Hiking With Your Dog

Hiking with a dog can be one of the best experiences of your life, or one of the worst if not planned for accordingly. In the following article, we will look at all the essentials needed for taking your puppy on the trail. Dog Obedience – Make sure your dog isn’t a jackass, but that’s a different post about hiking with mules that we will save for another day. The ideal dog would be able to follow commands, heel at your side, pay no mind to other hikers, as well as be able to alert you of any danger, and knows when to back down from an enraged moose. We can’t all have Balto, or Shadow from Homeward bound, but at least make sure they won’t attack other people, other dogs, or other animals before you bring them out. If that still isn’t the case, make sure they have the proper collars so you can control them if things get ugly. The backcountry is full of new smells, wild animals, sounds, and if your dog can’t handle that, maybe it’s something they need to be eased into.  Take them for walks, let them mingle with people, children, other dogs. If this isn’t something that they can handle, seek training for your dog. Puppy Pack –  Your furry friend can’t exactly pack their own bags, but you can make them pull some of their own weight. You can find saddle bags for dogs that fit pretty snug and won’t bother them too much.  A good measurement for determining the weight your dog can carry is 1lb in the bag for every 20lbs of animal.  If your dog enjoys swimming in creeks and streams, consider putting the contents of her bag in an airtight container of some sort. Doggie First Aid Kit –  It might be hard to spot through all of their fur, but sometimes your fuzzy friend on the trail gets a little scratch, or maybe got a little bit too curious and ramped around a hornet’s nest. Or worse yet, maybe they tried to make friends with a porcupine. Accidents do happen, and you need to be prepared for when they do.  Take a basic course or read up on basic canine first aide. Dog-food and Snacks for your Hiking hound –  Always make sure you have a surplus of food, for you and your pup. You never really know what is going to happen out there so better safe than sorry.  You could be part of a rockslide and get your leg trapped under a rock, and your dog refuses to leave your side until help arrives 2 days later. You can’t survive on pine needles and dirt, and neither can they. You can find nutritious dog snacks that are created especially with dog health in mind. Water and a container for it – Not all of the H20 you find on the trail is good drinking water. It could have a bloated rotten deer carcass up the creek, or some parasite floating into your puppy’s mouth. Now this may seem a little extreme, but it’s something to consider because you never know.  To avoid this whole predicament, train your dogs to get water from bottles they carry on their own saddlebags. Train them to let you know when they want the water. keep them hydrated, chances are if you’re thirsty, so is your dog. Dog Leash and Proper Collar – Now you might be saying to yourself, “my dog is a perfect little angel and doesn’t need a leash! she stays by my side no matter what and doesn’t run off.” Well most of the time that may be true, but every now and then, you might go to the trail and find out that there is a leash law being enforced, even if temporarily.  Recently, a bull in Boulder county got loose from his fencing and ended up gorging himself on rich clover but was out of reach from his salt and mineral licks, which led to his death. The problem is, he died in an area that wasn’t accessible enough to remove the corpse. The people in charge decided to cut the carcass up and let nature have its way. Unfortunately for your puppy, the nature came in the form of mountain lions feasting on poor Francis the Bull. Boulder county enforced a leash law in the surrounding area to keep dogs away from the area which now has an increased wildlife presence. You don’t always need to use your leash, but it’s nice to bring along with you. A harness backpack combo is really nice for this purpose. Bug Spray – Be sure to keep those pesky bugs away from you and your dog. Especially in areas where things like malaria and west nile virus are known to be. The sprays containing deet may or may not be compatible with you or your animal. We recommend a Lemon Eucalyptus based bug repellent. Make sure you apply it where your dog can’t reach to avoid them getting it on their tongues when they clean themselves. The top of the head and back are the best spots. A photo of your dog – If you were too stubborn to train your dog or listen to the leash suggestion, then my guess is your dog is lost right about now. It happens, they run off and chase rabbits and do their own thing. If the worst case scenario happens, you will want to have a photo to show other hikers you meet on the trail. They might be able to point you in the right direction. GPS chips are a thing now too, so look into tracking your animal that way! Doggie boots – DOES YOUR DOG MAKE TOO MUCH NOISE, ALWAYS STOMPING AROUND DRIVING YOU CRAAAAAZY?! Well that’s kitten mittens.  Dog boots are equally silly looking, but if you plan on hiking very long distances and your pup isn’t used to hiking, these will be essential half way through when their paws hurt and you want to keep going. This goes more for indoor puppies, but their paws need to build up calluses just like a construction worker’s hands. If you aren’t experienced, you will need gloves so you don’t get blisters. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a dog that will actually put up with these long enough for them to be effective. I highly doubt they are anything but a gimmick item sold to a hopeful owner that cares a lot. Plastic bags–  Your dog is going to poop. This is going to happen, and when it does, you don’t want to be that jerk who keeps on walking, saying “I’ll come back and get it later” then never does b/c nobody saw it happen. Don’t be that person.  Pick it up, and dispose of it properly, or if you don’t bring it out with you, at least bury it so it wont disturb the wildlife. The less poop on the trail is more fun for everyone involved. A Small Comb– This will be compact enough of an item that will serve many purposes. Your dog walked through a burdock patch? Your dog just walked through high grass and you are worried about ticks? If you are diligent enough and comb them during your water breaks, this will cut down the tick factor at the end of your trip. Trail Toys- Depending on if there are a lot of people on the trail and it’s a busy day, it might be a good idea to leave the toys at home. If you know there won’t be a lot of foot traffic, bringing along something to play fetch with can be great fun. Tick remover– This should go without saying, and you should have one on your keychain regardless if you have a dog or not. Ticks will find you, and they will find your dog a lot easier. Make sure you check their fur thoroughly during and after the hike. The risk goes up during the summer and fall. Be sure your dog has it’s vaccines and preventative shots for waterborne diseases. Dog Clothes – Normally I would say dog  clothes are an excess novelty, but if you are bringing a short haired breed on top of a mountain in winter, you should probably get them a puppy vest to keep them warm. Alternately, if you have a long haired dog looking to stay dry, you might want a puppy rain poncho, it’s lighter than a towel. Preparations for Hiking with Your Dog Just like any backpacking trip, you need to plan ahead. You need to know how many miles both you and your pet can handle without rest, you need to know how much weight your dog can carry before they need a drink, you need to know when to quit, and when to tell your dog enough is enough. If they are anything like my dog, she will go till she drops, and that’s just a bit too long. These are things you need to ease into and learn the limitations of both you and your pet. Planning The Hike Do’s and Don’ts of the Trail Be sure to check the dog allowances on each trail your choose to backpack on. A lot of parks and trails don’t actually allow pets to hike for various reasons. Be sure to do your homework and research these things before you get there and find out you can’t bring your buddy with you.  I will stress the aforementioned in that you must maintain control of your pet at all times while on the trail. If they don’t get along with other dogs, they might not get along with the moose or bear either.  If you insist on not having your dog on a leash, Please make sure they are leashed when other hikers approach, especially if they have a dog as well. You never know how other animals will react When starting out backpacking with your dog, try and pick trails that don’t have a lot of people, or go during a different time of year that you know most tourists won’t be venturing out there. If you know there is going to be mountain bike activity, it’s best to keep them on a lead. Same goes for approaching kids, not all little ones have positive experiences with dogs and it doesn’t take a lot to ruin a child’s outlook on hiking if big scary dogs run, jump and bark at them while on the trail. Train your dog like a Rocky montage. Maybe not that intense, but definitely the same progression. Start small, and end pulling an ox cart up a snowy mountain side. I’m not saying you should strap a cinder block to their collars and prep them for the ring, just ease into carrying weight in their packs. Just like knowing when your dog is ready to carry more weight up a 14,000 foot mountain, know when to retire your old trail pal. Higher altitudes and tough rocky trails can really stress out an old canine’s body. Packing for Your Dog Hike Checklist
  • Hydration
  • Food
  • Dog clothes
  • Medical shots and vaccines
  • Sleeping pad
  • Comb
  • Tick remover
Camping with your Dog You will need to consider the sleeping pad situation and bring along another sleeping bag, blanket, or at the very least a NASA blanket. It can get very cold at night and if your dog doesn’t have long hair, they are going to be cold. Again, this process is something you will need to fine tune as you go along. Start with a lot of things you think you and your dog might need to be comfortable. Think car camping and pack a lot. Once you go on 2 or 4 or 6 trips, you will know what items you need and what ones you can keep out of the pack. Be sure to bring an extra towel to dry off your pooch in case there is rain. You don’t want to snuggle with a drenched puppy all night do you? Dog boots- I can’t stress how ridiculous these things make your dog look, and seem more like a gag gift than anything. If you are out for extended periods of time hiking in snow, they may be a good method to keep their paws warm. If you are going to use these,   Packing out for your Dog Certain Breeds can carry different amounts of weight compared to others in terms of body weight percentages, be sure to check with your vet when it comes to the limitations of the breed. Be sure to have the proper sized pack for your dog, take measurements and get the correct fit. If it’s too big, it may slide off to the side and you will be spending more time fixing it and less time hiking. Packs with a grip on top can come in handy when you need to hold fido back from a grizzly cub before momma bear comes back.  They make ones with lights on front too so you can keep track of them at night time.   Portion off dog food into meals in individual baggies if you want to keep track of food intake. Make sure the weight is evenly distributed inside and outside of the dog’s backpack.   After your trip Be sure to scan for ticks on both you and your dog, be THOROUGH as it is difficult to find them within the fur. Give your dog a shower or bath, you both stink right about now. Sort through your photos and start planning your next hiking or backpacking adventure with your dog!  

  • Frank

    We hike year round ( among other outdoor activities) with our dogs, and they are always on a trekking line, for many of the reasons you explained in the post. Recently, we have run into some other hikers, whose dogs are “free-range”, and the owners actually make snide comments to us about our keeping our dogs on a line….gets very frustrating sometimes.

  • john

    Another excellent article. More like these, I like reading lists like these and they are very handy for sharing with friends who are new to hiking. In addition, just make sure when you hike with your dog you pick up its excrement and put it in a bag and carry the bag with you. I am so sick of seeing bags of doggy doo doo along the trails. I can’t for the life of me figure out how any one thinks it is OK to bag it and leave it there with plans of picking it up on the way out. The second you place that bag on the ground you are littering. Please Do Not Litter!!

  • bush

    Loved your tips, also I am looking at hiking for the first, I was told to search for a tour group to get started. But most tour groups I have looked into are accommodation and food all prepared for me. I was planning on hiking into the bush and staying overnight in my tent. Do you know any tour groups with this style of hiking. Your input is much appreciated.