There is nothing I enjoy more than going on a hike with my dog. I’ve been hiking with dogs for years, many years. You know how it is fun to share things with others who can appreciate the activity or event as much as you do? Well, I’ve yet to find a human hiking companion as enthusiastic about being in the woods as my dog. Talk about a bonding experience. My dog Riley gets so excited when she sees her pack that she dances around and whines. In the car heading for a trail, she shows her appreciation for the adventure to come by giving me kisses. Nothing makes her happier than a hike.
If you and your pooch are new to hiking, here is some information that will get you and your canine off to a good start.
First of all, you need to know what your dog is capable of physically. It’s always a good idea to check with your dog’s veterinarian before embarking on a new activity, especially if you have an older dog or a puppy. Older dogs often suffer from stiff joints, arthritis, and other physical ailments. With puppies, you must be very careful. Steep and uneven hiking trails can negatively impact the development of their growing joints.
If your dog has been hanging out with you on the couch all winter, then you both have some conditioning to do. Start off with short hikes on flat terrain and build up to longer hikes with more challenging terrain. Don’t go from couch to a ten mile hike with no conditioning in between. If your sixty pound lab mix poops out on the trail, are you going to be able to carry her back to the car? Conditioning and knowing your dog’s physical limitations are important.
Do you know where you are going? It’s always good to do some research before hitting the trail. Are dogs allowed? What are the requirements? On-leash only? Are horses and/or mountain bikers sharing the trail? If your dog is a herding breed, will bicycles be a big distraction? If it’s a popular mountain biking trail and there is a lot of bike traffic, is it a desirable trail to hike? And did you know that most National Parks aren’t all that dog-friendly? The Mountaineers Books publish a series of regional guides called Best Hikes with Dogs. In my neck of the woods, I use Best Hikes with Dogs – Inland Northwest. These guidebooks are a great resource for dog-friendly hikes throughout the country.
How well trained is your dog? If you and your dog are hiking in an area that does not require a leash, consider how well your dog follows your commands, especially “come.” Does your dog have excellent verbal recall? If not, do you want to risk having your dog run off and possibly get lost or injured or worse? I’m guessing not. I had a Border Collie named Sallie whom I trusted to be off-leash. She would always follow my commands. However, my current trail dog Riley is rarely off-leash. She has an extremely high prey-drive and a your-not-the-boss-of-me attitude, translation – zero recall if she is in the “chase zone.” This type of behavior is not that uncommon. The good news is that Riley doesn’t seem to mind being on a leash, at all. I have a hands-free leash that goes around my waist, which works well for me. Also, I use a harness, so I don’t have to worry about her slipping her collar. If she is wearing a pack, the leash is attached to that. Keeping her on a leash gives me peace of mind and keeps her safe and the wildlife safe from her.
You know how hungry you get when you exert yourself physically? If you’ve hiked before, you know how good that trail mix tastes when you are burning up lots of calories. Well, your pup is working just as hard or harder so don’t forget to pack plenty of food for him as well. He needs to keep his energy up, too.
Got water? Dogs are susceptible to the same bacteria, like giardia, as you are, so bring water for Fido. If you are filtering water, filter his, also. Use your own thirst as a guide and offer water when you stop to drink–every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on trail difficulty and temperature.
On those longer more difficult hikes, you can outfit your dog with a pack and he can carry his own food and water. It is okay for dogs to carry weight equivalent to about 25% of their body weight. For working breeds, that can go up to 35%. However, don’t try to put a pack on your dog the day of the hike. It’s best to let him have some time to get used to it and practice wearing it around the house.
Okay, now for a checklist of the essentials for your trail dog:
ID tags, rabies license tag
Veterinarian’s phone #/ Emergency Veterinarian’s phone #
(clinics that are near where you are hiking)
Harness (rather than collar)
Water and bowl
First Aid Kit
Nice to have:
Coat or cooling vest (depending on the weather)
Booties – for rocky or icy conditions
You and your dog will be out in nature to relax, exercise, and enjoy yourselves, right? Other hikers are hoping to do the same. Be sure you consider those you share the trail with by being a courteous hiker with a controlled dog. Don’t be that person whose dog is way ahead of you and out of your control. Your dog may like other dogs, but chances are not all of the dogs on the trail are friendly, especially when a strange dog comes running up to a leashed dog. Also, trails are narrow and not all hikers like dogs, so don’t assume everyone will love your dog. Keep your dog close to you and under your control. Oh and don’t forget to “leave no trace behind.” Your dog’s feces needs to be picked up and packed out. Fortunately, there are fragrant poop bags these days.
Your best friend with four legs will follow you anywhere. With a little bit of forethought and preparation, you can lead him on adventures that will be bring out the best in him and you. There is nothing like sharing fun adventures with your friend. Happy trails and tails!