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Hiking with Dogs: A Pet Parent's Guide

How to Hike Safely with Your Dog

By Meredith Alling. June 03, 2013 | See Comments

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Hiking with Dogs: A Pet Parent's Guide

Some dogs love the great outdoors as much as their pet parents. When taking your dog on a hike, you'll want to be prepared to avoid some possible dangers.

Dog owners are always thinking of new ways to get outside and active with their four-legged friends. Walks around the neighborhood are good, as are games of fetch or frisbee, but if you are looking for something different, you may want to take a hike! Hikes are not only great for exercise, they also offer an opportunity to bond with your dog as you explore new locations and terrains. Here you’ll find safety tips and other useful information for hiking with dogs.

Finding a Trail and Trail Regulations

Not all trails are dog-friendly, so do your research and make sure that your dog is welcome. For example, most US National Parks do not allow dogs on the trails. Your state’s Department of National Resources website as well as the National Park Service site provide information on pet regulations. In addition, there are a great number of books available about hiking with dogs that will offer trail suggestions, and you can also search for dog-friendly trails by state at Hike With Your Dog.

Prepare Your Dog

If your dog spends most of their time lounging around the house or playing in the backyard, they may not be ready to jump right into a serious hike. Build up to longer hikes with a series of shorter trips. This will develop your dog’s stamina and strengthen their paw pads. You should also prepare your dog for a hike by making sure their vaccinations are current.

Practice Proper Etiquette

Proper etiquette when hiking with your dog includes cleaning up after they eliminate, keeping your dog calm and under control, and yielding to other hikers on the trail. Practicing proper etiquette is not only the right thing to do so as not to disturb others, it also keeps park managers happy so that dogs continue to be allowed on the trails.

Water and Hydration

One of the biggest safety concerns when hiking with your dog is proper hydration. It is easy for an active dog to become dehydrated, especially when temperatures rise. Use your own thirst as a guide for when to stop and offer water to your dog -- it should generally be every 15-30 minutes depending on the difficulty of the trail and the temperature outside. Bring along plenty of fresh water and keep your dog away from lakes or other natural bodies of water in areas with campers or animals such as cattle. If your dog drinks from a contaminated water source, they could become infected with Giardia.

Wondering what all your hiking pack will need? Check out this handy look inside a backpack for hiking with dogs.

Food

If you are planning a lengthy hike with your dog, it may include a meal. Bring along your dog’s food and a travel bowl, and keep in mind that your dog may need to consume more calories depending on how much energy is being exerted. Your veterinarian can help you decide how much food is appropriate for your dog during a hike. You may also want to give your dog a half-portion of food about an hour before a hike to jumpstart their energy.

First-Aid

If you plan to take your dog out into the wilderness, you should be prepared for any situations that may arise. Consider taking a pet first-aid class such as the one offered by the American Red Cross. Look into books that deal specifically with dog first-aid, and purchase a pet first-aid kit to carry with you on your hike.

Fleas and Ticks

Grassy and wooded areas are the perfect breeding grounds for fleas and ticks, so protect your dog with a topical or oral treatment. If going into high-risk tick areas (such as those with tall grass), you may want to double up on the protection with a tick collar. Check your dog after each hike for ticks. If you find one, you should remove the tick with tweezers or contact your veterinarian. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, erhlichiosis, and other diseases, so if you plan to be hiking often, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccine.

Dog Boots

Dog boots can help to protect your dog’s feet from cuts, scrapes, or foreign objects between the toes. They can also keep your dog’s feet warmer in cold weather, or cooler when the terrain is hot. Most dogs aren’t too fond of footwear, so get your dog used to the sensation by having them wear the boots around the house or out on walks.

Pet Packs

Before a hike, many owners outfit their dog with a pet pack containing water, food, treats, first-aid supplies, and other items you might need on your journey. Pet packs are perfectly safe if fitted correctly and loaded with the proper weight for your dog’s size. Many young and healthy dogs can carry up to 25% of their body weight. Others can carry only 10-15%, while smaller or older dogs may not be able to carry anything at all. Talk to your veterinarian about what is appropriate for your dog.

Once you find the right size and fit for your dog, get your dog comfortable with the pack by having them wear it around the house and on walks before taking it on a hike. If it is hot out or your dog seems to be struggling, reduce the amount of weight in the pack.

After the Hike

After every hike check your dog for ticks, thorns, burrs, or other foreign objects. Use your hands and a comb to look over the body, check the ears, and pay close to attention to the paw pads and areas between the toes, as debris is likely to get caught there. Give your dog a bath to wash off any additional dirt or plant matter.

Happy trails!

More on Dogs and the Outdoors

The 7 Unsuspected Pet Dangers of Summer
7 Easy Ways to Exercise Your Dog in Cold Weather
5 Steps to a Safe Drive with Your Dog

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Hiking with Dogs at a glance

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  • 1Make sure the hiking trail you're going to allows dogs.
  • 2Bring enough water and food for your dog. Water is especially important.
  • 3Protect your dog from fleas and ticks with preventative medications, and check your dog for ticks afterwards.
  • 4Let your dog get used to walking longer and longer distances before tackling a really long hike.