Backpacking with Dogs: Essentials Tips And Tricks

Backpacking with Dogs
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Backpacking with dogs can be one of the most enjoyable and memorable life experiences that a pet owner can have during their lifetime. With all of our time spent either at work or attending school, it can be difficult to find the right time to really spend a whole day or even weeks with your dog and do something that you both enjoy. Going for hikes and exploring areas in the back country gives you the opportunity to take a breather from your monotonous routine, but it also allows you to enjoy what nature really has in store for living and breathing creatures.

Being alone with your dog in a forest, a lake, a hike trail or a wildlife area helps you focus more on what your basic needs are in life. This includes food, health, shelter, and protection. In the city, we tend to forget what these essentials are and being in the back country helps us realize what the basic necessities for living really are.

Since you will be spending a lot of time walking, you also need to limit the amount of stuff that you can bring with you. But with the amount of risks that you also face in living in such areas, you also have to come ready for whatever emergency you may face during your travel. With these factors in mind, you can then begin packing for the most important objects that you should bring for backpacking with a pet.

Preparation is the key

In any kind of human endeavor, it is important to be well-prepared before taking on the task at hand and this applies with backpacking as well. Knowledge and understanding of the various factors that can affect your travel are important in order to handle the trip well. You can take a look on our previous piece on how to get your dog ready for longer hikes.

Helping your dog

Emergency situations such as accidents and natural disasters should also be well-studied so you can easily face worst-case scenarios if ever they occur. Here are some things that you can do to help you and your pet prepare for the trip:

  • Contact the management or park representatives if they allow dogs on the trail or park. The first thing that you need to know, of course, is whether the place that you wish to visit actually allows pets in their areas. A majority of national parks do not actually allow pets except when they are service dogs of the visitor. In some cases, they will be allowed but have to be put on a leash. Knowing the rules and regulations of the park or area will also help you avoid violating them and incurring penalties and fees.
  • Ask your vet if your dog is ready for the kind of hike that you intend to do. This is to make sure that your pet is physically capable of doing your planned activity. For example, a puppy cannot be taken on long hikes and nursing dogs cannot be taken as well except when they have fully weaned their puppies. Rough terrains will also require thicker foot pads so it would not be a good idea if your dog has not done miles of walking in the past.
  • Have your dog vaccinated for diseases that are common in the area you wish to explore. It is one of the best things that you can do to help your dog avoid any serious ailments that can be found in the wild. Examples of these diseases include Lyme disease, rabies, and Giardia which can be gotten from unsafe water and wild animals. These diseases are life-threatening so make sure you get your pet vaccinated if you don’t want to lose them after hiking. Your dog needs to be vaccinated while still a pup, and our time schedule for puppy vaccination will ensure you don’t miss any.
  • Study the area that you wish to hike at least a week before going. This is one of the most important steps that you need to take if you really want to ensure the safety and security of both yourself and your pet. Research if there will be bears and other wildlife which can pose some serious threat during your trip. Also, it will also help your with your bearing and directions in case you get off the trail. This will also help you prepare the kind of equipment that you will need.
  • Make sure that your dog is well-trained to follow voice commands. Since you will be visiting a public area, it is important to take other people’s comfort into consideration as well. It is important that your dog should be well-socialized so there would be no risk of aggression either towards other people or other pets. They should also follow your commands even with the numerous amounts of distractions that are present. Our article on basic dog training will ensure that you and your dog have a wonderful hike so don’t forget to check it out.
    Remember that these people are also there to enjoy their time and to enjoy some peace and quiet with no threat of being bitten or disturbed by a dog.

Gather the right stuff

When going into a forested or wilderness area, it is important to be well-prepared with the things that you may need for whatever may happen during your stay there. Tailor your equipment to what you and your pet would really need during the trip and never sacrifice quality. This is really important especially in cases of life-threatening situations. Our tips on how to pack a doggie kit essential for survival will help you jump start your hiking expedition with your pet.

Be prepared for whatever temperatures you may face during the day and also at night, if you plan on sleeping there.

Get all the stuff for your dog

Also, if you will be planning to take a swim in a lake or a beach, make sure that you have personal flotation device in hand for your pet.

  • Put your dog on a leash. This is one of the top priorities when backpacking with a dog since you will be walking on a trail where other people and wild animals may be present. Having your dog on a leash gives you more control of their actions and will also help prevent any untoward incident. There will be people who may be scared of dogs or your dog can turn suddenly aggressive towards them and cause some injury.
    Chasing wildlife is also a great possibility especially if your pet has a prey instinct. It would be much better if you can attach the leash to a harness or a vest instead of a collar since these puts the pressure on the dog’s shoulders and body which is sturdier than their neck. Go for 10 to 6 foot-long leashes and those which can be tied around your waist or on your backpack. Carry a spare just in case the one you are using snaps or gets lost. We have a list on the top dog leashes, collars and harnesses to  make sure your dog are kept safe during your hiking.
  • Get them the proper outfit for the hike. Putting your dog on the right clothes for the kind of weather that you will be hiking presents a lot of advantage. If you will be hiking on warm or hot temperatures, find some cooling pads, bandannas, or vests that are made specifically for it. These are often made to be drenched in water before using and have fabrics that allow air to go through it.
    During colder temperatures, it would be best if you can put your dog in a fleece coat or vest and some booties. Although booties are also recommendable for hot weather, you need to take them off from time to time to avoid overheating as well as to allow their skin to breathe. Some pet owners are avid trekkers even in the winter months so make sure your beloved pet has the best dog boots to keep Fido safe, as we’ve outlined in our article. You may also need to get them a dog raincoat if there will be any chance of rain occurring.
  • Invest in some quality and well-fitting dog backpack. Since you will need all the space that you can get out of your own backpack, it would be a good idea to have your dog carry some as well. Now putting a backpack on your dog should be done with sufficient training beforehand and should also be done with consideration on his or her capacity. At best, an average dog can carry from 10% to 25% of his total weight whereas a more physically well-built dog can take on as much as 30%.
    Find a dog pack that is made of high quality materials and is weather-resistant as well to get the most out of your investment. It also has to fit your dog perfectly or you can risk damaging your dog’s spine especially if the weights on the packs are unequally distributed. The pack’s weight should also be centered more on the shoulder or upper body area instead of the middle. Do see our  guidelines and a list of the topnotch backpacks for your dog for more information.
  • Bring a good tent and a bed for your dog. If you are planning to sleep the night in the park, then having a heavy-duty tent would be a must. This is to protect you from extremes temperature, rain, insects, smaller animals, and also against summer heat; it will be a good place to rest after a long and exhausting walk. Like you, your dog will also need a place to sleep on during the night. You can find a lot of light yet warm materials on the market that are definitely suitable for backpacking.
  • Have sufficient food and water. One of the best ways to determine just how much your dog would need would be to ask your vet about it. They will be better able to calculate the amount of calories that your dog will expend and how much they need in order to maintain their strength throughout the trip. An easier rule of thumb though is to add as much as 50% of their regular serving to each of their meals. This is to compensate for the added physical exertion and wear and tear of the body.
    Feeding your dog kibble as you walk will also help maintain their strength. Make sure you’re feeding your dog the top dry kibble that we’ve outlined in a previous article. Your pet would also need a lot of water since physical activities add up to their body heat. Measure out about a quart of water for each 10 to 15 minutes of hiking that you do. Watch out for signs of dehydration and exhaustion as pushing your dog to the limit can kill them. Some of the signs to look out for are:

    • Refusing to move
    • Excessive panting with their tongue towards the side
    • Drooling
    • Thickened saliva
    • Bright red coloration of the tongue
    • Pale or red gums
    • Disorientation

    If you see sign of dehydration, stop and look for a shaded area where you and your dog can cool off. Wipe them down with a wet towel especially in their armpits. Give your dog clean filtered water as this will also help prevent them from drinking in unsafe sources such as streams, lakes, or stagnant pools of water. It is best to take them on a hike during the early morning or afternoon in order to avoid extremely hot temperatures. Why not read on how to determine the right amount of water for your dog that we’ve written in a previous piece.
    Avoid rocky surfaces and higher elevations as these will expose your dog’s foot pads to high heat. Be mindful of your dog’s coat thickness and coloration as well. Long-haired, double-coated and dark-colored dogs will heat up faster than those having short, single-coated, and light-colored ones.

  • Pack a dog first-aid kit. Since your dog will be romping around in the wild without the shoes and clothes that you have, it is important to carry first-aid medications in case they get into some injuries. We’ve written a great piece on dog medical kits for any emergency situations that you can read to be prepared. Some of the more common incidences during a hike include getting thorns on their feet, swollen and bleeding foot pads, accidentally drinking contaminated water, and wounds from animal bites or from sharp rocks. Your kit should contain:
    • Betadine or hydrogen peroxide
    • Bandages
    • Gauze pads
    • Tweezers
    • Aspirin for pain
    • Book about dog first-aid
    • Topical antibiotics
    • Multi-tool
    • Vet wrap
    • Benadryl for allergies
  • Pick up or bury your dog’s poop. This is one of the major issues about taking a dog on backpacking and hiking activities as you have the option to either carry it in a plastic bag or you could try to bury it. Well some opine that since dogs do not belong in the wild, their poop will disturb the natural composition of the land. Others, however, opt to bury it there since it will decompose anyway.
    I guess the answer depends on how long you will be staying in the woods. If you will be going home the same day, then it would be better to bring it with you and dump it at the proper disposal but if you will be spending days or weeks in the forest, then perhaps burying it would be a better option. Make sure though that you will be burying it at least 200 meters away from the trail and from the camp site. There are occurences when dogs eat their own poop as we’ve outlined in a previous article, so read on the causes and how to prevent that.

Backpacking etiquette when you have a dog

Just like in other activities where you need to interact with human beings, backpacking with a pet will also require some etiquette if you do not want to draw the ire or disgust from other hikers.

Dog gear for hiking

It is important to follow these rules properly in order to protect other hikers and the preservation of the park as well.

  • Stay on the trail. A lot of people encounter mishaps just because they chose to go on their own adventure but the fact is that the trail was put there to guide you into the safest route that you could take in that area.
  • Keep your dog well-behaved. This means not allowing your dog to roam around without a leash and letting them meddle with other people without their consent. Your dog must not also be a barker or an aggressive dog otherwise they would ruin other people’s hikes. Make sure your dog is already sociable with other animals and humans, and you can read it on our previous piece on how to teach your furball to socialize.
  • Don’t contaminate springs, lakes, and other bodies of water. This is particularly important if that body of water is being used for drinking. Some of the don’ts within these areas include urinating, washing of clothes or cooking utensils, bathing, and playing around. These should be done at least 200 meters away.
  • Don’t kill plants and animals. This is to conserve the existing ecosystem and also to preserve the wildlife. The act of killing and chasing wild animals can drastically affect the balance of a park’s ecosystem.
  • Don’t live fires burning unattended. When leaving a campsite, make sure that the fires are totally put out. Even a small charcoal left burning can lead to forest fire given the right circumstances.
  • Leave no trace. When you go on a hike, leave your trail as if you have not been there. This means picking up and burning your trash and avoiding any significant digging and cutting of branches.

Going out to explore a wilderness area with your dog can be one of the most exciting and memorable activities in your life but this should be done with sufficient preparation and knowledge of what is at hand.

See to it that your pet’s current physical condition and health is suited for the task and that you bring enough provisions for their sustained health.

Hiking with dog

But together with your responsibility to your dog also comes your responsibility towards other people in the hiking area as well as to the park itself. Make sure that you can control your dog at all times, leave no trash behind, and strive to conserve and respect the natural inhabitants of the park.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.