Hiking with your four-legged buddy makes perfect sense. They’ll match your eagerness for the great outdoors. They won’t complain as long as they see you happy and content in their company. While dogs make great outdoor companions, they are still dependent on you for their safety and comfort. You’re their parent, after all. That is why hiking with your dog requires careful planning and preparation to make the adventure more worthwhile. Here are 10 of the most essential tips you have to observe whenever you’re considering taking Fido to the trails.
1. Make Sure Your Pet is Healthy
It is a must that your pet is healthy and fit before you take it for a hike in the great outdoors. This requires an understanding of the different health concerns that can affect your dog.
For instance, having a brachycephalic dog almost always mean issues with breathing and overheating. As such, Pugs and English Bulldogs may not be ideal hiking companions. Their short snouts and flat faces prevent them from breathing in a more efficient manner. They also tend to overheat very fast. The implication is that you may have to take more frequent breaks in your hike to let them cool down and “catch their breath”.
Hiking may be a great way for your dog to lose weight. However, it may not be able to walk that far. If you push with the hike, you may have to carry the dog. Cardiovascular problems and issues with the bones and joints are also major hindrances to hiking for dogs. That is why it’s always best to start with a healthy dog. And if you’re not sure if your pet is physically fit to tackle the hike, then have your vet make an honest assessment.
2. Always Train and Socialize Fido for the Hike
Compared to a few decades ago, there are now more hikers. What this means is that there are now more people who are walking on the same hiking trail as you are. Some of them may also have their own dog. As such, it is important to ensure that your pet is as well-behaved as it can be.
A great hiking dog companion is one who is calm and relaxed. The trail offers your dog plenty of things to see and sniff. It will be very curious about these things. And if your dog sees a wild animal, there’s a good chance that its predator instincts will kick in. It will also meet other hikers and their respective dogs on the trail. If the dog is very easy to excite or arouse, then this might pose a problem on the hiking trail.
It is, therefore, important to train and socialize your pet in preparation for the hike. Take it for longer walks. If your dog is only able to complete a few blocks without panting, try to increase this to 10 and 20 blocks. It’s also a good idea to get your pet well-accustomed to the presence of other people, other dogs, and other animals. Train it to stay well-behaved whenever it sees another animal.
3. Brush Up on Your Hiking Trail “Etiquette”
The hiking trail is Mother Nature’s backyard. Respect it. Seasoned hikers and campers know and observe the so-called “nature’s etiquette”. These are unwritten rules that everyone has to observe whenever you go camping or hiking or any other activity in Mother Nature’s playground.
Leave anything you see on the trail as is. If you think a flower is beautiful, resist the temptation to pick it up. This will also give a chance to other hikers to appreciate the beauty of the flower. It goes without saying that you should also prevent your dog from “destroying” things on the trail. It may see a berry that looks delicious. Leave it.
Pick up your trash whenever you decide to bring out your energy bar from your backpack. Having said that, always bring a pack of dog poop bags in your backpack. If your pet defecates, at least have the manners to pick the poop up and store it in a proper container as you hike on.
4. Choose the Right Hiking Trail
As much as possible, pick a hiking trail that is known for its dog-friendly policies. Keep in mind that there are hiking trails that come with different sections where the dog can be off-leash and on-leash. Take this into consideration when deciding on which trail to go.
If you’re confident about your dog’s temperament and obedience, then going on an off-leash dog hiking trail is a good way to foster a sense of freedom and trust in your dog. If you’re not sure, then a leash-only trail is your best bet. Besides, there will always be wild animals on the trail. That’s why having it on a leash is always a better idea. It’s for your dog’s own protection.
Learn the topography of the hiking trail. Are there jagged rocks that can hurt your pet’s paws? How about thorny bushes and the like? It may be a good idea to let your dog wear dog boots to help protect its paws from any hazard on the trail. You will have to train your dog to learn to like its dog boots before the hike, though.
5. Invest in a Good Doggie Backpack
All dogs that go on a hiking adventure with their owners should carry their own dog backpacks. This will help lighten your load a bit. You can place the dog’s food, treats, toys, first aid kit, and other light stuff in the canine backpack.
When packing things into dog backpacks, it is important to have an idea of the dog’s weight. The overall weight of the bag – the bag itself and everything else in it – should never be more than 15 percent of Fido’s weight. For example, if Butch weighs 40 lbs, then it should not carry more than 6 lbs. As such, you might also want to consider the empty weight of the doggie backpack. If it weighs a pound, then you can only stash about 5 pounds worth of doggie supplies.
Certain features of the dog backpack are also crucial. The color should be bright enough to allow visualization from afar. A reflective panel or trim is also important since this can help in low-light conditions. A grab handle on the back section of the backpack should also help you when lifting the pet to an elevated position. It’s also a nice feature to have should your dog fall into a body of water.
6. Bring Enough Food and Water for Your Dog
Staying hydrated on the trail is a must. It’s a taxing activity that can bump up your metabolism. The same is true with your pet. The problem is that it doesn’t have an efficient thermoregulation mechanism to allow it to cool down on the go. As such, they tend to overheat a lot faster than humans.
Bringing your pet’s own water in dog water bottles can help keep it hydrated. Unfortunately, there’s a real chance that the water from its bottle may run out. This is especially true if you’ll be spending days on the trail. You might want to consider bringing a portable water filtration system so you can get safe drinking water from almost any other source.
Also bring your pet’s high-quality dog food. Bring enough to last the entire duration of the hiking adventure. Bringing a bag of canine treats can also help provide extra energy in between meals. This helps make sure your dog has enough energy to go the extra mile.
7. Get the Correct Hiking Gear for Your Dog
There’s no way you can predict the weather once you’re in Mother Nature’s backyard. It can be bright and sunny in the morning and rainy in the afternoon. The nights are almost always colder than during the day. As such, you have to bring the right gear for your pet.
Dog boots are ideal to help protect their paws from the hot ground. During the daytime, the trail can be very hot. The surface can also have jagged rocks and other hazards that can injure your pet’s paws. Having dog boots should address the problem. Sadly, not all dogs like to walk with boots on. For that, you’ll need to train your pet first.
Dog tents are also important. Of course, if you don’t mind letting your dog sleep inside your own tent at night, then there’s no need for such a gear. Some hikers bring a travel pet bed with them. This serves as the dog’s warm layer of protection from the cold floor of the forest. A rain shell can also be handy to keep your pet safe and dry if it rains.
8. Don’t Forget the First Aid Kit for Fido
There are many outdoor hazards that can affect your dog’s health and safety. Ticks are always an issue. So are mosquitoes and other insects that can bring different diseases.
The terrain can pose a problem, too. There are sharp sticks, branches, and rocks that can cut or scrape against the dog’s skin. Of course, the risk of overheating and dehydration is also great. As such, it is best to bring a first aid kit for your dog.
There are manufacturers of canine first aid kits. An alternative will be to purchase individual first aid items and organize them in a pouch. What is important is you have the basic supplies like scissors, tweezers, bandages, gauze pads, disinfectant solutions, and topical antimicrobial agents. There are also skin protectants that you can apply on your dog’s skin and paws. A cooling pad is always a great item to bring.
9. Schedule Breaks at Predetermined Points on the Trail
There are dogs that can run all day long. They may even outlast you on the trail. On the average, however, dogs will need more frequent breaks. This allows dogs to cool down and recharge. You don’t want to keep on pushing since these animals do not have an efficient way to eliminate the heat that’s building up inside their bodies.
While most pet parents/hikers will take their cue from their dogs, it is often a lot better to plan ahead. Your knowledge of the trail will come into play. There are designated waypoints on hiking trails. You can determine where these points are located on your map to give you an idea how far it is to the next waypoint. This can help you decide whether to hike that far before taking a break or you’ll make a stop in between these points.
The distance between waypoints vary from one section to the other. Some may be farther apart, while others are only a short distance away. The point is to schedule a break after hiking for a certain period of time. That’s why it’s best to train your dog first to gain an understanding of the distance it can cover without putting too much strain on it.
10. Always Perform a Post-Hike Dog Check
Whether it’s a day hike or a weeklong adventure, always perform a post-hike check on your dog. At the end of each hike, spend time to assess your dog’s skin and paws. Check for any sign of cuts, abrasions, or any other type of wound. Treat these at once.
Also check for ticks. That’s why you need tweezers for this. It’s also one of the reasons why it’s best to bring along a shorthaired dog as your hiking companion. It’s a lot easier to check for the presence of ticks and other bugs and remove these from their skin.
Check the areas of its body where the harness and backpack are in contact with. The skin in these areas may look reddish. If so, there’s a chance that the straps are too tight. Apply an anti-inflammatory ointment at once to help reduce inflammation and bring comfort to your pet.
Bringing Fido on a hiking adventure is fun. However, it can also be wrought with risks and dangers. Taking these 10 essential tips to heart should help you ensure a safer and more pleasant hiking adventure for your dog and you.
- Trail Etiquette and Safety Tips for Hiking With Your Dog – PetMD
- How to Hike with Your Dog – HowStuffWorks