If you are both a dog parent and a hiking enthusiast, chances are you will want your dog to be your sidekick on the trails. Fortunately for you, most dogs love hiking.
They love the sense of freedom and the exploring opportunities a hike has to offer. When in the wild, dogs can easily connect with their ancestral inner wolves.
Also, hiking provides a tremendous physical and mental stimulation that will keep your dog fulfilled and satisfied.
However, do not forget that during a hike, keeping your furry sidekick safe is your responsibility. And safety should be the number one priority at all times and under any circumstances.
To help you successfully navigate through planning and executing the perfect hike, we have compiled a list of several steps, and things you need consider.
Visit Your Trusted Vet
As previously mentioned safety should always be a priority. Before starting to plan a hiking trip, you need to make sure your dog’s physical health is suitable for such an adventure.
To determine your dog’s health, the vet will perform a full and thorough physical examination. Depending on his initial findings, the vet may perform some additional test (for example a complete blood analysis, an EKG or an X-ray of your dog’s hips).
Based on his findings the vet will either allow your dog to embark on a hiking adventure or advise you to find yourself another hiking buddy.
When assessing your dog’s preparedness for hiking, the vet will also consider some factors that may limit the dog’s agility. Those factors include:
Some breeds are predisposed to bones and joint issues that may influence the dog’s mobility when on the trail.
Also, flat-faced breeds find it hard to breathe even under normal circumstances. If physically challenged their breeding may become severely impaired and lead to collapse.
Age is another important and potentially limiting factor. Since young dogs do not have well developed immune systems, they are susceptible to a plethora of infective agents.
Additionally, young dogs should not be pushed into activities that demand high physical preparedness. When saying young, we usually mean dogs less than 18 months of age.
On the flip side, old dogs typically suffer from arthritis and are reluctant even to move, not to mention to hike.
Last but not least, the dog’s size may also limit its mobility. For example, both overweight and underweight dogs may feel exhausted if taken on long and demanding hikes.
Other factors you and your vet need to check, prevent and discuss include:
- Internal and external parasites
- Venomous creatures, poisonous plants/mushrooms, and contaminated water sources.
The next thing your vet will check is whether your dog’s vaccinations are up to date. Your dog should receive all necessary vaccines, but when it comes to hiking, current rabies and distemper shots are the most important.
Internal and external parasites
It is also important for your dog to be protected from pest. When saying pests, we refer to both internal and external. When hiking, dogs are more prone to acquiring ticks and fleas, as well as getting stung by mosquitoes, flies and other bugs.
External parasites and bugs are not only painful and itchy but can also have negative long-term effects. For example, ticks can transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountains Spotted Fever, while mosquitoes can transmit Heartworm Disease.
Therefore it is important to have your dog de-wormed and treated with a spot-on liquid protector against external parasites. Some protectors have a wider range of efficiency and can repel bugs like mosquitoes and flies.
Your vet will probably recommend those protectors. Because some insect bites may induce an anaphylactic reaction it is wise to ask your vet about purchasing an Epi-Pen.
Venomous creatures and poisonous plants/mushrooms and contaminated water sources
The wilderness has many hidden threats. Discuss those threats with the vet and ask for advice on what to do if your dog gets bitten by a venomous snake, eats a poisonous plant or drinks from a contaminated water source.
Contaminated water sources are full of water germs. By drinking from such sources, your dog can quickly become sick or get infected with Giardia.
Some de-worming preventative medications are not effective against this parasite. Therefore, if your dog drank from a water source, it is best advised to have it tested for Giardia after the hike.
If there are some known snake species native to the area where you intend on hiking, you can purchase an anti-venom shot to be safe.
Do Your Homework
The do your homework part implies researching the area you plan on visiting for the hike. Popular hiking destinations have websites that describe the area’s climate, terrain, wildlife, and plants.
Another critical factor is whether the hiking trail is dog-friendly. Trails designated for mountain biking and bird watching do not allow dogs.
In additions, some dog-friendly hiking trails have strict leash rules and policies. If the trail has a leash rule that means your dog will need to be on a leash during the entire hike.
However, the leash should be on not just because of regulations and policies. By keeping your dog on a leash, you also keep it safe. If allowed to roam free, your dog, guided by its instincts, may easily wander off and get into trouble.
Using the leash also keeps other hikers safe, especially on narrow and slippery trails. Also, not all hikers appreciate the presence of loose canines.
When choosing the dog-friendly hiking trail to keep your dog’s needs and capabilities in mind. This is the point when you need to consider the above listed limiting factors.
In spite of those factors, if you carefully plan the hike and make proper adjustments and adaptations, even limited dogs may experience some form of a hiking adventure. For example, if your dog is small you can carry it in a specially designed backpack dog carrier.
The hiking trail you choose needs to have a terrain that is easy on the paws (soft and leaf-covered terrains). Terrains covered with sharp rocks, pine needles, and steep drops should be avoided. You also must avoid off-trail routes.
Another essential feature of the hiking trail is it sun coverage. It is advisable always to pick shady trails. Even if the path is shady, it is still highly recommended to avoid hiking during the hottest periods of the day.
Dogs cannot sweat the way we do and tend to keep excess heat inside them. Therefore, they are easily susceptible to heat strokes. Aside from not hiking when it is too hot, another preventative measure against heat stroke is keeping your dog well hydrated.
Heat strokes are considered life-threatening conditions that require urgent and aggressive approach. With that being said, a heat stroke is something you want to avoid when miles away from the nearest veterinary clinic.
Patience and Practice (a lot of them)
No dog was born ready to hike. Your dog’s endurance needs building up. Ease your dog into a hiking routine by starting a trail-training regimen. Start by taking leisure walks around the neighborhood and in the dog park.
Once your dog gets used to frequent walks, start short hiking trips. Hike for an hour and then monitor your dog’s energy level after the hike. If the dog remains active after the one hour hike, increase the hiking time and the hiking pace.
The hiking time and pace should be increased gradually but progressively. The ultimate goal is to work up to the amount of hiking time and pace you prepare for.
It is essential to remain patient during this practicing period. The approach mentioned above is slow but practical and necessary.
Filling your backpack with essentials is of crucial importance. If your backpack is full, you can always give another one to your dog. By carrying something, your dog will feel useful and responsible. When preparing for the trip, you will need:
- An easy-to-read map of the hiking trail
- Food, treats, and water for both you and your dog
- Collapsible food and water bowl
- Basic first aid supplies
- Your vet’s contact information
- A current picture of your dog
- Extra leash and collar (vest)
- Fluorescent orange reflective vest (if hiking after dark or during hiking season)
- Plastic poop bags
- Safety lights.
Do not forget to gear up you hiking partner too. Your dog will need:
- A hiking leash/vest with an ID tag
- A coat (depending on the season and your dog’s breed)
- Boots (depending on the season and terrain)
- Bell (to alert wildlife of your presence).
First aid kit
It is essential to know the ABC protocol for dogs and to know how to perform some necessary first aid procedures. The best way to learn is to talk to your vet or watch some helpful tutorials. Whatever you choose, the goal is to be prepared.
There are many ready-to-go Pet First Aid Kits available on the market. However, if you prefer organizing the kit yourself, make sure you pack:
- Probiotics and fiber supplements
- Topical calendula and arnica for wounds and bites
- Antibiotic ointments
- Corticosteroid ointments
- Artificial ears
Hiking collars/vest with an ID tag
Today there are collars and vest specially designed for hiking. They are more comfortable and distribute the pulling weight more evenly. Hiking vests usually feature pockets for storing different tools and items.
Hiking collars and vests have reflective trims for extra safety. Regardless of whether you choose a regular collar or a vest, make sure they have an ID tag. If your dog gets lost during the hike, an ID tag increases the chances of its safe return.
Although some dog breeds do not usually need to wear coats, in some areas during the night, the temperatures may fall drastically. Therefore it is always better to be safe than sorry. Purchase a suitable coat for your dog and be prepared for temperature variations.
Most dogs are quite spoiled. They are used to walking on soft carpets and grass. For those dogs walking on rocky terrains may lead to cuts and splinters while walking on hot terrains may lead to burns.
Also, the dog’s pads are very sensitive and prone to abrasions and injuries. The best way to avoid these accidents is to gear up your dog with appropriate dog boots.
Another alternative is to rub your dog’s paws with specially designed protective waxes. However, the boots are a better and long-term solution.
On The Hiking Trail
Once everything is ready, you can start your hiking adventure. While hiking you need to obey some important rules and safety precautions.
Keep an eye on your surroundings
When hiking, forget about your headphones. Instead, tune in with your surroundings. Avoid surprising animals and predators but making noises and alerting them of your presence.
This goes especially for trail sections with limited sight lines. You should also watch for fresh scat, digs, paw tracks and other signs of animal activity.
Use this pauses not only to rest but to rehydrate and eat something. During the hike, it is advisable for your dog to eat the same food brand, but to increase the size of the portion for up to 50% based on the dog’s fitness and the hike’s difficulty.
Check on your dog frequently
Do not wait until the end of the hike to check up on your dog. Even small wounds if left unattended can progress to something painful and severe. Besides for injuries, make sure you check your dog for ticks and skin rashes.
Pick up after your dog
This goes without saying. Picking up after your dog is essential everywhere, not only in urban areas. Instead of picking your dog’s poops, you can bury them in holes distant from the hiking trail.
To be honest, dogs make perfect hiking partners. They can run any distance, at any time and any place. They never complain about the weather and always let you choose the trail and set the hiking pace.
What is more, their competitive nature will inspire you and make your workout harder. Not to mention how much safer you would feel with your bodyguard hiking beside you. So, a human-canine hiking partnership has its perks.