs more energy/food just like you. If you are out for a half day hike you wouln’t need any extra food for your dog, just give him a little extra with the last meal.
If you are out for a real day hike opt for a dry food with high protein content and fat levels to give your dog some extra energy.
Rule of thumb for longer hikes: on top of your dog’s usual daily food, bring an extra cup of food per 20 pounds of dog per day. Give your dog a small serving about an hour before hiking for extra energy, and depending on the difficulty of the hike, feed her some few small snacks throughout the day. If you’re going for a long, multiple day trip, pack some high-protein dehydrated dog food instead of heavier dog food.

-Water

Offer your dog some water when you stop to drink something, this varies depending on trail difficulty and temperature. Generally, a dog will need approximately one ounce of water per pound of their body weight for an average day’s hydration.
Remember that  your dog need more water than usual when doing exercise and shouldn’t drink from water sources that might contain pathogens (standing puddles and ponds), so pack extra water, a collapsible water bowl* for your dog and a water filter bottle for yourself. Note: boiling water for a minute will kill most pathogens.

-First aid kit for dogs

 The first aid kit for dogs* looks different from territory to territory, country to countrs because you will find different threats in different areas. So these are only recommendations and need to be packed individually depending on where you are going.
A First Aid Kit for dogs could include: gauze, bandages, a liquid bandage for split or cut paw pads, pet-friendly antiseptic, pet friendly mosquito repellent, antibiotic ointment, tweezers for thorn and tick removal, styptic swabs, antihistamine like Benadryl in case of snake bite, canine sunscreen, and a bottle of Tecnu in case you run into a patch of poison oak or ivy.
Hyperthermia or heatstroke prevention: instant ice packs or alcohol pads that can be applied to her paw pads to cool her off.
A bandana can be wrapped around an ice pack and tied around the vein in her neck or pressed against the artery on her inner thigh.
Maybe bring a paw salve to give sore, dry, or cracked paws some relief. 

-Poop bags and/or a spade to bury poop

As mentioned already, don’t bury poop bags, and never leave any kind of bags on the trail. Bury the poop deep enough with a spade* or carry the poop bags until you are back home or in a town with bins.

-Socks or booties 

If your dog is not used to walk on rough terrain, bring some socks or booties* to protect her paws from friction, especially if your dog get cut or tears a claw. 

-Short leash or a harness with a handle

A harness with a handle* is nice to have if you are climbing small bits or maybe are walking through water, to have your dog close by and can help him climb or swim.

-Pet ID

A collar with a Pet ID tag* that has your dog’s name, your name, a rabies tag, dog license info, and telephone number on it, just in case you get separated.

-Sleeping pad and blanket

If you plan on camping with your dog you might want to bring a lightweight foam pad to sleep on. If you expect low temperatures you can also get a dog-sized sleeping bag* or bring a wool blanket.

-Towel

A small lightweight towel* to clean and dry your dog before letting him into the tent.

-Reflection/lights

Flashlight, reflection jacket* or glowstick. To keep track on your dog at night and keep him safe when crossing streets at night or walk along a street in the dark

8) How to load and fit a dogs backpack

If it’s going to be a long hike, you might want to think about getting a dog’s backpack for carrying small items. A healthy dog in good condition could carry 10-20 percent of his body weight without problems.

The total load should not be heavier than a third of your dog’s total weight. 

We know how much (most) dogs love to get involved in anything we do, and if it means you can carry less weight, it is a win win situation.

The backpack need to fit snug but shouldn’t chafe. You should be able to fit two fingers under it. Both sides should weigh equally!

Pack the bags with some dog food, snacks, hydration bladder, foldable bowl, and any extra gear. Before you start your hiking trip, make sure to weigh the bag and make sure it’s not too heavy.

9) What to do if my dog get's injured during a hike

Before you leave on your trip, locate and note the contact informations of the nearest emergency vet.
Check vaccinations and the coverage on your pet insurance policy (or consider purchasing insurance if you don’t have it).

If your dog get’s bitten by a snake, take your dog to the vet immediately. In the meantime, use an antihistamine like Benadryl to reduce an allergic reaction.

If you find a tick on your dog use the tweezers to pluck the entire thing out imediatley, including the head. Try not to squeeze the body of the tick. Then clean and treat the area with antiseptic or antibiotic ointment.
There are many canine tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease, so check on your dog if any symptoms develop. 

If your dog is gagging or vomiting, it’s time to go to the vet. Your dog might have eaten something poisonous. If you can, find out what it was and take the plant to the vet, as this will help the vet determine how to proceed. 

10) Health Check after a hike

When you get home at the end of a hike, it’s important to give your dog an all-over health check.

Is he limping? 

Can you feel any small lumps that could be a tick? 

Are the paws in good condition and not overly sensitive? 

Do you need to brush out any vegetation or burrs that are caught in the fur?

If it’s been a long and dirty day hike you may even want to give your dog a quick bath or hose-down. To cool down and get clean. 

Tell me all about your recent adventures with your dog! Any tips I missed to talk about?
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