Hiking with dogs is a rewarding experience, but it's not without its own set of challenges not the least of which is finding dog-friendly hiking trails that engage your pup from start to finish. Read on for a list of some tips for making your hiking outing a safe and fun experience for him.
Hiking can be strenuous exercise, even for your dog, so it's a good idea to consult your veterinarian before lacing (and leashing) up. Talk to your vet about how much physical activity your hiking buddy can handle for his age and breed, and how many extra calories you should plan to feed him each day of the hike to replenish his energy. Be sure all of his vaccinations and other pest prevention treatments are up to date, too, as he can pick up dangerous protozoa from untreated water or catch fleas and ticks from grasses and other greenery on the trail.
If your dog isn't used to hiking, ease him into it by gradually increasing the length of his walks. Get him used to carrying a dog hiking pack by first letting him wear it around the house and yard, gradually adding weight as you take him on more lengthy walks. REI suggests most dogs in good physical condition can carry up to one-third of their body weight, but again, you should check with your vet to see what's suitable for your own buddy.
Don't just plan for your own accidents or health issues; look over your pet insurance policy so you'll know what's covered for him, or consider purchasing a plan if you haven't already. Look up the nearest emergency vet to where you'll be hiking and keep their contact info handy, and you should study up on doggy first aid for on-the-spot treatment. You might even take a class, offered by many large retail pet store chains.
You can purchase a ready-made first-aid kit or assemble one yourself from the care items you have at home. The Clymb recommends assembling a doggy kit that includes the following:
While hiking with dogs, your first priority should be your dog's safety right alongside that of other hikers on the trail. Although some dog-friendly hiking trails don't require your canine to be on a leash, it's best to keep him on a short one six feet or less& unless you can maintain firm control of him otherwise. For hands-free hiking, use a carabiner to clip his leash to your belt or backpack and keep him from wandering too far away from a trail you may not already be familiar with.
Many of the supplies you bring will depend on the weather conditions typical to the area, but it's important to plan ahead for any eventuality. In general, remember to bring the following supplies:
First and foremost, he'll need more food and water than he typically consumes at home, but how much more depends both on the hike and your companion. Check with his vet to determine the right amount, and be sure to pack collapsible dishes for him, too.
You may opt to fit him with a pack that has a built-in hydration system; if not, be sure to pack plenty of extra water in your bag. Even if you're sure to find water on the trail, pack a water filter or water purification solution to protect your dog from contracting giardia, which the VCA Hospitals explain can contaminate natural water supplies.
Some vets recommend adding oral electrolytes to the water itself for replenishing electrolytes after a strenuous hike. Again, ask your vet if this is right (and how much) for your dog.
Protect your dog's nose, ears, and other thin coats of fur from sunburn with canine sunscreen. And as much as your dog might not like wearing them, dog boots will protect his tender paws from everything from hot surfaces, to snow, to rough and rocky terrain. For all other areas of exposed skin, pliers and tweezers should be on hand for pulling out thorns, burrs, or splinters he may pick up on the trail.
Depending on the weather and the length of the hike, and whether you'll be camping overnight, you may also want to bring a sleep pad or child-sized sleeping bag to make sure he is comfortable overnight, as well as a vest or coat to keep him warm. If it's hot and humid, keep in mind dogs don't sweat through their pores as easily as you do. Bring a cooling vest to help him stay comfortable.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.