Hiking with a dog is a wonderful bonding experience for canine and human alike. The chance to get out in nature brings dogs and people together in ways that can perhaps be best measured by the deep sense of satisfaction you’ll feel once you’re back home for what is invariably a well-deserved nap.
Hiking is good for both of you but especially for your dog. Face it, dogs are just meant to be outdoors. Hiking gives them a chance to get exercise, be stimulated by all sorts of new sights and smells, and explore new territory.
In many ways, it’s the most natural thing in the world for your dog to do. But, as with any kind of hike, when you go hiking with a dog, a bit of simple preparation and planning will ensure a safe and happy experience for all concerned.
• Preventing disease. Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are all up-to-date. The chance of your dog being exposed to rabies and other diseases is greater on the trail than during a walk in the neighborhood. You might also want to check with your veterinarian about flea and tick treatments.
• Tags and identification. Your dog should definitely have all required tags and clearly displayed identification in case you’re separated. If your dog has a microchip, make sure the information is current. A bright-colored bandana is also helpful because it will alert any hunters in the area that your dog isn’t a wild animal.
• Find the right trail. First of all, many parks don’t allow dogs on trails whether on leash or off. Locate spots where dogs are allowed. Trals with decent shade, a fairly smooth surface without too many rocks, and no major drop-offs are good places to start.
And especially until your dog is more used to hiking, try to find trails that are limited to hikers and that prohibit horses and mountain bicyclists. That will cut down the risk of surprise encounters.
Gear and Grub
• Use a standard leash. Dogs may love retractable leashes but on the trail, you’ll want to exercise greater control—plus it’s easy for long leashes to get hopelessly tangled in shrubs.
• Pooch power. Put your dog to work! He or she needs water and snacks on the trail just as much as you do, so let your dog carry his own supplies. There are all sorts of dog backpacks and saddle bags on the market; some even have built-in hydration units. Try to cinch the pack firmly but not too tightly and balance the load. It’s also a good idea to try out the pack at home or in the neighborhood to let your dog get used to carrying it.
• Bring a water dish. Your dog will want to have a good, long drink when you take a break. A collapsible dish is easy to pack and will waste less water than having your dog chug from a bottle.
On the Trail
• Build up your dog’s stamina. If your dog is new to hiking, there’s a chance that it will get over-stimulated and burn up huge amounts of energy because of the excitement. Start with shorter hikes and let them grow accustomed to the experience.
• Avoid hot conditions. It’s easy for dogs to get overheated, so you’ll want to avoid hiking in hot weather. Direct sun is especially hard on dogs with dark coats. Mornings and late afternoons are best for hikes,and pay attention to your dog to make sure he or she isn’t getting too hot.
• Keep them leashed. No doubt there will be times when you’ll want to give your dog the chance to run freely. But keep in mind that it may not really be worth it. For one thing, your dog can run into poison ivy or poison oak, then transmit irritants to your skin. Burrs and thorns can get stuck in their pads or tangled in fur. Skunks? Rattlesnakes? Enough said. And in areas with mountain lions or bears, your dog might take off in pursuit—only to bring these predators right back to you if they attack or give chase.
•Observe trail etiquette. Watch out for equestrians, other hikers, and mountain bikers if you’re on a multi-use trail. Try to keep your dog from barking when other people approach. Yield the right-of-way and keep firm control of your dog to avoid spooking horses or startling bicyclists.
• Pick up after your dog. I have to say that I’m consistently shocked by how many owners fail to pick up after their dogs on the trail. It’s certainly no more pleasant to step in dog poop on trails than on city streets, so show some love and respect for your fellow hikers. And dog excrement can transmit diseases to wild animals and degrade water quality. Pack it out in a ziplock bag. Or bring a trowel and bury the poop well away from water sources.
• Minimize environmental impacts. In their unbridled zeal, dogs can trample delicate plant habitat and disturb wildlife when they chase and hunt other animals. By keeping dogs leashed leashed, you also reduce the chance of your pooch getting lost or injured if they start chasing wild animals. And it can also help prevent more closures of open space areas to dogs for wildlife protection reasons.
• Watch where they drink. Ponds, streams, and standing pools of water may have parasites and algae growth that can sicken your dog. Keep your dog well-hydrated with clean, fresh water.
• Check for ticks. Before getting in the car or arriving back home, go over your dog and make sure that they didn’t pick up any ticks during the hike.