The sun is out, the weather is warm, and it’s time to hit the trails! Hiking in the woods and the mountains is a fantastic way to exercise yourself, your dog, and to bond with your canine buddy. But there are always a few safety concerns when taking your dog out of their comfort zone and into the wild. Do you think your dog is ready? Check out these four tips before taking your dog for a hike.
- Find a Dog-Friendly Trail
You don’t want to drive Fido two hours to your favorite mountain only to find out dogs aren’t allowed there. Check before you go! If you have a place in mind, do a quick internet search to find out if it is dog friendly. Or if the internet doesn’t help you, give the organization a call! It’s much better to know beforehand rather than travel all the way to the hiking spot and hope for the best. If you are having trouble finding a trail, Hike With Your Dog is a great internet resource for finding local, dog-friendly trails.
If you do find out that the hiking trail you had in mind isn’t dog friendly, it’s not a good idea to ignore the rules. Many places will impose a fine if they discover someone has ignored the “No Dogs Allowed” rule. And it’s important to remember those laws are there for a reason. Maybe the area is residential. Perhaps it’s a nature preserve, where certain species could be in danger if introduced to dogs. Or it’s possible they simply want to keep the area clean! Dog poop is unsightly, can be a nuisance to clean, and in fact does not compost well. The ingredients in many dog foods do not break down the same way wild animal poop does. This could be bad for the local environment, and is certainly not pleasant to look at! Always be respectful and seek out a dog friendly hiking area.
- Get the Gear!
Your personal checklist might be a mile long, but what about your dog’s checklist? There are many things to consider bringing with you on a hike with your pup.
The basics include water, a water dish, a doggie first aid kit, bags for dog waste, and a collar with up-to-date id tags. These items can be carried in your own backpack, or a doggie backpack if your pup is used to it.
For water, carry several water bottles and stop periodically for water breaks. A water dish like these collapsible styles are lightweight, sturdy, and easy to carry.
A first aid kit should include hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds and medical gauze with tape to wrap wounds. Hydrogen peroxide works just as well on dogs as it does humans, but dogs should be careful not to ingest too much of it. It can make them throw up. If this is a concern for you and your dog, products such a Vetericyn are available specifically to clean animal wounds. Snake bite kits are also good to include, if they are a problem in the area you are hiking.
A dog first aid class may be something to consider before embarking on any serious hiking adventures. Pet first aid courses are available through the Red Cross.
- Training is Key
Before you embark on a weekend-long excursion in the mountains with your dog, it’s important to train your dog to be able to physically handle it. Similar to training for a marathon, you don’t want to throw your dog into something they are not physically ready for. Check with your vet first if you are unsure of your dog’s physical condition.
If you know your dog is in good shape but don’t know how much they can handle, the best thing to do is ease into it. Start with flat trails for short periods of time. Gradually move up to longer hikes, steeper trails, and rougher terrain. Pay attention to how your dog handles these increases in “toughness.” How quickly do they tire out? Do they naturally move slowly and safely on rough terrain, or do they move at an unsafe pace? Only hike on trails that your dog is ready for. For an extra challenge, try using a doggie backpack! Backpacks add extra weight to your dog, and can tire them out more quickly. Plus, it’s less for you to carry!
In addition to terrain training, it’s important to be sure your dog has basic obedience and socialization skills. There is a good chance you will meet other people and other dogs on the trail. And there’s a better chance still that your dog will at least catch a whiff of a wild animal. Is your dog friendly and calm around people and other canines? Will they go wild and forget their manners when faced with strange smells? These are things you will discover as you explore easy trails and work your way up towards bigger challenges.
- To Leash or Not to Leash?
With or without training, the question of whether or not to leash your dog while hiking is always a tough one. It’s a beautiful thing to watch a dog frolic freely in the woods. But will they be safe?
Perhaps your dog is very well-trained and well mannered. They come every time they are called and do not bother people, dogs, or animals on the trail. That’s wonderful! Feel free to carry the leash with you for emergencies only, and let your dog roam free.
If your dog has not yet mastered coming to you when called it would be a good idea to keep the leash on. This is for the safety of your dog, other dogs, wild animals, and even other hikers. A dog responding to commands consistently can be the difference between life and death in some situations. Besides that, it’s important to remember that not all hikers are there to spend time with a dog, even if it is a dog-friendly area. You may meet a fellow hiker who is scared of dogs, allergic, or simply annoyed by a dog’s presence. While you may disagree, this should be respected! If your dog has trouble keeping to themselves, keep your pup on a leash.
When using a leash, make sure it is a solid, 6-foot leash. You should not use a retractable leash. It’s also a good idea to use a harness rather than hooking the leash to your dog’s collar. Worst case scenario, your dog falls from a cliff and you need to pull them up using the leash. It’s much better to be pulling from a harness than pulling from a collar around their neck. This could cause severe neck injury.
Do you have any favorite hikes with your dog? Any funny stories from a hike? We’d love to hear about it!