Venturing into the great outdoors for a hike offers a refreshing break from the urban hustle and bustle. It's an opportunity for us to bond with nature and rejuvenate our minds. For some, having their dog by their side doubles the fun and brings even more excitement and energy to the adventure! For those who want to take their dog hiking, but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered. Because, as exciting as it sounds, hiking with your dog does require some preparation and precautions. In this article, we’ll aim to make that preparation easier and more effective. From understanding your dog's abilities to safety measures, trail etiquette to essential gear, we’ll cover everything you need to know to have awesome and safe hiking adventures with your dog.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR DOG'S CAPABILITIES
Dogs, much like their human counterparts, come with a varied range of capabilities and characteristics that can significantly influence their hiking experience. A tiny Chihuahua will not have the same physical capacity as a robust Labrador, and a senior dog may not possess the same energy as a wound-up puppy. Recognizing these differences and setting expectations accordingly is vital for a successful hike.
Breed-specific traits play a significant role in determining how well your dog can handle hiking. Breeds known for their stamina like Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers, and Australian Shepherds are often excellent hikers. Meanwhile, breeds like Bulldogs or Pugs, with their brachycephalic features, can struggle with strenuous activity due to respiratory challenges.
Even within the same breed, individual health, age, and fitness levels vary. It is essential to get your vet's approval before starting any new exercise regimen with your dog, including hiking. Your vet can provide specific guidance based on your dog's health history and any potential issues that could arise.
TRAINING FOR THE TRAIL
An obedient dog is a joy on the trail while a disobedient dog can drive you to your wits end! Just like you wouldn’t embark on a hike without the appropriate training, it's crucial to ensure your dog is also trail-ready. Basic commands like "sit," "stay," "come," and "leave it" become incredibly valuable on the trail, especially in situations where your dog might encounter wildlife, unfamiliar dogs, hikers and unknow plants.
Training for leash walking is a fundamental part of preparing for the trail. Although it might be tempting to let your dog off the leash, it's essential to remember that most trails require dogs to be leashed for their safety and the safety of others. Your dog should be comfortable hiking on a leash and respond well to leash cues.
In addition, training your dog to ignore distractions is another crucial part of trail readiness. This might include the tantalizing scent of a small animal, larger wildlife, the rustle of leaves, or the sight of another hiker. A well-trained dog will be able to resist these distractions and remain focused on the hike.
PREPARING YOUR BACKPACK
Packing for a hike with your dog requires careful thought and preparation. You are not just packing for yourself but for your dog companion as well. Therefore, you need to ensure that you have all the essentials needed for a safe and enjoyable hike.
At the top of your list should be plenty of water. Hiking is a strenuous activity, and it's important to stay hydrated. Don't forget a collapsible bowl or other dog drinking device for your dog to drink from. Next, pack enough food or treats for your dog, especially for long hikes. Trekking burns a lot of energy, and your dog will need a food boost. Taking along a high-protein snack, like Mountain Wild venison jerky treats, will help keep your dog fueled for the long haul!
A first-aid kit for dogs is also essential. It should include bandages, tweezers for tick removal, antiseptic wipes, and any medication your dog might need. In addition, consider bringing dog booties to protect your dog's paws from sharp rocks, thorns, and hot or cold ground.
Other items you might consider include a dog-specific backpack. These are designed for dogs to carry their own food and water that will help lighten your load and increase the capability and confidence of your dog. It is also good to pack a towel to clean off your dog before they get back into your car and a favorite toy or two to keep them entertained during breaks.
UNDERSTANDING THE TRAIL RULES
Doing your homework about the hiking trail can save you from unwanted surprises. It's important to note that not all trails are dog-friendly. Research online or call the local park services to find out if dogs are allowed on the trail you plan to tackle so that you don’t run into an uncomfortable situation by being somewhere with your dog you shouldn’t be.
Once you confirm that dogs are permitted, find out the specific rules. Some trails require dogs to be leashed at all times, while others might have off-leash areas. Rules regarding waste disposal are also crucial. Some parks offer dog waste stations, but it's always safe and the right thing to bring your own bags.
Trail etiquette is not just for the humans; it applies to our dogs as well. As a responsible dog owner, it's crucial to maintain control over your dog at all times. Keep in mind that not everyone on the trail is comfortable around dogs. Keeping your dog leashed, especially when encountering other hikers, shows respect for others' comfort and safety.
One major part of hiking etiquette is "Leave No Trace," which includes cleaning up after your dog. Always carry poop bags and dispose of your dog's waste properly. Leaving dog waste on the trail is not just rude to other hikers; it can also harm the local flora and fauna.
Another aspect of trail etiquette involves giving way to other hikers on narrow trails. A general rule is that those going uphill have the right of way. Also, when taking a break, move off the trail so that others can pass by easily and without any issue with your dog.
The excitement of hiking with your dog can quickly turn into a nightmare if safety measures are overlooked. Even on a well-maintained trail, keeping your dog safe should be your utmost priority. Watch out for poisonous plants, harmful insects, and wildlife. Dogs are curious creatures, and they may end up poking their noses where they don't belong. Learn to identify dangerous plants such as poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac. Similarly, be aware of the presence of ticks and other parasites. Ensure your dog is up-to-date with its flea and tick prevention before embarking on a hike.
Hydration is another critical safety concern. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from dehydration and heatstroke. To prevent this, carry enough water for both you and your pet, and take frequent breaks to hydrate.
Terrain is another important consideration. Rough or steep terrain might be too challenging for some dogs, while hot sand or asphalt can burn your dog's paws. During colder seasons, ice can be treacherous. Always assess the terrain and weather before you head out, and consider your dog's comfort and safety first.
Even though you do your best to protect your furry friend, accidents can still happen. It's important to be prepared for emergencies. Familiarize yourself with basic canine first aid so you can handle minor injuries on the trail. In case of serious injuries, know the location of the nearest animal hospital.
AFTER THE HIKE
Once you've completed your hiking adventure, it's crucial to check your dog thoroughly. Look for any ticks, burrs, or injuries that your dog might have picked up on the trail. It's not uncommon for dogs to pick up ticks or sustain small cuts on their paws during a hike, so a post-hike check is always necessary and always important. Additionally, watch out for any signs of fatigue or illness in your pet in the days following the hike.
Hiking with your dog can be a wonderful adventure filled with exploration, bonding, and countless tail wags. With careful planning, the right equipment, and consideration for your dog's abilities and safety, you and that awesome dog of yours can enjoy the great outdoors together. Remember, the goal of hiking with your dog is not to cover as much ground as possible, but to create memorable experiences and a stronger bond together as you are out and about on your wild roaming adventures together!
Note: Please consult with a veterinarian for professional advice regarding hiking. This information is a general guide and may not apply to every situation or every pet.