If you're a hiker and a pet owner, you and your furry friend are likely destined to become great hiking companions. But, especially at the beginning, this is a hiking partner who’s going be needing a lot of attention and care.
Remember that this is what you're signing up for, and think about the advice below as you create a better bonding experience. Before hiking, consult with your veterinarian, brush up on obedience skills and trail etiquette, choose a dog-friendly trail, and build your dog's stamina.
The dog pack (a kind of harness your dog wears): Fit it right, watch the size and weight, and distribute the load evenly. Your trail partner may also need some other essentials, such as a bigger tent or a first-aid kit.
Plenty of food and extra water are especially important on backcountry hikes, where your dog may need more fuel and carry it for you.
Be careful of common trail injuries: Think about water safety, as well as concerns about heat, animals, plants, and contaminated water.
Preparing Your Pup for the Day Hikes
First off, puppies aren't ready to carry a load. Nor are their immune systems ready for the world. You need to figure out exactly when your dog is going to be ready. Before you go out into the wilderness, ask your vet some important questions:
Are your dog’s bones fully developed? You need to wait until they are before you start training them. It could be anywhere from one year old to two years old, plus or minus several weeks.
Does your dog needs any preventive medical conditions: You don't have to worry about your dog drinking water from lakes or ponds that may be contaminated by leptospirosis or giardia. Ask the vet about preventive measures for outdoor destinations. Your vet can tell you when your dog is ready to go hiking.
Know the regulations for the trails you plan to hike or backpack on. Most U.S national parks, for example, do not allow dogs to be walked on trails. Many national forests, and state and local parks, allow dogs on their trails. However, rules may vary. Almost everywhere, leashes are required.
Know the rules of obedience training and trail etiquette. Step off the path to yield the right of way to hikers, horses, and bicyclists. And having your dog walk on a leash isn't enough. You also need to know how to keep your dog calm when other people and dogs walk past.
Always pack out your poop bags. It's bad form to leave them at the trailhead for someone else to pick up. If you're concerned about a security breach, double bag on the trail, then take off any intact outer bags when you get home.
On hiking trips, humans and dogs have the same "Leave No Trail" rule: Burying pet waste in a 6–8 inches deep hole that’s 200 feet away from trails and water sources. It’s not practical to enforce the 200-foot rule when it comes to urinating, but be ready to interrupt things and move your dog away from a water source if he starts to pee near it.
Start a practice hike by easing into the routine of hiking for a few weeks. Start with short walks, then monitor the energy levels afterward. If your dog is not yet tired from his last training hike, increase the length of the next one.
Your goal is to gradually increase the amount of time you spend hiking or backpacking. This slow approach also makes your dogs' paws stronger.
The Essential Doggie Backpack
It’s certainly not the only piece of equipment your hiking buddy needs, however, it truly separates going for a walk from going on an actual hike. And while your inner backpacking traveler can't help but fuss over features, getting the fit right, and getting your dog used to the pack are your top priorities.
How to Fit Backpack for Dogs
Measure the circumference of the chest around the widest part. Most packs come in different sizes that will correspond to these measurements. Adjust all straps to ensure the pack fits comfortably. Don't pull too hard; your dog needs to breathe. You don't want a too-loosen pack that can slip off or chafes.
To train your dog for pack behavior, first put him in his pack around the house. Then, take him out on walks. Once you get used to wearing the pack, start loading up a few extra pounds on each side.
Increase pack weight gradually after every walk until you reach your target pack weight. A maximum of 25% of your body weight is a rough guide, but factors like age and size will alter that up or down.
Additional Dog Gear
When you're hiking, you should take a dog-specific first-aid kit and know how to use it. Organizations like the Red cross also provide resources for dog owners, including checklists, first-aid kits, and training materials.
Make sure to include any medications your vet has prescribed for you in your kit. Another handy addition is an old pair of clean wool socks that can serve as booties in a pinch.
Some pet owners also pack Pedialyte in case their dog gets diarrhea. Don't do this without consulting your veterinarian first.
This starts with the tent size—one person larger to accommodate your dog. A piece of closed-cell foam and a crib-size down comforter make an ideal backcountry dog bed. You may want to plan to do some backyard sleepouts, too. So your dog will be fully comfortable with whatever sleep system you decide to use before you hit the trail!
If you're hiking for the day, you need to provide more food and plenty of water than your dog normally eats or drinks.
Larger dogs may need up to 0.5 to 1 ounce of water per pound per dog per day. If your dog weighs 20 pounds or less, he’ll need an average of 1.5 ounces per pound per day. These are general guidelines. You need to be careful and offer water often, particularly on hot days. Pack a collapsible, portable water bowl for your dog.
You'll need to pack extra food for your dog if you're hiking any distance. Factors like being on a long or steep hiking trail will mean that you'll need to eat more calories than usual. If your dog tends not to stay close to you, increase the calorie intake even more. Your best resource for dietary advice—especially if you plan an extended trip—is your dog’s vet.
Tip: If you're thirsty, hungry, or tired then chances are that your pet is, too. Take a short break to eat, drink fresh water, and catch your breath together
Dog Safety Tips
Your dog is just as susceptible to the same dangers as you are. More concerning, however, is that your dog may not recognize many of them, and may not be able to explain to you when something goes wrong. So watch out for these things too:
Overtraining: Watch how quickly your dog's breathing and heart rate return to normal after a break. If it is strenuous hikes, take longer breaks or shorter hikes. If your dog is limping, you need to stop for today.
Wildlife: Your leash protects you from dangerous animals. Even if your dog doesn't show any signs of Lyme disease, you should still be vigilant about checking him for ticks after he goes hiking.
Poisonous plants: Stop hiking right away is your best defense against poisonous plants, as well as any digestive issues. Be careful not to step on any stinging nettles, poison ivy, poison oak, or sumac plants. These plants may cause discomfort for you and your dog.
Thorns and burrows are annoying, but “foxtails” are more serious. These barbed seedpods are found on a variety of grass species in spring and summer. They can get stuck in fur and more sensitive areas, including the nose, ears, eyes, and genitals.
Avoid areas where there are grasses with foxtails, and get rid of them immediately by using tweezers. If you notice excessive sneezing, head shaking, eye discharge, or an abscess, it’s probably time to stop using them, because they could cause serious harm.
Heat Stroke: Dogs can only pant or sweat through their pads to keep cool. Be careful—rest and drink often, use the cooling collar, and look for signs of heat exhaustion.
Most dogs are susceptible to the same waterborne pathogens that humans are. To learn more about treating water in the backcountry, read "How to Treat Drinking Water in the Backcountry". Take preventative measures by treating water for both you and your dog.
If your dog can't swim, pack a dog life vest. Don't let even a good swimmer attempt to cross a whitewater stream: Instead, lift and carry your dog. Be careful not to turn a swimmer loose in the water.
When it's cold outside, your dog's fur can get wet and cause him to feel chilly. Even if the weather isn't too hot, you'll have a major towel-off job before going to bed.