I am blessed with two beautiful dogs: Big-Lu, my 16 year old shepherd mix and Little-Lucy, my 4 year old terrier mix. Big-Lu has been hiking and backpacking with me for the past 10 years, while Little-Lucy is just getting started with 3.
These pups love hiking just as much as I do, and seeing them so happy on the trail as they greet other dogs (and hikers!) and enjoy the fresh air is a contagious sort of joy. Hiking with dogs can be one of the best experiences a dog-loving hiker can have — but there’s a lot of work that goes into doing it properly.
I trip-prep just as much for them as I do for myself. It’s important to remember that your canine companions can also get injured, suffer from heat exhaustion, dehydration, fatigue, and altitude sickness just like any hiker — only they don’t have the ability to talk to us to let us know when something is wrong.
Here are a few tips that will help to keep your four legged family members healthy and safe while you are out on an adventure.
Pre hike preparations:
- Choose a hike within the limits of your dog’s abilities: know the terrain to prevent problems on the trail. Most of the time, I’ll hike the trails myself before bringing my dogs along. This way I know that both dogs can handle the conditions and I’ll know exactly where I am along the way. Remember that conditioning is as important for your pup as it is for you. If your dog has never been on the trail before, don’t just throw them onto a 12 mile trail — start with shorter hikes and work your way up to the longer ones. Both you and your dog will appreciate this warm-up and have a more pleasant experience on the trail. Modern Hiker has a map of trails that allow dogs to help you get some ideas, although it’s important to note that — just like our trails for humans — some of these routes are a lot more difficult than others. Just because dogs are allowed doesn’t necessarily mean it will be an easy hike for your pup!Consider altitude when you’re selecting your trail, too. Dogs can suffer from altitude just like people. General precautions; If they seem to tire easily, pant excessively, are less interested in food and/or vomiting, these are signs that elevation is affecting them. A great resource in altitude sickness in dogs can be found at Vet-info.
- Check the weather: What is the temperature of the day going to be? Dogs do not have the ability to sweat and cool down like people. If the temperatures are very hot for you, they are even hotter for your dog. Choose a hike in the shade or one next to water to help keep your pups paws cool. Starting very early in the day to avoid extreme afternoon heat is a smart idea. Often times, a dog’s paws will get scorched from hot rocks on the trail. This can be avoided by purchasing footwear for your dog. One of my favorite is the Kurgo Step N’ Strobe Dog shoes. If you start your pup off young, they will grow to associate “fun” when they see their shoes. These shoes also work great in the snow!
- Make sure your dog’s ID tags are current and that your dog has a well-fitted collar. I’ve seen dogs get spooked on the trail and take off running. We like to believe we have 100% control of our dog, but they still have a mind of their own. Being reassured they are tagged properly and chipped will give you piece of mind.
- Bring plenty of food and water: Always consider the amount of food and water your dog will need for the conditions of the hike. Bring more than you think they will eat or drink. You should be giving your dog treats throughout the hike to help keep their energy level up. The same applies to water. Petco has some great video resources on helping you learn about your dog’s water consumption needs.
- First aid kit: I am Wilderness First Aid trained and always carry a first aid kit. You can learn about dog first aid by taking classes at Petco or the Red Cross. This type of preparedness is highly recommended. A Pet specific first aid kit is also available. Another resource is the free downloadable pet first aid guide from Kurgo, which contains great information!
- Always keep your dog up to date on their vaccinations. You never know when your dog might have an encounter with an animal that is rabid. This will save you from an “Old Yeller” moment.
Things to remember during your hike:
- Trail regulations: I love to see my dogs running freely on the trail, but not all trails are safe for them to do so. Many of the trails we hike have leash law signs posted. These laws are in place to protect your dog and your fellow hikers. It is important to understand the rules for wherever you will be hiking, and remember that rules can vary widely depending on where you are — and even parks with the same designation can have different rules! It’s especially important to pay attention in areas like the Santa Monica Mountains where park lands for several different agencies often co-mingle. When in doubt, call ahead — few things are as disappointing as driving out to a trailhead with your pups only to discover they’re not allowed!
- Trail etiquette: Just because your dogs are very people-and-dog-friendly does not mean other hikers want them running up to them or their dogs. Keeping your dog on-leash is fantastic, but keeping your dog calm when others are passing or approaching is also important. It takes time to train your dog to get use to the trail, but that training will pay off. If you’re in an off-leash area, be sure to leash your dog or keep them under your direct control when another trail user is approaching. And remember, you and your dog are ambassadors on the trail — bad behavior leaves a bad impression on other users, and you may find that enough bad behavior can result in dogs being banned from your favorite trails.
- Doggie bag for waste: Please remember to clean up after your pup. I am very passionate about Leave No Trace etiquette. This is a must to keep our trails beautiful for future hikers. Imagine if you hiked a trail five times a week and every time you did not clean up after your pup. Multiply that by 52 weeks. That is a lot of poop from just one dog. If every dog owner did the same our trails would quickly be a mess.
- Staying on the trail and out of brush: This will help them avoid poison oak that can be transferred to you. It will also help prevent an encounter with a venomous snake that could be hiding under a rock or brush, Fox Tails (A plant which can be deadly to your dog) and other things that can affect your pup.
- Check for cracks or tears on your dogs foot pads: It is important to keep a close eye on your dogs foot pads. They can walk for a long distance with small tears, showing only slight signs that there is a problem. Only once severe tears have occurred will you notice limping. Make sure your dog has thick pads with a rough texture like sandpaper. When you stop to feed your pups check their feet for problems. Small cracks are common in active dogs. When I’m checking my dogs, if I do notice a larger tear I’ll head back to the trailhead — it might make for a slightly disappointing hike but your dogs will be happy — and you won’t need to call in Search and Rescue for assistance if you can’t carry your pup out with you!
- Allow time for frequent rests and breaks. Stopping to refuel and rest is key to a safe and successful hike, for you and the dog!
After your hike:
- Check your dog for ticks: I carry a fine toothed tick comb in my car and always take a few minutes to comb my dogs after our hikes. You’d be surprised at the number of tiny ticks you can miss with your eyes. These combs can also help remove any other thorn or imbedded item.
- Check for cracks or tears on your dog’s footpads that might have been missed on the trail. A great all-natural salve that works on your dog’s paws is Sierra Sage Green Goo. (I use it too!)
With some trip planning, hiking with your dog can be incredibly rewarding and a great bonding experience for you both! Have fun and happy tails a waggin’.
My Dogs’ Gear List:
- Water, bowl and treats
- Towel to wash and dry my dogs
- Jackets and booties , as needed
- Dog backpack for sharing the load (only if conditioned and used to it)
- Sleeping pad and blanket (If backpacking)
- Dog life vest (for Kayak and lake adventures)
- Doggie bag for waste
- first aid kit