Hiking with your dog can be fun and rewarding, but it also presents some challenges that not every pup will be up for. Before you hit the trail, learn what every dog parent needs to know to prepare for a fun and safe hike together!
Is Hiking with Your Dog a Good Idea?
Hiking is a great way to strengthen your bond with your dog. They’ll get lots of extra mental stimulation from all the new sights, sounds and smells, and spending quality time together in an exciting new environment can enhance the connection and trust between you and your dog. Plus, hIking can help your dog improve their agility and confidence as they learn to navigate new terrain.
Hiking is also great exercise, which has benefits for you both. Dogs that get plenty of exercise are more likely to be relaxed and better behaved in day to day life, and hiking is a great outlet for a dog’s energy and natural instincts. If you’re looking for more motivation to exercise, there’s no better encouragement than an enthusiastic dog eager to go an extra mile!
On the other hand, it’s important to be realistic about your dog’s health and temperament to avoid creating a potentially dangerous situation. Senior dogs and dogs with certain health conditions (like joint or respiratory issues) might not be comfortable hiking. Dogs that are prone to anxiety may find it stressful to be in unfamiliar surroundings, while reactive dogs may pose a risk to other hikers and their dogs.
Hiking with a Puppy
While puppies seem to have boundless energy, strenuous exercise should be avoided until they’ve finished growing, and this is especially true for large breeds. A puppy’s bones have growth plates that don’t fully harden until around one year (or up to eighteen months for larger dogs). Over-exercising during these early months can lead to bone and joint problems later in life, so it’s best to hold off on hiking until their bones are done growing (though short walks around your neighborhood are perfectly fine). If you’re not sure if your puppy can go hiking with you, check with your vet.
Dog Breeds & Hiking
Some dog breeds are naturally better equipped than others when it comes to vigorous outdoor exercise. Breeds with a reputation as good hiking dogs include:
- Siberian Huskies
- German Shepherds
- Australian Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Border Collies
- Standard Poodles
- German Shorthaired Pointers
- And more!
This list is by no means exhaustive. Dogs with high energy levels, a love for the outdoors and an adventurous spirit all make terrific trail companions, whether they’re purebred or not.
Smaller dogs can be ideal hiking buddies too! Beagles, Dachshunds, Terriers, Corgis, Miniature Poodles and even Yorkies are energetic and inquisitive, plus they can be easier to manage on the trail.
Dog Safety While Hiking
When hiking with dogs of all sizes, but especially with smaller dogs, it’s important to be aware of wildlife you may encounter in your area. Do your research on predators, snakes and birds of prey common to your region and take appropriate precautions.
Poisonous plants are another potential trail hazard for both people and dogs. Learn to identify poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, foxglove, Jimson weed, oleander and other potentially harmful plants you may encounter, so you can stop your dog from sniffing or licking them. You should also be on the lookout for thistles, because the burrs can be a nightmare to get out of your dog’s coat, especially for long-haired dogs.
Ticks are extremely common in the woods and grassy areas, so make sure your dog is up to date with their flea and tick preventative and learn how to prevent and treat tick bites on dogs.
Your First Time Hiking with Your Dog
In addition to staying aware of wildlife, dangerous plants and ticks, keep the following safety tips in mind before you go hiking with your dog for the first time.
Basic Training Is a Must
Your dog should be able to consistently follow basic commands like “come,” “stay,” and “drop it.” A reliable recall is an absolute must before any off-leash hiking.
Up-to-Date ID Tags & Microchip
Make sure your dog is wearing proper identification tags (and possibly also a microchip) in case you become separated. You may also consider investing in a GPS tag to track your dog’s location.
Get the All-Clear from Your Vet
Your dog should be vaccinated against rabies, Lyme disease and DAPP (distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus & parainfluenza) before going hiking. Ask your vet if your dog’s fitness level is suitable for the type of hiking you have in mind.
Bring Enough Water for Both of You
Be sure to bring plenty of safe water for both you and your dog to drink on your hike! A collapsable bowl for your dog is easy to fit into a backpack. Never let your dog drink out of puddles, streams or ponds which could have harmful bacteria, parasites or contaminants. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection passed from the urine of wild animals through puddles and bodies of water, so consider a lepto vaccine for your dog if you’re an avid hiker.
Curb Ground Scavenging
Keep an eye on your dog, and don’t let them eat things they come across while hiking – this is one reason why the “drop it” command is important.
Prepare for Hot or Cold Weather
Check the weather before you go, and factor in elevation if you’re hiking in mountainous areas. Learn when it’s too hot or too cold to hike with your dog (which varies depending on your dog’s size and coat).
Choose a Good Hiking Trail for Your Dog
There are many different types of hiking options, including state and national parks, mountains, forests and much more. Look up some hiking trails you’re interested in to find out whether they allow dogs and learn about the trail etiquette. Trails with a lot of young families, horses or bikes might not be as fun for you and your dog. You should also think about when trails are busiest and avoid peak times – especially if your dog is reactive.
On & Off-Leash Hiking
It’s best to always have your dog on a leash while hiking, even if they’re trained. Letting your dog off leash is risky because you never know if your dog will startle (or decide to chase) a wild animal, become injured or stuck somewhere out of sight, or encounter other hikers with or without dogs.
While letting your dog off-leash might be tempting so they can burn off energy, the majority of hiking trails require dogs to be leashed. There are often maximum leash lengths allowed, so find out the requirements before you go.
What to Bring Hiking with Your Dog
If you’re planning a relatively short hike close to home you won’t need as many supplies, but if you’re making an afternoon of it you’ll want to make sure you’ve got everything you need to keep your dog safe and happy on the hike. Your packing list should include:
- Dog first aid kit
- Leash and collar (or harness)
- Lunch and/or snacks for your dog (our freeze-dried raw patties and freeze-dried raw dog treats won’t weigh you down!)
- Portable water bowl
- Poop bags
- Dog-safe insect repellent
- Jacket and boots or paw covers (if needed)
- Towels for cleaning off before getting back in the car
There are hiking packs designed for dogs to help carry supplies, but you should make sure your dog is comfortable wearing one before you hike, and that the weight is balanced and appropriate for their size.
If you and your dog love the great outdoors, check out our guide to camping with your dog, and these fun winter activities you can enjoy with your dog!
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