I prefer my hiking partner to have a genuine curiosity, loads of energy and likes to take frequent breaks to enjoy our surroundings. That’s why I love hiking with dogs. My dog doesn’t care much for the views, but he’s all about getting outside, taking in new smells and traveling with me, probably just like your pup! He is DTH (Down To Hike).
It’s best to consult a veterinarian about your puppy’s hiking condition. With that, here are some things you can consider: age, size, and breed all make a difference. Dog’s growth plates are located at the end of their bones, these plates are soft and harden as they grow. Puppies’ growth place is vulnerable to over-exercising and trauma. The age your dog is ready for full or long distance hikes varies. The most devastating injuries occur within the first eight months, these injuries can demand surgery or cause deformities. Small dogs are doing a lot of growth in their first 12 months, while larger dogs see much growth for their first 18 months. Inspect for swelling, limping and abnormal behavior.
Dogs are the best hiking companions.
Take your dog for a short walk on easy terrain to gauge its physical ability.
Make sure to check a few fundamental sings that your pup has overworked itself. Limps and licks are apparent signs of injuries; these usually indicate tears, abrasions or paw injuries. Rapid heart rate and redness of gums are a sign your dog has hiked too much. If your dog is breathing slow and looks cold, it’s time to pack it in; these are indicators of hypothermia. Don’t underestimate how badass your dog is. Usually, their injuries and subtle and they are having so much fun that they power through them. If your dog’s nose is dry he/she, is more than likely, in need of a drink of water.
While training your dog physically for a hike is vital, so is teaching your pal manners and etiquette. Get your dog on a loose leash in a place with limited distractions; this will train your friend how to walk with you. Also, make sure to greet other dogs in a friendly manner, so your furry pal learns how to be inviting. Practice with a reliable recall every day. There is a great feeling when your dog can freely walk with you, but on trail, there are dangerous spots that your dog may not notice is threatening (i.e., cliffs, rivers, other animals, etc.)
Veterinarian, Michelle Richardson, advises waiting until your puppy has received all its shots before hiking (typically five months).
Once you have determined your pup is ready for a long hike, look for locations that are canine friendly. You’d be surprised how any trails don’t allow dogs or require leashes; most National Parks have strict dog regulations. Familiarize yourself with the path; the sites, hazards, water sources, wildlife, campsite, etc. Pick a place that is gentle on its paws.
Author of Best Hikes with Dogs Inland Northwest, Craig Romano, says to pick trails with lots of shade, avoid paths with sharp rocks, leaved and needle-covered terrain, hot surfaces, and routes with steep drops. He also adds “stay away from areas with the heavy horse use and mountain bikes.”
Prepare your pup for proper trail etiquette. Keep your dog under control at all times. Your dog she always, at least, be a stone throw and a shout away. Short leashes (less than six feet) are recommended over longer leashes; it’s a lot easier to get tangled up in brush with a long leash.
Show your dog grace and yield to hiker and riders. Always step off trail when others approach and allow newcomers to pass, you never know who has allergies, who may not have kind intentions or just don’t like dogs (wtf, I know). Since some people may even be afraid of dogs, let every passerby know your dog is friendly and does not bite (don’t bring your dog on trail if he/she bites or barks uncontrollably).
Protect your dog from wildlife and vice-versa. Also why it’s important to keep a short leash, don’t allow your dog to chase animals and run amuck. He/she could trample natural flora, invade another species habitat or run into poisonous plants.
Leave no trace. Pack it in, pack it out. Treat your dog’s poop as you would your own on a hike. Make sure to pack a sufficient amount of bags to clean up poop. Your dog’s poop is not like a wild animal’s poop, so it is unnatural to the wild; much like ours. Bring a trowel to dig and bury the poop at least 8” deep and 200 feet off trail and away from camping sites and water sources. Even if your bags are biodegradable (highly recommended), still bury poop.
Pack enough food for both of you and pack food for your dog, like you would for yourself. Choose dry food with high protein and fat levels to give your pal extra energy. Richardson advises increasing your dog’s portion size by 50%. When it comes to water, use your own thirst gauge as a guide for your dog’s, stop and offer water often (every 15-30 minutes). Large dogs can drink 1 ounce of water per pound, a day. Small dogs will drink 1.5 ounces per day. Also, filter your dog’s water.
Remember to bring a doggy first aid kit. Include gauze, heavy-duty and liquid bandages for paw cuts. Tweezers, pliers, swabs, Benadryl, canine sunscreen and Tecnu, are all critical for ticks, bites, and poison oak or ivy. Make your own dog booties at home and be sure your dog is always wearing them.
I know what you’re thinking “how tf am I supposed to fit all this in a pack?” Yea, I get that. Just use your hiker experience to find creative ways to cut down weight to keep your dog’s pack down to a third of its weight. Make sure the harness or snug but doesn’t chafe, and both sides are equally weighted.
I’ve managed to write this without any ridiculous dog puns, happy trails!