Does your dog love the great outdoors? Hiking with your dog can be one of the great pleasures in life. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds, though, and can even be dangerous if you’re not careful.
Let’s talk about how to maximize your hiking fun, minimize your hiking risk, and how not to be “That Dog Owner” on the trail.
Know Thy Dog
Listen, not all dogs are cut out for hiking. It’s critical to know your dog’s capabilities before you set out on a hike. Here are a few things to evaluate before you hit the trailhead:
- Is your dog physically fit enough for the hike you have planned?
- Does your dog get overly excited or anxious when in new surroundings?
- Is the weather safe for your dog? (i.e. is it too hot for your dog to be physically active?)
- Is your dog immunocompromised and thus at-risk of exposure to viruses, bacteria, or other animals?
The worst thing you can do is head out unprepared. If you’re confident your pup can handle a hike, start out gradually. Slowly increase the distance and difficulty of the hikes as you learn more about your dog’s limits.
Each and every time you go for a day hike with your dog, bring a few things along: adequate water, water bowl, small first aid kit, flashlight or headlamp, leash, collar with ID tags, and a small bag of extra dog food. Some of these items are “in case of emergency” while some are no-brainers. If you’ll need it on your hike, your dog will too.
For more serious hikers and/or overnight campers, you’ll want to add on a little more dog-specific gear. Extra food and water, of course, but also a towel for wiping muddy paws, some paw booties in case of cuts or blisters, a dog coat for cold temps, and some kind of sleeping system for your dog. A lot of avid hikers choose to have their dogs tote their own packs which is great if your dog’s up to it. Any outdoor retailer can help you find the right size pack.
On the Trail Etiquette
First and foremost, know where your dog is allowed – and where they aren’t! Far, far too many well-meaning dog parents take their dogs out for leisurely hikes on trails where dogs are prohibited. Not only could you get a hefty fine, you could unknowingly disrupt the delicate ecosystem of your hiking environment. Your dog could be at risk of disease, too, or of being struck by an errant mountain biker.
It’s never a great idea to let your dog run off-leash while hiking. Yes, brave dogs love to forge ahead, but off-leash dogs on the trail are bad manners for several reasons:
- Not everyone is comfortable with dogs! Just because you think your dog is friendly doesn’t mean a fellow hiker 100-yards ahead wants a nose in the seat of their pants.
- Wildlife is delicate, and off-leash dogs are curious. You never know what kind of havoc your dog can wreak deer, rodents, birds, or insects in a natural area. Just their presence in an off-trail area can disrupt the natural balance.
- There’s danger on – and off – the trail. What if your dog comes across a venomous snake? What if they step too close to the edge of a ravine? What if they get lost? A six-foot retractable leash ensures you can keep a close eye on your pooch.
Safety on Your Hike
Keeping your dog on a leash is the single best thing you can do to ensure they stay safe in the wild. There are a lot of hazards out there, though. Be aware.
Heatstroke is a common affliction on the trail for both dogs and humans. Know the signs. Understand when to push your dog and when rest is necessary.
Do your best to keep your dog from too-readily investigating the flora and fauna on your hike. Everything from poisonous mushrooms to toxic frogs to bacteria-laden animal carcasses lurk in the woods. Don’t forget that water hosts dozens of potentially hazardous pathogens, too. If your dog ingests something you’re unsure about, watch for unusual symptoms and be ready to head to the closest vet if necessary.
In need of a well-check?