Even if you're an avid hiker, hiking with your dog is an entirely new experience. It can be a fantastic way to strengthen your special bond while enjoying the great outdoors, but hiking with dogs does come with some risks. Make sure you're familiar with dog hiking etiquette and safety tips to ensure everyone has a great time.
Etiquette for Hiking with Dogs
Before you hit the trail with your pup, even if you've done it a hundred times by yourself, do your research. Search for the route on AllTrails or BringFido to find out if dogs are even allowed. Some national parks don't permit dogs to enter their grounds unless they're service dogs. Most trails will have signage outlining these specific rules and regulations, but there are also a few unspoken rules of the trail.
- Obey the leash laws. Not only will this keep you in the good graces of your fellow hikers, but it'll keep you from getting a hefty fine, which can be upwards of $500 in some areas.
- Clean up your dog's mess. In most areas, picking up after your dog is required by law. But, even if it's not, do your part to keep the trail clean by picking up your dog's waste and carrying it to the trash.
- Be considerate of other hikers. Some hikers aren't fond of dogs or might even feel threatened by them, so it's best practice to gain verbal control of your dog when you see other hikers, then have your dog take a step off the trail with you to let everyone pass.
- Leash up your dog. If your dog is off-leash and you see another dog approaching, slip a leash on. Even if your dog does well with other dogs, there's a possibility the other pup may not.
- Keep your pup under control. It might be fun for your dog to gallivant around, but it's not safe for them, nor is it good for the ecosystem. Keep your dog on the trail to prevent them from disrupting the environment.
- Make sure you can see your dog. If you can't see your dog, you can't be sure no trouble is afoot. Keep your dog in your line of sight at all times.
- Communicate with other dog owners. If you see another dog, ask the owner if they can meet before your dog approaches. Likewise, don't be afraid to ask them if they can put their dog on a leash.
- Play it safe. Never bring your dog on a hike if they're sick. Not only will the strenuous activity be dangerous for them, but they may shed harmful viruses or parasites that may infect other dogs or even wildlife.
Hiking Safety Tips for Dogs
Don't head out into the forest unprepared. Instead, implement these safety tips to protect your pup so you can thoroughly enjoy your hike together.
Consider Your Dog's Breed
Some dogs don't make great hiking companions because of their health and fitness levels. However, some breeds are better suited to hiking than others. For example, if your dog is brachycephalic - meaning they have a shortened muzzle - they may not make good hiking companions.
Makes sure your dog is up-to-date on all core vaccines and any lifestyle vaccines your veterinarian suggests for your area. The leptospirosis vaccine and rattlesnake vaccine are a few immunizations that are often recommended for dogs who hike.
Your dog should understand basic commands like "Come," "Stay," and "Leave it" so you have verbal control of them while on the trail. In addition to basic obedience training, having your dog undergo special wildlife training like rattlesnake avoidance can be helpful.
Take Water Breaks
Just as you need water while working up a sweat, your dog must stay hydrated, too. So offer them water every 20 minutes or more often if it's warm out.
Depending on your location and the season, you'll need to monitor your dog's temperature. No, that doesn't mean you need to pull out a thermometer throughout the hike. However, you should keep an eye out for signs that your dog is getting too hot or too cold. If they appear fatigued or uncomfortable at any point, turn around and head back to the trailhead.
Avoid Plants and Puddles
Keep your dog from munching on any foliage while on the trail. Even if the plant isn't necessarily poisonous, it can still cause stomach upset, vomiting, or diarrhea. However, a lot of wild mushrooms are incredibly toxic to dogs.
Also, keep in mind that some plants that are toxic to humans - such as poison oak or poison ivy - may not affect your pup, and you may not be able to tell if they have walked through something that might cause a problem for you later. For example, the oils covering the leaves of poison oak can attach to your dog's coat, and transfer to your skin later while you are petting your dog. If you suspect your dog has walked through a problem plant, don't touch them, and wash them thoroughly with an appropriate shampoo product to help remove any irritants after the hike.
Bodies of water like streams, lakes, or puddles might be tempting for your dog, but avoid letting your dog drink from them. This water can contain harmful pathogens, such as bacteria or Giardia. Instead, offer them water from home to quench their thirst.
Be Aware of Wildlife
Most wildlife will keep to themselves, but there's always a chance you could run into a critter while out in the wilderness. Stay alert throughout your hike, and keep your dog in close contact if you see or hear any animals. Even a seemingly nonthreatening creature like a squirrel could attack your dog if they feel threatened. And don't forget about tiny wildlife like ticks; make sure to check your dog for these parasites following your hike.
Hiking Supplies You Need
There are a few supplies you should always have on hand when hiking with your pup. Some are necessities, whereas others are optional pieces of equipment you may need based on your individual dog.
- Identification: Make sure your dog wears a collar or harness with identification and your current contact information in case you're separated.
- Leash: Even if they're hiking off-leash, you should have one with you should you need to quickly secure your dog.
- Water: Always carry enough drinking water for both of you.
- Dog water bottle or bowl: A dog-specific water bottle or collapsible bowl makes it easy to offer your pup water throughout the hike.
- Treats and/or food: Treats are helpful for recall purposes, and having some snacks on hand for longer hikes can keep your dog fueled.
- Waste bags: Keep the trail clean by picking up your dog's waste. Exercise can stimulate bowel movements, so bring at least a few bags.
- Dog sunscreen: Protect your dog's vulnerable, exposed skin from sun damage with a dog-safe sunscreen.
- First aid kit: If your dog is injured while you're in a remote area, a pet first aid kit can allow you to help them until you can access a vet.
- Safety light: Having a light on your dog can help you locate them easily should you find yourself on a shady trail or hiking at dusk.
- Booties (optional): Dog booties can be helpful when traversing rocky terrain, in the snow, or for dogs with particularly sensitive paws. Protective paw ointments can also help if your dog won't wear booties.
- Coat (optional): Cold-intolerant breeds like the Whippet can benefit from a coat to keep them warm during cooler months.
- Dog backpack (optional): Some owners choose to have their dog wear their own gear while out on hikes.
- Dog goggles (optional): Some dogs may need to wear dog goggles when on hikes at high elevations where the sun is very strong or if the environment is very dusty.
Make Hiking With Dogs Safe and Fun
While out on the trail, you're responsible for not only yourself but also the well-being of your dog. Be mindful of where they are at all times, so you can keep them safe. But don't forget to have fun. Enjoy the adventure you're embarking on together. You may even want to snap some photos of your hiking buddy so you'll have something to look back on for many years to come.