Hiking With Dogs: The 10 Essentials
How to Hike with Your Hound
Hiking with your dog is an excellent pastime for you both. You each get exercise, fresh air, and (hopefully) sunshine. Plus, you get to bond with your pet and appreciate nature. In order to make the most of your hiking experience, it is important to be prepared, to hit the trail in a safe way, and to make sure you stay healthy post-hike. By doing these things, you ensure that you and your hound can hike together again and again.
Preparing for Your Hike
Make sure your dog is able to handle a hike.Before you take your dog on a hike, consider its age and overall health. If your dog experiences health issues during a lengthy hike, it will be difficult for you to get help. If you’re not sure whether your dog can handle a hike, talk to your vet first.
Gather your dog’s gear.Before heading out for a hike with your dog, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need. Place these items in your backpack, or outfit your dog with a pack of its own. You may want to bring:
- Bowl for water. You can purchase collapsible bowls from hiking stores that look like caps and can carry water poured from your drinking bottle.
- Leash. Whether or not leashes are required in the area where you'll be hiking, it is a good idea to have one with you.
- Collar with tags. It is important to have a collar and tags for identification purposes in case your dog gets spooked or wanders off.
- Snacks. Some healthy dog chews or dog cookies are an important addition to your dog's hiking gear.
- Paw protectors. Some dogs may need paw protection, especially if you will be walking on hot, very cold, or rough terrain. Dog booties can be purchased from dog parlors, hiking stores or pet stores. Check to see if your dog likes them before assuming that they will work on a hike.
Gather your own gear.In addition to outfitting your dog, you are going to want a few items for yourself. These things can help if you get lost, aid in an emergency, and make your hike comfortable and safe.Things to pack include:
- Emergency poncho
- Small first aid kit
- Water bottle
- Wear hiking boots (or comfortable shoes with a good tread)
Research the rules.It is important to respect the rules of the place where you are hiking. Some places do not allow dogs at all. Other places require a dog to be on a leash. Breaking these rules can lead to citations and/or fines, so be sure you understand the rules before you head out.
- Perform an internet search for the trail you plan to hike. You may find a website or message board with info about dogs.
- Look for a phone number to a local visitor center. Call and ask about dog and/or leash laws on the trail.
- Most National Parks do not allow dogs on trails, but most other federal lands are fair game.
Hitting the Trail
Stay on the trail.Even where you are allowed to hike with your dog without a leash, do not allow your dog to run around everywhere. This could crush precious wildflowers and fragile soil structures. Additionally, traveling off of the trail can get you both lost. Make sure that both you and your dog stick to the hiking trail.
Expect to see other dogs.Before you head out on a hike, think about your dog's temperament. If you know that your dog likes to pick a fight, keep them restricted on a leash. It is very likely that you will encounter other people and dogs on the trail, so try to be prepared.
Be aware of predators.Many wilderness areas contain predators—such as bears, snakes, or mountain lions. Research the predators that may exist in your area, and take necessary precautions.
- If you are hiking in an area with bears, always carry bear spray. Also, it is safest to hikes in groups of three people.
- If you are hiking in an area with poisonous snakes, watch the trail and avoid stepping on one. You can also carry a snake bite kit.
- If you are hiking in an area with mountain lions, avoid hiking at dawn and dusk, and avoid running on the trail.
Stay hydrated.Both you and your dog should drink frequently. Drinking water at least once every half an hour is appropriate during an average hike. Bring your own water along, and avoid drinking (or allowing your dog to drink) from unfiltered water sources.
Rest.Anytime you or your dog feel fatigued, it is important to rest. Don’t try to overexert yourself or your pet. Take a seat, catch your breath, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Pick up the poop.Doggy-do in the wild is a complete no-no. Be prepared to pick it up and pack it out. Carry appropriate bags for disposal with you at all times.Be sure to bring:
- Plastic bags
Staying Healthy Post-Hike
Check for ticks.Always check your dog for ticks at the end of a hike. If you are camping overnight, check the dog each night. Ticks are small bugs that attach themselves to skin. Be sure to look near your dog’s backside, ears, and anywhere that the skin folds (such as the arm pit).
- If you locate any ticks on your dog, you will have to remove them.
- Be sure to check yourself for ticks as well!
Remove plant life.In addition to scouting for ticks, check your dog for any plant life. To avoid tangled hair and the potential for rashes and other allergic reactions, remove any prickles, burrs, thorns, or sticks that have become entangled in your dog's coat.
- Double-check your dog's eyes, ears and nose for seeds or prickles.
- If you do find a problem that worries you, contact your vet.
Thank your dog.At the end of a hike, express your pleasure at how well your dog hiked and provide a small treat. This helps to establish a positive association for your dog, fosters additional bonding, and encourages good behavior on your next excursion.
- Provided that you have a medium to large sized dog, you can purchase a special dog pack that will enable your dog to carry some of its own supplies. Dogs have the ability to carry up to one third of their own weight if they are healthy and it is not too hot. Be sure to balance a bag properly - you can include the dog's bowl, a small First Aid kit and perhaps some snacks and dog booties.
- There are companies who run hiking trips for owners and their dogs. Look them up on the Internet. You can choose from easy hikes, day hikes, or extreme hikes. Ask if snacks and any other incidentals are included in the cost of the hiking tour.
- If you enjoy hiking with your dog, consider joining a group that does this regularly. You will meet others with the same enthusiasm and perhaps your dogs will also form friendships! If there isn't such a club in your area, consider starting one.
- If your dog gets really hot, dribble some water over his belly and groin area to help him cool down quickly.
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