Hiking with Dogs

Jan. 26, 2021
I love hiking with my dogs, and I thought I would share some of the things I consider when heading to the trails with them!
1. Is the trail pet friendly?
Not every trail allows dogs, so always double check before setting off to the trailhead. Land trusts, Audubon Society properties, and trails that cross private land, just to name a few instances, may prohibit dogs. Check out the website for the hiking trail you’re going to, ask others who have been there, and thoroughly research to make sure your furry friend is welcome.
Pro Tip: Apps like All Trails can also be helpful in determining if the trail is pet friendly, and you can filter nearby hikes with the tag “Dogs Allowed” to see only dog-friendly hikes.
2. What about leash laws?
If dogs are allowed, find out if leashes are required before letting your dog off. Always have a leash with you, even if you anticipate your dog being off of it—just in case. If your dog will be off leash, please make sure they are well trained and always have eyes on them—for their safety and other trail users’. Depending on your state, you may also be subject to a fine if your dog is off leash where prohibited, so also be aware of state laws beyond the recommendations of the trail as well!
3. How long of a hike is it?
It is important to know and recognize your dog’s capabilities and to be reasonable with your expectations for them. If your pup has never done more than 4mi around the neighborhood, your next trip together probably shouldn’t be a 20mi wilderness area traverse. Gradual increase in length and difficulty sets your dog up for success much more than throwing them into something vastly different than anything they’ve done before. Don’t rush the process, get them acclimated to the trail before going too hard, too fast.
4. What does the route look like?
Another part of recognizing your dog’s limits is being realistic about their abilities when it comes to slides, ladders, water crossings, and other obstacles that you may not give a second thought if you were out on your own. Some dogs handle ladders fine, others like my own need to be carried up them. Whatever the obstacle, be honest with yourself if you’ll be able to safely help your dog manage them.
5. What will you do in an emergency?
Accidents happen, and let’s say your dog gets injured and can’t walk. Plan ahead by getting a rescue harness to help you safely and securely bring them back to the car. Make sure you know how to use it and try it on your dog a few times to get them used to it. Plus, pack a few extra flexible bandages and antiseptics in your first aid kit to cover your dog, as well as yourself.
There is no way to plan ahead perfectly for anything, but the more aware of the rules, conditions, and risks you are, the more you can give your all into having a great time with your dog rather than worrying. Your plan may have to change, but you’ll be more readily able to adapt.
1. What does your dog need to enjoy the day?
Just like you pack food and water for yourself, do the same for your dog. It may take a few hikes to figure out exactly how much dog food and dog treats your dog will go through on a day out, and be sure to bring plenty of water. Keep them nourished and they’ll keep going!
Pro Tip: Be sure to seal food and treats in a resealable bag to avoid attracting wild animals to the smells. Be aware of water sources, just like you would be for yourself, and be ready to filter clean water for your dog.
2. Will your dog come when called?
Whether your dog is leashed or not, there may be instances where you need them to come back when you call them. I’ve slid, fallen, and dropped the leash once, and it spooked one of my dogs. She took off, dragging my other dog along with her on their double leash. Thankfully, her response to voice commands is fantastic so when I called her name and told her to “come,” she instantly started rushing back—unfortunately dragging my other dog along again this way, too! Had she not been trained to come when called, there is no saying how far off or where she would have gone. Basic obedience training will do both of you good on your trips.
3. What will make the hike fun for your dog?
Short training exercises and games along the way can turn a slog into a party for them. Bring treats, a positive attitude, and get silly with them to keep the morale up. Dogs feed off their person’s energy—be fun! There’s no shame in using your puppy voice if it gets those ears perked up, and be sure to stop and play, snuggle and pet them during breaks. Plus, breaks for them to recharge are just as important as yours when you’re trying for longer hikes.
4. How far can they hike? Who knows!
Start with shorter, easier hikes when you are first starting and then increase to more strenuous hikes according to how their energy level and mood is after those. Prepare them for your bigger plans by making the effort to gradually lengthen the mileage and increase elevation gain, and get them progressively more comfortable with varied terrain.
Much like you can’t plan for everything, you can’t necessarily prepare for everything either. But having the right supplies for your dog is part of having a safe and enjoyable trek, so be sure you have some basic essentials when you pack your bag. A collapsible water bowl, food and treats in a sealed bag, dog booties to protect your dog’s paws if you’ll be on harsh rocks or in snow, a raincoat or jacket for them depending on the weather, a rescue harness, and a good leash are all must-packs for any adventure. And of course, don’t forget bags to carry out dog poop.
1. What if your dog gets exhausted before the planned route is over?
Just like you should always have bailout plans in case of bad weather or other circumstances, make sure you are aware of bailout routes or be ready to carry your dog if needed if the hike becomes too much. Don’t push your dog hard beyond their limit. Keep it fun and keep it safe for both of you.
Pro Tip: Familiarize yourself with the signs of heat stroke, dehydration, and surfaces too hot for their paw pads to reduce risk of injury or illness for your dog. Keep an eye on your pet’s physical exertion level, and hold yourself responsible for knowing when to take a break or call it quits.
2. What if your dog starts being naughty?
Unfortunately, I’ve been there. She was still a puppy, the trail was incredibly crowded, and her desire to cause mayhem was intense. Luna was acting like a maniac at the end of the leash, barking, twirling, and eating random things. It was out of control! Don’t get discouraged if some version of this happens to you. Regain your dog’s attention with a treat or a game, and consider switching to a less busy trail. The less you stress, the less your dog stresses, and the better time you can have together.
3. What if your dog is just not having it?
I think many dog owners have been there—when they need their dog to partake in something and they just won’t do it. Whether it is getting in the car, walking rather than rolling everywhere endlessly, or just not listening. Don’t push it, and leave the dog home. If they’re not up for it, there’s a chance the hike could be a negative experience for them, making it more difficult to try again. Be willing to change the plan for them, and go without them if it isn’t the right day.
Possibly the most important yet difficult skill in hiking with your dog is flexibility. Just like it is so easy to get summit fever and keep pushing in unfavorable conditions just to get there, it can be easy to choose the plan over what you need to do for your dog. I like to joke that my dogs are like my kids. They have fussy days, they throw tantrums, and above all else, they are individuals with needs, too. As hard as it can be to bail out, change course, or leave them home, you always know what is best for your dog, so just be sure to respect it.

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