I really love going hiking together with my dogs. If you've ever done this yourself, then you know that bringing a pet with you on a hiking trail is not as simple as going by yourself, and there are many additional things you'll need to consider to plan a safe, productive and fun experience.
This podcast episode is for those who've never done it and thinking about going hiking with dogs. I will explain everything that needs to be accounted for before, during and after the trip, things you'll want to pack and bring with you, and how to stay safe. It's already May and the weather is perfect to take your pooch outdoors, and if that's something you're planning on doing, make sure to listen to this episode!
Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.
- TOP episode link: 048 – Hiking with Dogs: Planning, Packing and Where to Go
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Hiking with Dogs – Planning, Packing and Where to Go
As some of you may already know if you frequently listen to my show, I love to go hiking with my dogs. We have a chocolate Lab who is going to be three in June, and a Beagle Cocker spaniel mix, who has just turned two in January, so we have young dogs. We are active, we are definitely an active family, we really enjoy hiking. I live in the state of Maine, so its very rural here – we have a lot of different national parks and hiking trails, designated areas that are dog friendly, and we love taking advantage of the spring, summer and fall weather here in Maine. Of course anywhere that you live there is going to be some great times of the year to go hiking with your dog.
I often get asked by family and friends about hiking with dogs. I have also known a few people who didn’t do any research and they just kind of thought “oh it will be fun to take our dogs with us” and they didn’t have very good results from that. So I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about hiking with dogs, the importance of preparing yourself and your dog for the trip, what to do while your hiking with your dog, things to bring along with you, and actually what to do after the hike as well. Because it doesn’t just end when you get in the car to go home. So today I want to kind of give you a little basic Sam’s basic guide to hiking with dogs, if you will.
So lets start right from the beginning, things that you need to do before you even go on your hike, there are some precautions to take, you do need to make sure that your dog is going to behave, that is usually not a problem for older dogs, but some dogs aren’t as well behaved, if your dog doesn’t have recall training, if he doesn’t know his name, if he cant or doesn’t come back to you when you call him, that might be a major problem in the event that he gets off of his leach and gets away from you, he needs to be obedient to your commands.
Your dog also needs to be able to socialize with people and other dogs, being a little skittish is one thing but being aggressive especially leach aggressive, some dogs aren’t aggressive normally, but you put them on a leach and they have what’s called leach aggression. That’s going to be a major problem, you may not meet anybody especially if your going to a more rural area where there is not a whole lot of people around, but the chances of you meeting somebody are pretty good, and whether you meet just a hiker or somebody with another dog you need to make sure that your dog is going to behave even if you just hold onto your dog and stand on the side of the trail, you have to make sure he is not going to be growling, barking, lunging and trying to pull the leach or pull on you to get towards people or other dogs.
So you really do need to think about your dog and his behavior, is he going to be able to handle this type of an adventure, one of the things that you also want to make sure is that your dogs going to have the stamina to keep up on hike that your going on, I always recommend if your starting out hiking with your dog, most of us take our dogs for short walks every day, and if you’re doing that great, if your not doing that start out there, and then work your way up, if you usually walk on the city sidewalk around your block and its flat and its smooth, try going on some hiking trails, go to a park go to an area where there is going to be roots that your dog may have to be paying attention to you and stepping over. Go to places where there might be hills that it takes a little bit more endurance to walk up and down hills than it does on flat stretches.
So, increase I guess, gradually the extent of what you’re already doing, start where you’re at, because that’s what your used to that’s what your dogs used to, and then gradually increase from there, and that will give both of you a better idea of what you’re getting into on the different hikes that you can plan. When you feel like your ready to take on a hike, you want to make sure that your dog is going to have proper identification, if your somewhere obviously a park a city street your dog should have proper identification there as well. But its particularly important while hiking, because your going to be in an area that’s not familiar to your dog or yourself, so microchips are great if you can get your dog microchipped, and I actually did a podcast episode on microchipping, I spoke with an expert in that area and I got some more information about that a few weeks ago, so if you want to check that out you can jump on our website www.theoryofpets.com and just scroll down through the episodes, and a few weeks ago you will see it there, there is one there on microchipping, so you can check that out.
You can also invest if you want to in a GPS tracking collar, those are great devices they are also expensive, and if your not going to hiking with your dog every weekend they are probably not necessary, the best thing that you can do is get him microchipped and make sure he has an I.D collar, they do make harnesses and collars now that actually have identification sawn right into them, and that’s a really great thing because if your dog, if your out hiking and say his I.D tag gets caught on something and it pulls off, its sawn right onto his collar or its harness or whatever he is wearing, so that’s great if your dog wears a hiking backpack. Make sure that you write, even just use a sharpie marker and write on the inside of the backpack, so that if somebody finds your dog they are going to know who to contact to get him back where he belongs.
The other thing I recommend if your new to hiking with your dog is to take your dog to the vet, its definitely important if your dog as a health condition, and its definitely important if your dog is older, but its important for younger dogs to you never know what the vet might find. Maybe your dog is young but he has really on sight hip displacer or arthritis, maybe your vet listens to his heart and hears a rhythm that’s a little off that’s a little irregular, and so he recommends maybe no strenuous exercise or something like that for your dog. There are a million different reasons why that might not recommend you taking your dog for a hike, and it’s better to be safe than sorry, like I said even with a young dog especially if you have a senior dog, and especially if you have a dog with a health condition, you need to run it past your vet, just take him in for a quick check up, your vets going to clear him in no time , it doesn’t take a long time, and if there is an issue you want to be aware of that anyway.
So it really is a win, win situation either way, even if you find out something about your dog, at least you know and you can work and go from there, and of course if you have an older dog or a dog with a health condition, you want to make sure that your making the best choice for him even if you want to go hiking and your looking forward to it, obviously your doing what’s best for your dog and it needs to be your number one priority, so you have to think about that. The other thing that I always tell pet owners before they start hiking, is to make sure that their dog is protected from fleas and Ticks, parasites, bacteria carrying insects can impose a threat like Mosquitoes, so make sure your dogs prepared for that, because there are so many different treatments. when you’re at the vet you can talk to them about that.
There are pills that you can give your dog once a month, that they just chew up the little tablet and they are protected from fleas and Ticks for a month, there are topical treatments, there are sprays, there are collars, there are natural remedies, there are so many things that you can do, and when your out in the woods it’s really important, like I said a lot of those parasites and insects carry bacteria, they can carry very harmful diseases, so you want to make sure your dog is prepared for that, and that’s something you want to do before you go out set off in the woods, you don’t want to just strap a flea collar on your dog in the morning and take him out, its something that you want to be prepared for, you want to find the right treatment for your, preventative I should say not treatment at this point, your dog doesn’t have anything right.
So the right preventative measure for your dog, and the other thing that you can do while your at the vet is make sure that your dogs updated on vaccinations, you never know, there is going to be things to eat and get into, there is going to be other animals in the woods, there might be feces from another animal, feces spreads a lot of different diseases, so making sure that your dog is up to date on vaccinations is a definite, if you bring your dog to the vet to have him checked out to make sure that he is able to go hiking, your vet should be checking on that anyway, but if they don’t mention his vaccines just make sure that you do take the time to specifically ask about that.
Now we are getting closer you’ve gotten your Okay from your veterinarian, and now its time to think about your dog, what your gong to need to bring with you, and what your going to need to make sure that he is safe while your on a hike, as I mentioned you want to make sure that your dogs temperament is okay for this, is going to be okay for this kind of environment, and leach training is another thing, is your dog well behaved on a leach, there are some places where you can hike with your dog off leach, I really don’t recommend this unless you’re an avid hiker and you’ve done this a lot, the more that you hike with your dog the better your going to get to know him, and your going to get to know his reactions to things better. So in the beginning I recommend 100% keeping your dog on a harness in a harness and on a leach at all times, don’t ever take him off, because you never know when somebody could be coming around the next corner, or somebody else’s dog might be lose and come running up to you or something like that, 100% always keep your dog on a leach its better safe than sorry.
Small dogs might be easier to handle on a leach, big dogs if they are not leached trained properly that’s going to be a challenge, so think about that, if your sure that your dog is prepared, that he is healthy, and he as got the okay from the vet, and you think that his temperament is going to be fine, and your ready to move on with your planning, now its time to think about where you want to go, and the distance the amount of hiking that you want to do in a day, and this is going to come down to your dog as well, for example: if you have a small breed, small breeds may not be able to hike has long as large breeds, there legs, there bodies get tired easily, if your dog is out of shape over weight, he is not going to be able to hike for a long period of time, think about over weight humans and difficult it would be for them to jog a half a mile, it’s the same thing for your dog, its going to be harder for him if he is out of shape, so start small and work your way up.
If you have a young dog, an active dog, a dog that loves just go, go, go you might be able to plan a hike for a couple of miles and its not going to be a problem, but while your hiking, and I know we are fast forwarding a little bit but this goes hand in hand with the planning of your trip, while your hiking keep an eye on your dog, and notice if he is starting to get worn down, think about it, if you’ve walked for a mile, your going to need to turn around and walk a mile back to get back to your vehicle, so if you’ve walked a mile and you notice that your dogs already getting tired, and you’ve got another mile and a half or two miles to go, its probably a good idea to just call it a day turn around and walk that mile back to the car, because by the time you get to the car your dog’s probably going to be exhausted.
If you kept pushing and going that extra mile or two miles, by the time that you get to where you turn around, your dogs going to be exhausted, and he is not going to want to go back to the car, and that’s not going to be good for you or for him, so keep an eye on your dog as your going, planning is all well and good but sometimes we don’t plan correctly, and that might be an issue that comes up, so just keep an eye on your dog as your going along, and if you think he is starting to get tired, just call it a day turn around its what’s best for him, and that’s what you really need to be focused on. You want to tell somebody before you leave exactly where your going, and let them know that your bringing your dog with you, don’t forget to mention that part, if your going somewhere in like a national park or a forest that has forest rangers, and there is a little place where you check in, a lot of places in Maine where I live have that, and it’s a great feature, the park closes say at like 8 o’clock at night so everybody who hasn’t checked out by 8 o’clock at night they try and contact those people and see if did you just forget to sign out, or are you lost somewhere out on the hiking trail.
So, make sure that not only does somebody know where you are, but that they also know that your dog is with you, because your dog and you may get separated, and then they are going to need to be looking for both of you, so keep that in mind as well, to let someone know where your going and that your dog is with you, and of course there are some must have things that your going to need to pack with you, I already mentioned making sure that your dogs in a harness, I prefer the harness over the collar, I always recommend that, hiking is exciting, and your dog maybe pulling a little bit more than normal, it’s a lot more comfortable when the weight is dispersed through is chest, the force of his pulling is dispersed through his chest and not around his neck, so definitely the harness is the way to go, you don’t have to worry about your dog slipping out of a harness the way he maybe be able to slip out of a collar.
So definitely a harness, definitely a good quality leach, a leach that’s going to be not retractable, retractable leaches are terrible for hiking, they allow your dog way to much space, and the little ribbons that retract that part of the leach are not as strong as a regular traditional leach, so just a regular traditional leach, I would recommend no more than 6 feet long, you want to be able to keep your dog close to you when you need to, so if it has a little traffic candle down by where it attaches to your dog’s collar that’s great. Harnesses sometimes will have a handle up on the back and those are great to, but make sure there is a way that you can hang onto your dog if you do need to in the event that other hikers are coming or other dogs or maybe there is a squirrel or a wild animal around, and you want to just hold onto your dog closely, you need to be able to do that.
Another must have is a first aid kit, and you need it to have dog specific items in it as well, do a little bit of research, if you jump on our website www.theoryofpets.com, if you’re watching this on social media or YouTube, click the link below it, it will take you to our website, and I have a link there for the must have essential items in a dog first aid kit, a lot of these items like gauze pads, cotton swabs, ice packs, tweezers, peroxide, blunt end scissors, that kind of stuff you will find those in human first aid kits as well, so you might just buy a human first aid kit, and then you will have the Band-Aids and all the things you might need for yourself, plus some of the stuff that you need for your dog, and you can just add any other dog specific items that you don’t have, if you want, or maybe you already have a little first aid kit for yourself and you just want to make one that’s specifically for your dog.
Just do a little bit of research, figure out what you should have, what you might need, especially if your hiking, and just keep that in your pack, it doesn’t weigh a lot, you can put it in a really small little like a Tupperware container or a little zippered pouch or something like that, it doesn’t take up a lot of room and it doesn’t weigh your pack down. So, make sure you bring a first aid kit with you. The other thing that I always always recommend that pet owners have is bowls and water of course, your dogs going to be needing water, and bring a little bit of food, your dogs going to be burning extra calories while your hiking, so if you have a little snack in the middle of the day its not going to hurt him, weight wise he is not going to be getting a ton of extra calories because he’s going to be burning them off.
You may want to get your dog his own backpack, obviously with smaller breeds this can be an issue, because they cant carry as much, but if you have a large dog, for example our chocolate Lab she does have a backpack, she wears a back pack harness so I can clip a leach right to it, they make these, there are tons of them out there for dogs, there are some really good quality like saddle bag style packs, and our Chocolate Lab carries all of the supplies that she needs, plus the supplies for our Beagle because our Beagles to little to carry her own pack, so Sadie carries it for both of them, and I put there stuff in there, it gets the weight off my pack, and it gives your dog a job, they feel good about that, just make sure that you get a pack that fits and his comfortable, obviously that’s going to take a little bit of research and maybe some testing if you go into your local pet store and try them on or whatever, but a dog pack might be a good to bring as well.
As I mentioned the bowl the water the food, you might want to bring some bug spray, or some kind of natural, there are different essential oils and things like that or whatever, and to keep the bugs away, to keep those bugs off you and your dog, I would recommend that, especially if your somewhere like I am in Maine, we have mosquitos everywhere, they are terrible, terrible, terrible in the summer time, so we always bring bug spray, poop scoop bags, always bring dog poo bags, do not ever leave your dog’s waste outside somewhere, one this is a public trail other people don’t appreciate that. And two its actually not good for the environment to leave dog poop laying around everywhere, so make sure that you bring some poop bags with you.
Other things that you might need are some paw wax if your dog happens to have cracked paws or something like that, different kinds of paw waxes can be used as a protectant, and they’ll actually make the pads a little bit tougher, you can buy boots if your going somewhere where the terrains really rough, if you do buy dog boots and use those, use them before the hike, same way with the dog pack, this is something new to your dog, he is going to wearing something new, its going to be uncomfortable in the beginning, so let him walk around the house with the pack or the boots on for a few days before you leave, let him get really comfortable in them, and even start like 10 days maybe a week before you leave, just put them on everyday let him get really really comfortable with them and that would be my recommendation, and by the time you go hiking he’s going to be fine and he’s actually going to enjoy wearing whatever he is wearing, because its going to protect his feet, or with the pack its going to have all of his belongings in it.
So before you go on your hike you also want to plan, as I mentioned according to the weather, and your going to plan your route, your going to let somebody know where your going, and then really after that you’ve got everything that you need your dogs ready to go, he has been okayed by the vet, you’ve made your plans, now its time to get out there and hike, if you’re thinking that this is going to be a lot easier and you didn’t realize there is so much to it, don’t worry a lot of new hikers or new hikers with dogs feel the same way, so certain things to consider is check out where your going in advance, if you’ve heard about a hiking trail you want to go to or a public park, a national park something like that, make sure that dogs are allowed, and make sure it’s a dog friendly hiking trail, some trails are to steep, there is a lot of rocks, the things that aren’t appropriate for your dog, so be sure that its for a dog friendly area, a dog friendly trail before you set out on your hike.
So, here we are, we are ready to go you’ve got everything that you need, your dogs okayed, you made your plans, everything is good, so now there are a few things that you should be considering when your hiking, of course keep your dog in mind, maybe feed him a little bit extra in the morning just to give him those extra calories, feed him at least an hour before you go, because you want to make sure that he is not hiking on a full stomach, just the same way that you will, you want to make sure that he has time, his body has time to process that food, give him the energy that he needs, and then make sure that you stop for plenty of water, you don’t want your dog drinking water out of natural sources, streams, puddles things like that, there are bacteria in water that’s found, standing water that’s found out in nature, so like I said bring plenty of clean fresh water, and let him have a drink every 20 minutes 30 minutes.
If it’s hot, maybe even closer to 15 or 20 minutes, if its not so hot and the hike is not really strenuous you can go 30 or 40 minutes, stop for a water break, at least a couple of times an hour would be my recommendation, and if your hiking a long way, every couple of hours also provide your dog with a little bit of food, that will like I said it will give him those extra calories that he’s burning, and it gives him the energy that he needs to keep going on your hike. So, if your hiking for more than two hours, give him a little snack about every two hours.
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