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Start Hiking With Your Dog Today – How to Safely Hike, Camp, and Backpack With Your Dog

Dogs make great hiking companions, but be prepared to do some planning before you take your pup on his first hike. There are many factors to consider, and you will want to get your dog both mentally and physically prepared for a long hike. It will take some time to prepare, but the results are well worth it for both you and your furry friend. 

It is a smart idea to visit your vet and get your dog examined before you venture out on your first hike. Get caught up on your vaccinations, ask about preventative measures you can take against pathogens and how to handle snake bites and parasites. 

If your dog is excellent on long walks, he will be great at a long hike, right? Maybe not. Think about the factors associated with hiking that are very different from those related to the conditions of your average walk. 

Consider what the weather will be like. You do not want your pup to get overheated or caught in a downpour. Think about the terrain of the hiking trail you plan to go on. If the ground is slippery, steep, or jagged, it could be difficult for your pup to get around. 

QUMY 4 Piece Dog Boots Waterproof Shoes for Large Dogs with Reflective Velcro Rugged Anti-Slip Sole available on Amazon Prime here.

Some dog breeds are more prone to getting too worked up and excited in nature. These pups have a tendency to ignore commands and run off chasing something out in the wild. Dogs with a high prey drive like the scent and, in particular, have a difficult time behaving when they are amid all the stimulation out in nature. Some of these dogs can be trained to obey commands, but a lot of them cannot be conditioned out of these tendencies to run off. 

In general, dogs that have not been adequately trained to follow commands should not come along on hiking trips. If your pup does not follow commands at home, he is likely not to follow them outdoors. This makes him a danger to himself and others. 

How Old Does Your Puppy Need to Be to Go Hiking? 

puppy meets hedgehog

You can start taking your pup for hikes as soon as he has had all of his vaccinations, which usually occurs by the time he is five months old. Vaccinations your puppy will need include the DHPP combination and the rabies vaccination. You may also want to have him get the Leptospirosis vaccination to protect him from pathogens in the urine of various wild animals. Start your new pup off easy by keeping the hikes short (a maximum of one hour). 

Make sure to bring an abundant source of clean, filtered water with you for both you and your furry friend. You will want to keep your pup hydrated so he won’t be tempted to drink standing or stream water that may contain waterborne pathogens. If your dog does contract a pathogen, you will have to get prescription medication from your vet to treat him. 

Collapsible Dog Bowls Make Hiking with Your Dog Much Easier. Available to order on Amazon Prime here.

Where Can I Take My Dog Hiking?

So, you have considered your puppy’s age, breed, and general health and physical condition, and decided that yes, your dog is ready to go hiking. The next step is to figure out where you want to go. It is not quite as simple as just picking a fresh hiking trail that looks like fun. 

A lot of trails, campsites, and even national parks either do not allow dogs at all or require you to keep your pup on a leash 100% of the time and stay on paved trails. Once you have a few possible locations in mind, do your homework to get a good understanding of what you are permitted to do and what you cannot do. Also, make sure to research the wildlife you may run into and possible hazards to be prepared for. 

Your pup will be a happy hiker if you choose a path that is easy on his paws. Look for one with soft, leaf-covered terrain and plenty of shady spots. Avoid trails with steep drop-offs, sharp or loose rocks, or ground in direct sunlight that is likely to get really hot. Additionally, you may want to avoid trails that have a lot of traffic from horses and bikes. 

How to Prepare Your Dog for Hiking

dog on a hiking trail

You will want to begin the preparation process way before the day you plan on going hiking. Start by taking him on short, easy hikes first. Gradually increase the length and difficulty of these short hikes. 

Do your first few hikes on flat, smooth ground. See how your pup does with these hikes. If your dog has energy after an hour-long hike, increase the length of time for the next hike. If not, make the next one a little shorter. Do not put pressure on your pup to over-extend himself. 

Prepare Your Dog’s Paws for Hiking

Use these short hikes to build up your pup’s paws. Try a paw salve to condition his feet for longer hikes. If you are planning on a camping trip, you may want to trim your pup’s nails so he won’t tear a hole in the tent lining. If you are going to have your dog wear hiking booties, later on, use these short hikes to get him used to them. 

Reinforce Training Before Taking Your Dog Hiking

Dog sitting during a hike

Short treks are an excellent time to practice your dog’s obedience training. Go over simple commands such as come, sit, heel, and stay. You may want to practice recall training using a whistle that your pup can hear up to 400 yards out. 

Even well-trained dogs are likely to get over-excited in new environments. Making sure your pup is well-behaved during short hikes will help to ensure he is well-behaved on longer hikes later on. You will want to be sure your dog is always within sight and hearing range of your commands. We recommend wearing a treat pouch during your hike. It’ll make obedience training your dog much easier. PetSafe Treat Pouch Sport- Durable, Convenient Dog Training Accessory you can order on Amazon here.

Trail Etiquette When Hiking With Dogs

When you take your pup hiking, it is vital to obey the rules of the trail and use appropriate etiquette. Rule number one is to make sure your dog is under control at all times. Many trails require your pup to be kept on a leash the whole time. 

The length of the leash is essential too. You do not want your pup to jump on other hikers or get his leash wrapped up in a bush. Using a short leash that is under six feet long is the best way to prevent these mishaps on a hike. 

Etiquette rule number two is to always yield to others on the trail. Step aside and make your pup heel to allow other hikers to pass by. Additionally, when you come across another hiker, tell them your pup is friendly and make sure to keep your pup calm. 

It is best only to try to handle one dog at a time during a hike. If you are planning to bring additional pups, bring other people to help manage them. The more dogs you have with you, the more difficult they will be to keep under control. 

Pick up after your pup! Bring plenty of bags for your dog’s poop. As dogs are not wild animals, their poop is not a natural element and needs to be removed. Dog feces is highly disruptive to native fauna. Wild animals use fecal scent to communicate, and dog poop disturbs territorial claims and can cause wild animals unnecessary distress. You can stock up on poop bags here.

Keep your dog with you and do not let him wander off the trail. The plants and animals do not need to be burdened by your dog’s curiosity, and you do not want your pup getting into poisonous plants or getting bitten by a wild, virus-ridden varment. 

Common Dangers and Threats to Dogs While Hiking

Tick danger sign

Hiking with your dog can be a gratifying experience. However, there are things you will need to be aware of to make sure your pup stays safe and happy on the hike. 

Extreme Weather and Temperatures While Hiking

Severe cold or heat are common risks for hiking with dogs. Depending on where you intend to hike, be prepared for temperature and weather fluctuations. If you are going to be hiking in a cold climate, be prepared for snow, ice, and slippery terrain. 

If you are in a hot climate, be aware of dehydration and heat exhaustion symptoms. Either way, make sure to bring an ample water supply. If your pup’s nose is dry, it is a sign he needs to drink more water. 

Overexertion During Hiking

tired dog laying down

How do I know if my dog is getting too tired? Your pup may be so excited that he may experience overexertion without expressing any distress during a long hike. If your dog is panting rapidly, drooling, suddenly unresponsive, visibly exhausted, staring, or having trouble focusing, it’s time to take a break. Make sure to monitor your pup’s heart rate and breathing. If your dog does not recover as usual resting heart rate or breathing after a break, you may want to call it a day. 

Watch Out for Creatures

Watch out for scorpions, snakes, coyotes, and other predators. Wild animals will vary depending on where you choose to hike, so make sure to do your research before you go out. If your dog gets bitten by a snake while hiking, take him to the vet immediately. In the meantime, use an antihistamine like Benadryl to reduce the allergic reaction.

Pet First Aid Kit available on Amazon Prime here.

If you find a tick on your dog, use tweezers to pluck it out, (the whole thing including the head), then clean the area with antiseptic or antibiotic ointment. Dogs can get sick from tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. Try to save the tick in a container so it can be tested later if symptoms develop. If you can’t get the whole thing out, do not dig into the skin, especially with unclean instruments, because this increases your pup’s risk of getting an infection. Don’t worry, your dog’s body will push it out on its own eventually.

 Injuries Your Dog Can Get While Hiking

Your pup’s paws can easily get scraped up on rough terrain and sharp rocks. You may want to bring some dog booties to protect your furry friend’s paws while hiking. If your pup begins to limp, you definitely need to stop. 

Plants to Watch Out For 

potentially poisonous mushroom by a dog

Avoid letting your pup get into the greenery. Some plants such as sumac, mushrooms, hemlock, and poison ivy are poisonous while others such as cacti, burrs, and foxtails are full of prickly thorns. Both of these can harm your dog. If your dog eats something poisonous on the trail and is gagging or vomiting, it is time to take him to the vet. Try to figure out what he has eaten and bring the plant in to show to the vet, if possible. 

It is rare, but it is possible for your dog to develop a rash from poison oak and poison ivy. It is more likely if his coat is thin or sparse and the skin is not protected. Even if your pup doesn’t develop a rash, his coat might pick up the oils and transfer them to you, so you may want to keep Tecnu on hand.

Pathogens the Water

Always keep your dog out of stagnant water. In some areas that have a lot of foot traffic, campers, or cattle, the stream water should also be avoided. If your pup drinks contaminated water, he will likely exhibit symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. If your pup’s nose is dry, it is a sign he needs to drink more water. 

Unfamiliar Territory 

When you put your pup in a new environment, there will always be risks of something going wrong. Your dog will not automatically know how to survive in the wild if he gets lost during a hike. Your dog may not be well-behaved in the wild without proper practice and training either. Make sure to keep an eye on your furry friend at all times for these reasons. 

Dog Hiking Gear List

Dog hiking essentials

There are a lot of items you will want to add to your dog hiking gear list. You will want to bring extra dog food, lots of water, and a doggy first aid kit, among other items. 

Doggy First Aid Kit 

Just as it is essential to bring a personal first aid kit with you, it is also vital to provide your pup with one of his own. You can order a pet first aid kit here. Include items such as bandages, gauze, liquid bandages for cut paws, pet-safe antiseptic, ointment, tweezers, and antihistamine. 

Dog Food

Consider the difficulty level of the hike and your pup’s overall fitness to determine how much extra food to bring. It is recommended that you bring an extra cup of kibble for every 20 lbs of dog weight per day on top of his average food intake. You may need to up the portion size by 50% depending on your pup’s health and how long the hike will be. It is also a good idea to give your dog a small snack an hour before you go to provide him with an energy boost. Throughout the day, give your pup a snack when you have a snack. 

Water

Similar to food, use your own thirst as a guide and give your pup water when you take a drink. A good rule of thumb is to take a drink every 15 to 30 minutes. This again depends on the difficulty of the trail as well as the temperature. An average-sized dog may need as much as a half-gallon of water per day. 

You can quickly provide your pup with fresh water using a collapsible dog bowl, which you can buy here. Make sure to keep your dog hydrated, but don’t let him drink too much all at once. Larger dogs are particularly prone to bloating from filling up on too much water too fast while active. 

Bandanas and Ice Packs

Bring an instant ice pack to apply to overheated paws to cool them off. Wet a bandana and tie it around your pup’s neck to cool him down. You can also order an ice pack with a strap on it like this one.

Booties & Foot Care

Bring booties to protect your pup’s paws. This is especially useful if your dog cuts a pad or tears a claw. You may want to pack extras in case one gets lost. You may also want to pack paw salve for sore, dry, or cracked pads. If you are in a pinch and lose a bootie, you can make one out of your own clean socks and some tape. Just make sure to tape it very carefully. If a dog’s paw gets taped too tightly, it can cause edema.

To make your own DIY booties, you will need fabric (mid-weight nylon, denim, or fleece) and 1 inch wide Velcro strips.

  1. Cut 4 rectangles out of the fabric. Each rectangle should be an inch wider than your dog’s paw and 5 to 8 inches long, depending on how tall your dog is.
  2. Cut 4 strips of Velcro as long as the circumference of your dog’s ankle plus an extra one and a half inches.
  3. Fold each rectangle lengthwise and sew it together on 3 sides, leaving a quarter of an inch seam.
  4. Turn the sock right-side-out and sew the Velcro strip to the top edge of the bootie, hook-side-up. Leave enough extra Velcro to secure the bootie around your dog’s ankle.

Short Leash or Dog Harness for Hiking

Bring a short leash that is six feet in length or less. You may opt for a harness with a handle. Consider a dog pack with built-in handles. Harnesses are the preferred option for a lot of hikers, especially with small dogs. 

If you are going to be hiking anywhere that has steep terrain, sudden cliffs, and unsteady footing, you may want to bring a doggie backpack or a harness so you can assist your pup with the terrain and avoid falling. 

Dog Backpack for Hiking

If you are not a fan of carrying booties, or water, or your pup’s other items, you can make a balanced backpack, and your dog will be able to carry his own gear. Just make sure to take him on some short practice hikes to acclimate him to the backpack before attempting a long hike. Give him at least a week to get used to carrying a pack (make sure it sits snugly between the nape of his neck and just before his hips). A dog can carry up to a quarter of his own weight.

Dog Backpack available on Amazon Prime.

To fit and load your pup’s hiking backpack, adjust the harness for a snug fit, so it won’t chafe. You should be able to fit two fingers underneath it. Load the bags with food, bowls, treats, water, and gear. Weigh the bag to make sure it is balanced and not too heavy. The total weight shouldn’t exceed a third of your dog’s total body weight. 

In case of Emergency & Pet Insurance

vet clinic pic

Make sure to locate and note the contact information for the closest emergency vet before you go on your trip. It is also a smart idea to check your pet insurance policy coverage or consider getting pet insurance if you do not already have it. Check out our article on Pet Insurance to find out more! 

Sarah Nishimoto

The author Sarah Nishimoto

Sarah is not only a pet owner but loves animals of all shapes and sizes.

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