As an avid dog admirer and nature goer, I spend a lot of time on the trail with my furry partner. No matter the trail, a day out with my dog is a day well spent. Through the years, the trail has taught us some good lessons and pushed both of us to our physical limits.
Learning from your mistakes is important, but being proactive is better– especially for the sake of your pet. We will cover the do’s and don’ts of hiking with your dog, as well as some important information you need to know before hitting the trail with your furry friend to keep you legal and both of you safe.
- 1. Watch Your Dog Carefully While You Hike
- 2. Consider Your Dogs Age When Planning Your Hike
- 5. Pack the Right Gear; in Your Pack and Your Dog’s
- 6. Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
- Now It’s Time to Hike!
1. Watch Your Dog Carefully While You Hike
With a few exceptions that we will discuss later, most dogs will outperform you in conditions you wouldn’t bear with less preparation and no gear. Your dog is tough, and they know it. Unfortunately, this toughness can get your dog in some serious trouble.
You must understand that your dog can do no more than bark, stare, and possibly paw at you for its needs. It is up to you, the owner, to keep track, take note, and read your dog and its condition. It is also up to you to be prepared for both yourself and your dog as a lack of preparation can lead to some serious problems.
This was made evident one hot Idaho summer as my husband, our Blue Heeler Pointer mix, and I set out on a round-trip hike that blew past the planned distance and traversed a face in constant exposure to the sun with no shade to be found. Though we kept the three of us well hydrated, we could feel the heat taking its toll and realized we would soon run out of water. Dehydration was quickly setting in as we b-lined our way towards the trailhead.
A tough call had to be made. We fed Sable a ration of water (that she would soon regurgitate), and finished the rest hoping to sustain ourselves enough to get us back. With my husband in a better condition, he was able to carry her the last 2 miles back as she lay contently slung over his shoulder until we arrived heat stuck and exhausted at our van. We then immediately started rehydrating poor Sable.
Eventually, the water stuck and she gulped down copious amounts over the next couple of hours and had herself a good long rest. The simple mistake of not planning our trail properly and not bringing enough water resulted in a situation that could have ended a lot worse than it did. Do your due-diligence, and double check. A few pounds more water is better than a few pounds less and a bad scenario.
It is also good to pack enough food for you and your dog. Let the extra weight in your pack remind you that your dog’s life is in your hands. And always remember that if you are tight on space in your pack, water will always be more important than food. Though it can be uncomfortable, running out of food is not nearly as crucial as running out of water; as your dog can function and even thrive while in a temporarily fasted state.
2. Consider Your Dogs Age When Planning Your Hike
Although your pup is tough, some dogs may have exhausted that toughness in the earlier years of their lives. Old dogs need to be looked after with a keen eye when hiking. Hip dysplasia, arthritis, joint and muscle injury, and other medical problems are far more prominent in an elderly canine, and especially for those that are predisposed to certain health complications.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring your senior pup out on the trail with you. Exercise and the outdoors are two of the best things for a dog who is long in the tooth. Being a dog parent means finding the line between overworking old joints, and pushing your pup to stay strong. As previously stated, watch your dog like a hawk.
Often times, issues can go unnoticed as your dog will power right through fueled by the love of the trail. By waking behind your pet and letting them live their best life on the trail, you can gauge their comfort level by their speed and frequency of stopping. You should also be on the lookout for uneven stepping patterns and any limps that may occur indicating a condition that should be looked at.
Keep your granddog trotting on through the years. Find hikes that do not have too much incline and decline and are on stable grounds. Boulder hopping, shale scrambles, and steep root sections should be substituted for nice loam walks to the lake, one with good stream stops along the way are the best!
You should also lighten the load of your dog’s pack, should they have one, or just bear the load yourself. This keeps your dog moving naturally and keeps excess weight off the joints. Just keep a keen eye and encourage your dog, making for the happiest of their elder years. Let them have the satisfaction of being out front and guiding you along. Like they say in the islands of malaysia, you happy, me happy!
- Make Sure Your Dog is Trained and Well-Tempered
You’re going to want to consider the behavior and personality of your pet. If your dog is aggressive around other dogs or people, it is especially important that you select your location wisely. Many folks have dogs that are rescues and are undergoing a change in their lives. However, many of these dogs never fully break their old habits and can be very jumpy with a potential for aggression.
These dogs need the therapy of hiking, but it can be a challenge. Find hikes and locations that are out and away from people and other animals. Have adequate solitude for these dogs to get in their zone and exhaust some energy and tension. Feed them a new purpose as they trek on without the possibility of any harm being inflicted.
Note that a dangerous and violent dog that has not yet been mastered enough to be under reasonable control should not be taken out into public. If you are weary of conflict breaking out between your dog and another person or dog, take much precaution to ensure you hike alone in a location unvisited by common day hikers. All dogs deserve a chance, but it takes diligence to prevent possible physical and legal dilemmas.
- Know the Laws of the Lands
The canine is a beautiful creature that commands a connection with nature and a chance to live out instinctual purpose. Though your dog lives only by the laws of nature and physics, you, the owner, live in a world of order and regulation.
I’ve got some rough news, many lands that are legal for you may not always be legal for your dog. If you are planning your dream hike through one of the wonders of the world with your pup, you may have to reschedule.
National parks offer some of the most epic hikes one can find, as they preserve incredible lands and protect them from industrialization, overcrowding, and imbalanced influx of species that can become disruptive. Unfortunately, the common house dog can pose a threat to this pristine ballance found in national parks.
Hiking trails found in the national parks are off limits to dogs. The only exceptions are for those participating in thru-hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail that intertwine with the Parks. Don’t scrap the whole trip to the park just yet. Car campsites and day use areas are perfectly fine to bring your dog as long as the parks leash requirements are met (a leash no longer than 6ft, unless otherwise posted). This lets you and yours enjoy some of the most beautiful environments while not disrupting the natural order. Just don’t plan on getting in any day hikes as leaving your dog in the car and at camp can be a real issue.
Outside National Parks
With National Park treks out of the hiking scope, there is still a nearly infinite amount of exploring to be done alongside your dog. The majority of dog-friendly hikes will probably be found at your local state parks and national forests. Here, dogs are usually welcomed and will likely get the chance to encounter other peak bound pups.
Here in Washington state, I often use the Washington Trails Association website to find dog friendly trails. There are many other sites like this one that apply in different states, just do a quick Google search and you will find information about trails in your area and the laws that surround them. These sites give you great information about the difficulty of the hike, distance, GPS directions, and pictures. Some sites even include up-to-date trail reports from real people who have been hiking the trail recently!
Luckily, most all state parks allow you to bring your dog on the trail, but leash laws vary state by state. This list tells you the leash laws of each state in regards to their state parks.
Alabama – 6 foot max leash Montana- 10 foot max leash
Alaska- Unleashed allowed Nebraska- 6 foot max leash
Arizona – Leash required Nevada- 6 foot max leash
Arkansas- Leash required New Hampshire- Leash required
California- 6 foot max leash New Jersey- 6 foot max leash
Colorado- 6 foot max leash New Mexico- 10 foot max leash
Connecticut- Leash required New York- 6 foot max leash
Delaware- 6 foot max leash North Carolina- 6 foot max leash
Florida- 6 foot max leash North Dakota- Leash required
Georgia- 6 foot max leash Ohio- Leash required
Hawaii- 6 foot max leash Oklahoma- 10 foot max leash
Idaho- 6 foot max leash Oregon- 6 foot max leash
Illinois- 10 foot max leash Pennsylvania- Unleashed allowed
Indiana- 6 foot max leash Rhode Island- Overnight areas only
Iowa- 6 foot max leash South Carolina- 6 foot max leash
Kansas- 6 foot max leash South Dakota- 10 foot max leash
Kentucky- Leash required Tennessee- Leash required
Louisiana- 6 foot max leash Texas- 6 foot max leash
Maine- 4 foot max leash Utah- 6 foot max leash
Maryland- Unleashed allowed Vermont- 10 foot max leash
Massachusetts- 10 foot max leash Virginia- 6 foot max leash
Michigan- 6 foot max leash Washington- 8 foot max leash
Minnesota- 6 foot max leash West Virginia- 10 foot max leash
Mississippi- 6 foot max leash Wisconsin- 8 foot max leash
Missouri- 10 foot max leash Wyoming- 10 foot max leash
5. Pack the Right Gear; in Your Pack and Your Dog’s
As the previous tale indicates, when hiking with a dog it is so crucial to be prepared. As self-sufficient as dogs can be, they really depend on you to keep them safe, fed, and hydrated. You should make sure you have the gear you need with you for the extent of time you will be out, and plan for errors.
Along with supplying yourselves with plenty of water and a healthy choice of edible energy, you want to bring some sort of drinking apparatus for your pet. You can find some really cool collapsable ones at R.E.I., but you can also roll the edges of a plastic sandwich bag to make a nice bowl for your dog that weighs virtually nothing. Just keep a few in your pack or your dog’s pack. Besides, any lightweight backpacker knows just how incredible the zip-lock can be for a number of outdoor living situations.
A healthy, fit, and spry juvenile or adult dog is capable of wearing their own pack. However, if you chose to rig your dog with one of these radical tactical vests, there is some key things that should be done on your part.
First of all, make sure your dog is capable of carrying weight. We already mentioned that old dogs and those with medical limitations may have some trouble with this. A younger athlete of a dog will fair much better carrying loads like their own bottle of water.
If you feel comfortable with a pack on your dog, the next step you need to take is sizing your dog accordingly. Although websites can help you gauge pack sizes by your dog’s age, breed, height and length, there is no better way to size your dog than trying packs on.
Packs are a great way to get a little load off your back by having your buddy build some muscle. But you must be careful; packs should never be overloaded. Always weigh the total weight of your dog’s pack when it is fully loaded, and ensure that it never exceeds 15% of your dog’s total weight. Also ensure it is properly fastened and not over tightened as this can lead to excess pressure on your dog’s chest and ribs. Finally, never use a heavy weight pack that will cause your dog to become hot in high temperatures.
Other items useful for your trail dog may be a set of shoes. Although it may seem comical to some, dog shoes can really save your puppy’s paws if they are tasked to climb up shale with you and can offer protection from burns on hot sand or cement as well as mittens if you hike across a lot of ice.
You should also be sure to include in either your dog’s pack or yours, poop bag, glowstick or collar lamp for night treks, and a lightweight leash with a carabiner to make clipping up easy and is endlessly useful if your dog is a runner off-leash.
6. Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
Sable moments before we realized we didn’t bring enough water for the three of us…
No one ever wants to think about their babies getting hurt, and even less do people plan on what to do in case that does actually happen. As resilient as dogs can be, they are still susceptible to getting injured. In the last 2 years I have had to take my own dog to the vet three times from hiking injuries; trust me folks, it happens much easier than you would think.
There are ways to prevent injuries from happening, such as making sure that your dog doesn’t jump down to or on to anything sharp, keeping them a safe distance from drops and ledges, and training them to not overstep their boundaries by establishing call commands that halt them.
Now, what do you do when or if an injury does occur on the trail? In addition to the items you should pack with you, you should pack a few rolls of bandage, some isopropyl alcohol, and a few sticks found on the trail. Here are a few steps to take if an injury happens:
1. Don’t panic
Although this seems cliche or obvious, panicking will only heighten the stress your dog is in and will cause you to make mistakes. When your dog is hurt, they can do no more than lick their wound. It is your responsibility to stay calm and treat the injury to the best of your ability. Take a deep breath and try to calm your dog as well as yourself.
2. Assess the damage
First, check to make sure your dog’s breathing is normal. It may be winded from running before the accident and have a bit of an increased heart rate and adrenaline spike once they are injured, but watch for a complication in breathing or profoundly unusual behaviors such as choking, coughing, or gagging.
Search for the wound and see what the damage is and whether or not it’s bleeding, something is ripped or torn, or if a bone is sprained or broken. Try to get an idea of the pain your dog is in by watching for a limp or favoring of a specific extremedy. Often times a dog will attempt to lick the injured part of its body, even a broken bone.
3. Treat the injury as best as you can from where you are
If you’re at the top of the mountain you just spent hours climbing, it can be difficult to do much of anything about their injury. It is nice to have bandage or wrap of some sort, but if you don’t, you can use a belt, shoelace, or tear off strips of a T-shirt to use as a bandage or splint. you can also use these items as a tourniquet if the situation is dire.
If your dog has a bad limb, secure it in its natural position as good as possible without cutting off circulation. If there is an open wound, be sure to stop the bleeding and apply pressure and bandage to the wound until the bleeding stops before you head out.
4. If at all possible, carry your dog
This is easiest when you have more than one person with you, but regardless if it’s reasonable, you should be carrying your dog down.
5. Treat as best as you can from your vehicle
Once you get back down to your car you may or may not have more supplies to better deal with the injury. If you do, go ahead and take care of that now, as quickly but carefully as possible.
6. Take them to the vet if necessary
If the injury is out of the scope of what you can help or take care of, you need to get your pet to the vet ASAP, lest risk infection or worsening of the injury. Find the closest one near you, and then call ahead to let them know you’re coming.
If you are following these steps, staying calm, and working diligently, your dog will be just fine. Accidents happen, so being prepared for them is most important.
Now It’s Time to Hike!
You’ve done your research, found your trail, packed all the supplies, and planned for the worst– you’re ready! Now it’s time for the most important step out of them all, enjoying the sights, sounds, and overwhelming beauty of nature alongside your furry best friend.
Getting out into nature is so important in order to decompress from our sometimes monotonous lives, and bringing your pet is a great way to unwind, bond, and enjoy the beauty this world has to offer. Happy hiking to you and your best friend!