Featured image by @cfphotography of Flowfold ambassador @photocait
Dogs and hiking go together like peanut butter and jelly. As a man or woman’s best friend, enjoying the company of your dog while out on the trail is hard to beat.
But before you head out on a long hike with your canine companion, you need to ensure you’re both
ready for what lies ahead. It’s easy to assume a dog’s wild roots will make up for anything you haven’t prepared for — but this could not be further from the truth. Dogs are just as vulnerable as we are to risks on the trail, and poor planning can result in a bad experience.
We’ve compiled the below checklist to make sure you and your pup are ready for whatever lies on the path ahead!
Photo by Flowfold ambassador @connormcnulty
This is hands down one of the most important ways you can prepare your dog for the trail. There are lots of distractions, temptations, and triggers out there that can inspire dogs to misbehave or turn listening ears off.
Even if you plan to keep your dog leashed the entire time, it’s important that he or she isn’t creating a problem for wild animals, hikers, cyclists, and other dogs on the trail. Aggression, barking, or anxiousness during encounters with other groups on the trail will not contribute to a positive experience, and could result in a confrontation.
The best way to prepare for this kind of stimulation is to train for it.
The age of your dog is very important. Puppies under 12 months will need to grow bigger and stronger before you can take on longer hikes. Older dogs may not be able to keep up or handle more challenging terrain. Don’t put your dog in a situation he or she may not be able to handle — Check in with your vet and build your way up to longer, more challenging hikes if you have concerns.
Is your dog healthy enough to hike? This is a difficult question that is best answered by a veterinarian. Limping, food complications, social issues, or a history of disease are all red flags that should be taken seriously before planning longer hike with a dog.
Parasites, bacteria, and terrain are all health risks your dog can be exposed to on the trail - Just like you! On that note, if your dog has any known conditions, preparing treatments and prescriptions for your hike is important. Your dog also needs standard vaccinations against rabies, hepatitis, etc.
In general, small dogs need to work harder than bigger dogs do to cover the same amount of distance. If you have a smaller breed, be conscious of this in planning the intensity and distance of a hike so that your dog can enjoy the terrain, not just survive it.
It’s important to remember also that your dog doesn’t get to wear tough hiking boots like you do. If your dog is primarily walking on asphalt or smooth trails right now, make sure you help build up some calluses by starting with short hikes and building your way up to longer ones.
In all the excitement of planning your hike, it’s easy to forget that not all parks allow dogs on the trails. Make sure you do a little research before arriving at the park with your dog.
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No matter how friendly or tame your dog is, you need to bring a strong and dependable leash on any hike. We recommend our Trailmate dog leash
, which is 6’ long and built from super sturdy mountain climbing rope.
Follow the rules as specified by the park you are visiting — if the park requires a leash, that means your dog should be wearing one at all times. Do not ruin a good opportunity for responsible dog owners by breaking the rules.
Your dog should be wearing a collar with tags that have the up-to-date information on them. Make sure your phone number is on the tags, along with important vaccinations.
It’s extremely wise to attach an LED light or purchase an LED collar
for your dog if you are planning an overnight hike. Put simply, searching for your dog after dark in the woods is terrifying and frustrating. Moreover, you will definitely want to know the difference between your dog and another animal that is moving nearby when you let your pup out to pee before bed.
You’ll need to bring your dog’s normal amount and brand of food plus extra if your hike is intense. Understand that if you burn extra calories during a hard day of hiking, the same is true for your dog. Increase the amount of food slowly and coordinate it with the intensity of the hike.
You’ll need a collapsable dog bowl or some sort of container for your dog to eat and drink from.
Hiking is a situation where water is more important for dogs than it is for humans.
For one, they can’t just pop open a water bottle and quench their parched throats anytime they get thirsty like you can. Also, dogs don’t sweat like humans do (they pant to cool off), so they are more susceptible to overheating during exercise.
Treat your dog’s water like your own — don’t allow he or she to drink untreated water. Dogs can contract illness and infections from untreated water the same way humans can.
Every time you drink a sip of water, offer the dog some too. If you see an uncomfortable amount of panting, take a longer break in the shade and allow time to cool down and drink slowly.
A solid first aid kit for dogs includes many of the same things that yours does.
You can build your own first aid kit using this list from the Humane Society
or pick up one of Kurgo’s ready-made first aid kits here
If your hike is longer, your dog’s pack is critical. While you don’t need one for day hikes, longer adventures generally require a dog pack to help carry in food and supplies.
We don’t yet make backpacks for dogs, but some of our favorite brands that do are: Kurgo
Your dog's pack should fit correctly and the weight should be distributed evenly. A good way to double check: Stop at your local outfitter store and ask for some help.
Most importantly, if your dog has never worn a backpack before, you should introduce it with shorter hikes first and work up to longer ones based on how the dog handles it. Imagine if someone suddenly expected you to carry all the food you’re planning on eating this week on your back without any warning — you wouldn’t feel great without some practice!
You’ll definitely want the ability to dry your dog off & remove mud before entering your tent each night. Waiting for your dog to air dry may not be an option if it’s raining, so bring an extra towel specifically for the pup.
A foam pad and a blanket are a great start. Just because your dog is an animal doesn’t mean he or she should be sleeping on bare ground, especially if they are sore and tired from hiking all day.
It goes without saying that you and your dog will be at the mercy of the weather. Dogs struggle with exercising in hot weather (anything above 80 degrees), so a “cool coat” or “cool collar” may be worth looking into if you’re planning a hike in warmer temperatures. If you're expecting precipitation, a rain coat for the pup can help. Likewise, hikes during winter come with their own set of challenges. A dog coat is ideal for smaller breeds or pups with thinner coats. Booties to protect your dog’s paws are advised for areas with colder climates, especially icy or rocky trails.
Whatever the method you choose, be advised that ticks and fleas are out there and it’s very likely your dog will be exposed to them on a hike. Preventative treatments or collars can protect your dog from health issues caused by parasites, some of which are life threatening.
Described in more detail below. Come up with a system you like for packing out your dogs waste.
Photo by Flowfold ambassador @photocait
Please do not leave poop or poop bags on the trail. Doing so diminishes from the experience of being outdoors for those who follow in your footsteps in many ways. On a brief hike, it is your responsibility to remove your dog's poop from the trail and dispose of it in a proper receptacle. On longer hikes you should be ready to dispose of your dog’s poop the same way you deal with your own: Bury it one foot deep, and far away from any water that could be potable (minimum 200 ft).
If you pass another person, group, or dog on the trail be mindful that they may not be as big a fan of your dog as you are. Provide a clear path, make sure your dog is on leash and under control, and ask before allowing your dog to approach — especially if children are present.
Photo by Flowfold ambassador @coppoius
One thing you may not think about — your dog has sharp claws that can damage your tent. Trim & file your dog’s nails, and bring something that will protect the floor of your tent to a reasonable extent. A canvas drop cloth, wool blanket, or foam pads are all examples of materials that will provide a layer of protection.
Beyond the typical challenges of trail, there are sometimes features to trails that just don't work well for dogs. Trails with steep ladders, fire towers, or edgy cliffs are not ideal situations for your dog.
Like children, your dog’s enthusiasm is not always a great indicator of his or her physiological needs. Take regular breaks in the shade with water, make sure your dog gets plenty of water and sleep, and don’t push it too hard. Lots of heavy panting or a limp are signs to slow down.
It’s likely your dog will be curious about other wildlife, but curiosity can have bad results. Use caution and keep your dog on a leash as much as possible to avoid losing control of the situation. Skunks, porcupines, snakes — or the scent of these animals — may entice your dog to run off and investigate. Encounters between your dog and animals like these can be anything from annoying to life threatening.
On that note, be mindful of other dogs on the trail and keep yours close until you've assessed the situation. Your dog may be friendly but it's not unheard of for dog fights to happen on trail, which could be hours from any veterinary help.
Don’t let your dog chew on any plants as they could be poisonous
. To best avoid the common poisonous plants that irritate skin for both humans and dogs, stay on the trail and watch out. Steer clear of areas that are heavily populated with foxtails
as these plants can cause major problems for dogs even though they are not poisonous.
Remove the dog's pack and hold he or she close by the harness, or pick your dog up when crossing any streams. Don’t let your dog swim through turbulence— you don't want to bank on rescuing them.
It's best practice to have one person behind each dog you bring on your hike. Don't overdo it and bring more; multiple dogs can be very challenging for one person to wrangle.
✔REI EXPERT ADVICE: HIKING WITH A DOG
✔THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO HIKING WITH A DOG
✔OUTDOORS.ORG: GUIDE TO BRINGING YOUR BEST FRIEND ON THE TRAIL
✔KURGO'S DOG HIKING CHECKLIST
So there you have it -- Using this checklist to prepare for a hike with your dog can help ensure that you both have fun and stay safe on the trail!
Did we miss anything? What has been your experience with hiking with your dog? Comment below and help others prep for their next hike with a dog.