Hiking With Your Dog
(3 min read) Written by Nicole Ellis
Hiking with my dogs is one of my favorite pastimes. I know it's one of theirs too. From local parks to wilderness areas to big-name national parks, the three of us (and often our human and canine friends) hit the trails whenever our schedules - and the skies - are clear.
Now that we're into the prime hiking seasons of mid-summer to the gorgeous stretch of autumn before the frosts set in, there's no better time than to get wild with your dog. Here are our tips for squeezing maximum enjoyment out of your outdoor adventures:
Before you head for the mountains:
- Only take your pup hiking or camping when and if they're ready. For any hikes that are moderate or harder, you'll want to wait until your dog's growth plates are closed. This varies from dog to dog and breed to breed, but it's usually around 12-18 months. A younger dog should be fine on short, easy hikes but do keep him safely within his limits and be prepared to do a shorter walk than you planned.
- Familiarize yourself with the regulations of the park for trail use and campgrounds. Not everyone loves dogs as much as we do (crazy, I know) and some trails simply aren’t safe off leash during certain times of the year. Local leash laws apply to trails unless otherwise posted so check for signage about dogs in the park.
- Leave nothing behind. That includes dog poop as well as any food items or trash.
- Make sure your pup is fit enough for the trail. Just like people, dogs can gain (and lose) fitness. If your dog isn’t actively hiking with you yet, start with short, easy walks and simple and slowly increase the difficulty. Hills, terrain, rocky paths, mud, water crossings - all of these might be new experiences for your dog, so be aware that he might tire sooner than on a normal walk. If you notice your dog lying down, panting intensely or foaming at the mouth, these are all signs the dog needs to cool down, slow down and possibly turn back for home. For my older/senior dog, I carry my K9 Sportsack backpack, so when she gets tired, she can still enjoy the hike and relax. I love that she can join us but not wear herself out. The backpack is also a smart safety measure: should anything happen to my dogs, like a medical issue or injury, I have an easy way to pack them out.
- Right of way. Hikers without dogs have the right-of-way, always. Restrain your dog, step aside, and allow them to pass. Mountain bikers are supposed to yield to hikers but remember that the bikers might be traveling at speed and keep a short hold on your dog's leash. If you're on a multi-use trail that allows horses, keep your dog at your side at a safe distance from the horses until the riders have passed by.
- Keep an eye out. Be aware of anything on the trails that your dog might ingest or hazards he might step on or get tangled in. This includes sharp rocks, prickly plants, burrs, foxtails and various forms of wildlife. A park will often post signs at the trailhead or visitor information center about the hazards in the park - snakes, insects, etc. - and post notices about any recent activity.
What to bring?
- Enough water for both of you. Your dog will drink more than normal when actively running up mountains so be prepared. You don’t want your dog drinking from water that could cause giardia and other health issues.
- A bowl. Preferably collapsible for your pet to drink/eat from.
- Current ID tags with collar. You could consider a harness as well, giving you extra grip on your pet. I love using the Ruffwear harnesses which are rugged enough for me to grab the pups for extra support while climbing up rocks but light and comfortable enough for them to run without any restrictions.
- Waste bags. As always!
- If your dog will wear a pack. This can be a great addition to your hikes. But first, practice at home. Make sure the pack isn't too heavy and that the weight is evenly distributed.
- Dog Booties. Not all dogs need these, but some benefit from them. Dogs like my Maggie wears her paw pads down rather quickly. well-fitted booties help keep her playtime lasting longer. But if you use booties, remember that dogs sweat through their feet and shoes shouldn’t be left on for prolonged periods.
When your hike is all done, check over your dog - ears, muzzle, and feet - for any burrs, sticks, ticks or debris that may have attached to them. A good rinse of water is a great way to do a once-over for ticks and also remove any dust and mud from your wild day out.
- Nicole Ellis