Now that the weather is finally starting to get warm, more and more people are seeking the outdoors to pass the time and get in much needed exercise. But instead of biking or jogging, hiking has become an increasingly popular activity to engage in. Not only is it great for cardio, but it can provide you with all the sunshine and fresh air that you need.
However, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one that needs to work off those winter pounds; Fido could do with a few miles of walking himself! But there are some things you need to know before you start hiking with your dogs with summer.
Preparation is key
As exciting as it is to just pick yourself up and head right out with your dog to the nearest park, preparation is key. Not only do you have to care for your well-being, but that of your dog as well.
After all, he’s relying on you to ensure that he’s kept safe and happy during your long trek through the trails.
- Making sure your dog is ready: different breeds and ages of dogs have varying levels of endurance. Large working dogs can make mile-long treks, while smaller dogs may have more of a problem given how short their legs are. Older dogs also require more care when it comes to long bouts of exercise, so you may need to pick shorter trails or be prepared for plenty of breaks along the way. If you want to see what your dog can endure, start off on shorter hikes through the flat areas of a park and see what your dog can handle.
- Picking the right trail: although parks are open to the public, not all of them are dog-friendly. Do some research to find out which parks allow dogs on their hiking trails so that you won’t have to face any problems with park rangers (as well as avoiding any fines). When you do find a park that caters to dogs, pick a path that you know your dog can handle. You may feel up to the task to take on one of the more challenging, rocky paths, but your dog may not be up for it.
Choose a path that is free of sharp rocks, thorns and other hazards that may be damaging to your dog’s feet. You may be equipped with the best hiking boots you could find on the market, but your pet doesn’t have the luxury of having his feet protected.
- Being prepped for the long haul: hiking can certainly take the wind out of your sails, and it’s important that you bring hydration and something to eat to keep your energy levels up. The same assurances should be provided to your dog. Provide plenty of fresh drinking water to not only keep them hydrated, but it will also eliminate the temptation to drink from other bodies of water that may be filled with algae and bacteria that can make them sick.
Collapsible bowls are available for both food and water, and can fit easily into any backpack to take with you on your trip.
- Be up-to-date on vaccinations: some parks may require your dog to be current with all of his vaccinations, so be sure to bring a recent record from your veterinarian as proof. Park authorities aren’t going to take your word for it just because you have a smile on your face.
Some of the most important vaccinations include parvo, kennel cough, distemper, and the various strains of leptospirosis. These are diseases that they can contract from other animals, as well as their urine, so it’s important that you take the proper measures to keep your pet safe. Heartworm prevention and ointments to protect against fleas, ticks and mosquitoes may also be necessary to safeguard your dog’s health.
- Identifying tags: never leave your dog’s collar at home. In the event that he does get away from you, your contact information is essential in helping you get your dog back. However, collars can get caught on various things and could be ripped off. In that event, microchipping your dog is an extra bonus to having him returned to you. It involves a small biochip that’s no bigger than a grain of rice being injected just under your dog’s skin, typically right between the shoulder blades.
A vet or any other rescue agency can scan the biochip and receive your dog’s details, including your name, address and a phone number so that they can get in touch with you.
Injuries require attention
Medical emergencies should be accounted for, especially when you may be far from home. Preparing a simple first aid kit for your dog doesn’t require you to bring anything and everything that you can think of. Reading our simple guide on pet first aid is a good start to prepare for any emergencies.
Here are a few simple things you can bring on your hiking trip to ensure the health and safety of your dog.
- Saline solution: good for rinsing out a dog’s eyes. It’s easy for foreign objects to come into contact with your dog’s eyes, such as sticks, bugs and (unfortunately) skunk spray. Fill an empty eye dropper container with saline solution and you have a simple remedy for those eye troubles.
- Rubber gloves: they’re not only good for sanitary purposes when treating wounds, but they can also be used as an emergency booty for your dog if his paw is injured.
- Bandages: heavy duty bandages work best to protect a wound, as well as stay on with your dog’s rigorous activities.
- Bells: these noisemakers aren’t only for cat collars. Having a bell on your dog will help you keep track of him when he runs off ahead, and when it starts to get dark, it can be easy to lose your dog in the underbrush. Bells also serve to warn predators of your dog’s presence so that they will avoid them.
- A sturdy pair of pliers: foreign bodies can get lodged into your dog’s skin, such as thorns and quills from a porcupine. To save yourself from being stuck, having a good pair of pliers to remove them can save you the hassle and reduce your dog’s pain from the experience.
- A towel: towels can serve many purposes. They can be used to dry off your dog, to keep them warm, to be used as a cold compress for bee and wasp stings, to stave off the heat, and can be torn to form crude bandages in case of an emergency. Our piece on how to treat bee stings on dogs is a sure keeper, so read it prior to your camping trips.
It’s important that you exercise common sense when you take your dog on a hike. Most parks require that dogs be kept on leashes at all times. A sturdy leash that is at least six feet or less in length works best. Extendable leashes do nothing to keep your dog reined in, and getting tangled in the cord can only make the situation worse.
In addition to leashes, ensure that your dog’s recall manners are strong. It’s unforeseeable that you’ll lose a grip on the leash, and the last thing you want is your dog getting lost in the woods. Practice recall with your dog a few days before your trip if it’s been a while since his last lesson. It could mean the difference in keeping your dog safe.
Remember that hiking trails are shared with other people and other animals. There may be several other people who are hiking with your dogs, so it’s important that your pooch is well-mannered when encountering hikers, bikers and other dogs that you’ll share the trail with. No one wants to have an un-enjoyable experience while being outdoors, so ensure that you don’t create an environment that leads to hostility.
Lastly, remember to pick up after your pet. A few small plastic bags should be kept in your pocket to pick up any waste that your dog leaves behind. In the unfortunate circumstance that you’ve forgotten them, a small hand shovel can be used to bury your dog’s excrement. Holes should be at least six to eight inches deep, and at least two hundred feet away from any water sources.
Travel gear for your dog
In the event that your hiking takes place during the slightly colder months of the year, it’s important to be prepared for whatever the weather brings. For dogs with thinner coats, a good outer layer may be necessary in order to keep them warm. The hiking experience, after all, should be pleasant for everyone involved. Raincoats are also important to keep your dog dry and happy. They can also stave off hypothermia when the temperatures drop during the night, if you decide on camping.
In order to keep your dog’s feet safe, you can also invest in some outdoor booties. It can prevent cuts on his paws, as well as any nails being torn off. The hard, sharp rocks can also be painful for the bottom of their feet when you’ve been hiking for hours on end, and keep them warm if there is any snow on the ground. Getting your dog accustomed to foot wear may take some time, so it’s important that they become acclimated to them weeks before your hiking trip. Preparation is key, and our article on hiking accessories for your pooch will help ensure that your dog travels safely.
Hiking may seem like nothing but work for your dog, so it won’t hurt to give him a little bit of fun with a dip in the lake. It’s a great way to cool off your dog and giving them a break from the trek for some much needed recreation. However, despite the rumors, not all dogs are natural swimmers. This is something that should be discovered before he makes his first jump into a big lake.
There are personal flotation devices that are available for dogs that are unable to swim, as well as providing assistance to dogs that have exhausted themselves swimming. When looking at such devices, it’s important that you get some assistance in finding one that’s the right fit for your pet to prevent it slipping off in the water, and can also support your dog’s weight. Be sure to get a flotation device that is brightly colored to make it easy to spot your dog out in the waters.
Post-swim, be sure to check your dog’s ears and dry them out as necessary, especially if your dog has droopy ears. Water in the ears can lead to bacterial infections that are painful and uncomfortable for your dog, and may even require medical attention if it becomes too serious.
Camping the night
If you do decide to camp for the night, taking precautions is necessary to guarantee that you’re not creating a dangerous situation. It can get quite chilly at nights, so investing in an extra small sleeping bag for your dog can be very helpful. Our friends from My Outdoors Life created a list of best backpacking dog beds — it is a must-read, so check it out. If not, a dog jacket can help to keep him warm at night while you’re sleeping in your tent. Be aware that you may have to get up several times during the night to take your dog out to the bathroom, as these are new surroundings that he is unfamiliar with. When you do, be sure to take your dog as far as possible from your tent to relieve himself.
Urine is known to attract other animals, and that can create a dangerous situation that you may not be fully prepared for. In order to keep track of your dog when you take him out at night, you can affix a small LED light to his collar so you can be aware of his position. This light may also serve to warn off predators.
Just as you would with your own food, it’s important that you don’t store food in your tent with you. Bears are known for having great senses of smell, and will go through anything and everything to get to a food source, and that include the kibble you bring for your dog.
In order to keep your food safe, you can store it in a bear-resistant canister and suspend it from a tree at least ten feet above the ground and four feet away from the trunk of the tree. Bears are known for being excellent climbers, but keeping your food out of reach will ensure that you’re not without provisions during the rest of your trip.
Carry his own weight
Why bear all of the weight yourself when you can get your dog to help you? Saddlebags for dogs are becoming more and more popular, and can help you lighten your load as you travel. They come in a variety of sizes and bright colors, and are complete with several storage sections for you to store a variety of things, such as their food, their eating containers, small items from your emergency medical kit, and their booties.
Some packs even come with pockets for cooling inserts so that your pooch can stay cool on those hot days. Don’t overburden your dog, however, as this can put unnecessary strain on his back. Young, spry dogs can carry as much as twenty-five percent of their weight, while older and smaller dogs can carry up to ten percent. If you’re not sure what a good weight is, you can always check with your vet.
In order to find the right pack for your dog, it’s best to try it on your dog at the store. They typically come in five sizes based on weight — extra small, small, medium, large and extra large — and provide straps that can be adjusted to fit your dog accordingly. The middle of the pack should be on your dog’s back as you fasten the straps to create a snug fit.
You don’t want the pack to be too loose, or you’ll spend more time on your trip picking up stray items than actually hiking. You also don’t want the straps to be too tight, or you’ll make it too difficult for your dog to breathe. Check out the top backpacks especially made for dogs that we have written for you.
After a rousing day or weekend on your hiking trip, it’s important that you go through a few necessary steps to ensure that your dog’s health is still in one piece. Go over your dog’s body with a fine toothed comb to look for burs, thorns, ticks or fleas. These parasitic bugs can transmit diseases that can jeopardize the health of your dog, and you should contact your vet immediately if you find any on your pet.
Not only can they carry Lyme disease, they can also transmit anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis. All it takes is one tick bite, and it can be difficult to determine the exact symptoms in your dog until it’s too late.
Stay safe this summer with your dog, and allow them to experience the grand outdoors beyond your backyard. With proper precautions in place, hiking can become one of the most enjoyable experiences for you and your pet. Not only do they get a change of scenery, but they get to experience a whole new world of sights and smells, and jumpstart their brain activity after a long winter of staying indoors. If you’re wondering what kind of dogs will suit you, see our article on top dog breeds for trekkers and campers.
Do yourself and your dog a favor, and indulge in the wonderful activity of hiking, no matter what your experience level.