Hiking with Dogs: What to Know Before You Hit the Trail
There are few better ways to spend quality time with your Cadet than hitting the trail! Hiking requires plenty of physical training, planning, and knowledge of how to manage the variety of surprises you could encounter along the way - especially when your furry adventure buddy is accompanying you. Follow these tips for hiking with dogs to ensure a safe, invigorating, and memorable journey.
Plan Your Hike Ahead of Time
Know Your Limits: Before you invest time into planning your route and gathering your gear, you will first need to make sure you and your dog are healthy enough to hike. You can both expect to do a lot of walking - possibly uphill - which can be strenuous. Know how much exercise your dog is accustomed to and choose your trail accordingly. If you and your dog are new to hiking, start with a short, easy route.
Plan Your Route: National parks or recreation areas often have multiple trails to choose from, which could vary in terms of distance, terrain, and elevation. Trails feature a variety of routes ranging from easy to difficult. Read the trail descriptions to know what you're in for in terms of terrain and incline. Always do your research beforehand and visit the park's website, if possible, to view a map and read up on the course descriptions. At the very least, be sure to explore the signs and map handouts that are available on-site. There are also plenty of mobile apps and websites where you can browse reviews from past hikers.
Know the Rules: Once you choose a trail, research the rules and restrictions of the area you plan to visit - most importantly, if the route allows dogs and if so, if they need to be leashed. When visiting an off-leash trail, be sure your dog responds to their name and is comfortable with sticking by your side. Either way, it's recommended to bring a leash; this is helpful if you encounter other dogs or wildlife that could distract your dog off the trail, such as squirrels, deer, foxes, birds, and bears. This is also why it's crucial that your pet's identification tags should be legible and up to date beforehand!
Choose a Safe Time to Go: Hiking in broad daylight is your best bet. In addition to letting you and your dog see the trail clearly, daytime hikes will help you avoid potentially dangerous critters that come out at night. Start your hike in the morning if possible, as temperatures will be cooler and you'll still have plenty of daylight ahead.
Keep an Eye on the Weather: A final last-minute preparation is to check the weather forecast. If there are exceedingly high temperatures or rain in the forecast, you might want to visit the trail another day. No matter the temperature, always bring plenty of water. As a golden rule, if it's too uncomfortable for you to hike comfortably, your dog probably feels the same.
Stock Up on Food and Water
Although there are many pieces of gear you should have on your hike, it is essential to pack water and food for you and your dog. According to Web MD, dogs need about one ounce of water per pound they weigh. Factoring heat and physical activity, it's best to overestimate the amount of water you and your dog will need.
Even if you're only planning on a short trek, bring tasty treats and your dog's usual food to the trail. The best hiking dogs still need a break, so be sure to stop whenever it’s time for you and your dog to take a rest—you’ve earned it!
Grab Your Gear
Whether you're planning to be outdoors for an hour or all day long, there are multiple items you won't want to leave at home. Be sure to pack these supplies for the trail:
- Plenty of water for you and your dog
- Collapsible water bowl
- Healthy dog treats
- Snacks for you
- Sturdy, comfortable leash
- Towel or blanket in case you encounter mud, puddles, or other bodies of water
- Safety light
- First aid kit
- Dog waste bags
- Booties if you're traveling over rough or snowy terrain
- A comfortable backpack to hold everything
Your dog's first aid kit should include items like nail clippers, alcohol, bandages, gauze, and tweezers. You should also be sure to have your veterinarian's contact information written down or stored in your cell phone. Additionally, if you're out of the area, it's a good idea to know where the closest animal clinic is located.
Prepare for Trail Dangers
Hiking with dogs could present unexpected hazards for pups and humans alike. Watch out for common potential dangers.
Dangerous Plants: Plants like poison ivy and poison oak can lead to skin irritation or allergic reactions, while plants like toadstool mushrooms can be toxic when consumed. These dangers are why staying on the trail and keeping your dog on a leash is always a safe bet. You should also keep an eye out for plants with thorns, as they can be painful for your dog and pesky to remove from their coat and paws.
Wild Animals and Insects That Sting: Depending on where you hike, your dog may be susceptible to regional dangers like rattlesnakes, scorpions, bears, and skunks. Research your area's hazards beforehand and find out what common plant and wildlife dangers look like.
Fleas & Ticks: The deeper you venture into the woods, the greater the risk for fleas and ticks. Be as prepared as possible ahead of time and make sure your dog is up to date with a monthly flea repellent or treatment. Additionally, you should always inspect your dog after a hike for any mites that may be hitching a ride - this is where your first aid kit's tweezers come in handy.
Bodies of Water: Don't allow your dog to drink from lakes, streams, ponds, puddles, or any other bodies of water - especially if you're not familiar with the local water sources. If the park allows dogs to swim, you may still want to keep your pup away from the water to prevent them drinking and potentially drowning.
Always consult your vet immediately if your dog gets injured or eats something that could be poisonous.
After Your Hike
Your pooch should never be pushed past their limits. If you're hiking with your dog and you find they're short of breath, are stopping more than they're walking, or get injured, then it's time to call it a day. Once you're off the trail, inspect your dog for fleas and ticks, and check their paws for any lacerations.
Be sure to give your hiking buddy fresh water and food, plus lots of praise! They just burned off a ton of energy and deserve a snack, a belly rub, and some relaxation.
Hiking with your dog is a fun and inspiring bonding experience, so you're both sure to have a blast! Best of all, there are always new and unique routes that you can explore together. Check out our favorite dog-friendly hiking trails and start planning your next big adventure.