As the weather warms up and the days get longer, there’s nothing quite like taking your best mate out for a hike in the hills. That is my happy place, and it brings me, and my dogs, a lot of joy.
It’s a great way to de-stress, strengthen the bond with your dog, learn about nature, and keep fit and healthy. But before you take yourselves off into the wild, it’s crucial that you prepare for the trip. Good planning is essential to making sure you, and your hound, enjoy the experience and get home safely.
What is a Hike?
Hiking is a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails or footpaths in the countryside. I separate walks from hikes, with food. If we have to stop and eat or drink something on the ‘walk’, it’s a hike.
Of course, hikes may take days, and these longer trips need a lot of planning. Unless you’re a seasoned hiker, you need to anticipate how your trip will unfold. If you’re going on a remote trail, or somewhere off the beaten track, it’s critical that you think ahead.
The Number One Thing To Remember About Hiking?
There may be NO cellphone coverage where you’re going!
Is It Safe To Hike With a Dog?
There are so many things you can do to make sure both you, and your hound are safe. Once you’ve decided where you’re going, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about the actual hike. Read about the trail. Are there any danger spots and areas to avoid? Plan your route to suit your circumstances. You’re supposed to be relaxing. Is it usually crowded? You may have a reactive dog who prefers less interaction with other hounds and people.
There are often blogs and reviews that you can access, to get a feeling for what lies ahead at your chosen destination.
How Do I Prepare My Dog For Hiking?
Talk to your vet about your plans. You need to know that your dog is fit and healthy before you go. Is your hound fully developed physically and able to undertake the hike you’re planning? Do any vaccinations need to be given first? Does your dog have a limiting disability, such as arthritis, that could cause pain on a long hike?
Know The Regulations
Are dogs actually allowed to go to your intended destination?
The American Hiking Society provides a lot of useful tips for hiking with your dog.
Wherever you are in the world, dogs are generally not permitted in National Parks, other than along roadways, and in towns and some campgrounds. That being said, there are always some exceptions, so do check beforehand. This National Park Service site is worth visiting.
In the US, dogs are allowed at some National Park trails.
Dogs must be on a leash which is no longer than six feet in length.
There are many forest trails your hound can go on. They are allowed to walk freely on the hike, but must be leashed in areas where other people are staying, playing, swimming or eating.
State, County, City and Regional Parks
Check the state park websites, or visit the local Department of Parks and Recreation for the region you’re interested in.
It’s vital that your hound is under control at all times, whether on, or off-leash. If you call them in, they need to be coming to you immediately. This is not only essential for the safety of your dog, but for other trail users, too. There will be other hikers, children, dogs and horses.
You need to keep your dog close to your body in tight spots when other people are passing. A good hiking harness, with a top handle is ideal for this purpose. You can also use it to grab your hound when you need to help them over rough ground, streams or walls.
If you do use a harness, make sure it’s a good fit. Remember, don’t load your dog up too heavily, and keep the weight evenly distributed.
Fitness Training To Get Your Dog Ready For Hiking
This is just the same as any other physical activity requiring a slow build-up. Start with short hikes on easy ground, maybe an hour or two. If your hound is still bounding, increase the distance next time. Try some different terrain as well. They need to get their paws toughened up for a long hike, which often means walking over rough ground, river beds, stones, tree roots and vegetation.
What To Take With You When Hiking With A Dog?
Don’t Get Lost!
Take a map showing the route, or take a picture of it and store it on your phone. If you know there’s a cell signal, a GPS is always a good idea. Two excellent resources to check out are Hiking Around The Globe, and Google Maps Treks.
Food and Water
Remember you can survive much longer without food than you can without water. Same goes for your dog. This is especially important when you’re on the move, walking for extended periods of time. Just like you, your hound will require extra fuel and hydration.
Take plenty of bottled water, even if you know there is a water supply on the hike. If you can stop your hound from drinking water from rivers, streams and puddles, you will avoid any potential health hazards for them. Many of our waterways now contain harmful bacteria, parasites or viruses. If you are going on a hiking trip for many days, and have no choice but to drink water from these sources, boil it first.
If you’re hiking on hot days, keep a watchful eye on your dog. If their nose is dry, they’re needing more water.
Nutritious dog snacks are great for keeping energy levels up during a long hike. Small amounts on a regular basis, with plenty of water, will keep your hound bounding along, for longer.
Collapsible bowls are ideal for hiking trips. They can be stored flat in your pack, and are extremely light. Make sure you get bowls that are made from BPA-free and lead-free silicone, that’s food-grade.
Collar or Harness and Leash
A sturdy harness is preferred, due to the extra safety, comfort and features it provides. There is always plenty of room for attaching an identification tag, should your hound stray too far. A harness with a grab-handle makes it easier to control your dog. If space permits, they can carry a few bits of ‘luggage’ too.
If you prefer a good collar, make sure it’s not a choke collar. These can be lethal if your dog gets caught on low branches or vegetation.
A sturdy leather or nylon leash, no longer than 6 feet. If you decide to use a retractable leash, keep your hound reeled in to maintain good control.
Dog First Aid Kit
A few basic supplies can come in very handy, and may stop a minor problem from escalating.
- Thermal Blanket – These are light, and fold up very small. Good in an emergency.
- Scissors – For cutting bandages, or your dog’s hair away from a wound.
- Cotton Wool and swabs – For cleaning and drying a wound.
- Gauze Padding – For dressing wounds, or applying pressure.
- Bandages – For covering any wound or injury.
- Instant Ice Pack – Can help with inflammation.
- Sterile Saline – This can be used to clean in and around the eyes of dogs, and to clean up wounds.
- Syringes – Handy if your dog has medications.
- Antihistamines – Can help reduce the swelling of an injury and will also aid the management of allergies.
- Hydrogen Peroxide – An antiseptic liquid for any wounds.
- Electrolyte Sachet – formulated for dogs. In case of dehydration.
- Tweezers – For removing ticks, foreign bodies, grass seeds, etc.
Check this article for more tips on treatment of summer health issues in dogs.
If your hike includes some road or highway time, it always pays to have some reflective gear on your dog. If you have a reflective collar on your hound anyway, this will serve well in low-light conditions on roads, or if you have to locate them with a torch at night.
Poop Bags or Small Spade
Never leave your dog’s waste behind. If you plan to be away for longer than a day, take a small tool for digging. Bury the poop at least 6 six inches deep, and 200 yards from the trail. Remember though, don’t bury it in a poop bag. These don’t degrade, and the poop inside them won’t be able to break-down either.
Clothing and Boots
Depending on your destination, it may get cold at night. A warm coat for your dog will be appreciated. Booties are particularly handy if you’re hiking rough terrain, and your hound suffers from sore paw pads.
Essential for wiping muddy paws, or drying off the hound after a swim. Microfiber towels are great. They pack easily and dry quickly.
Hiking Hazards For Dogs
These egg-shaped, grey-brown, blood-sucking parasites are very good at passing on infections from one animal to another. They attach themselves by biting into the skin of the host. Once they’re full, they drop off that animal, and then attach themselves to another innocent passer-by.
Ticks transmit microbes that cause diseases, such as Lyme disease and Babesiosis.
At the end of the day, when your dog has been running through vegetation and undergrowth, feel over their body for the presence of ticks.They particularly like attaching themselves to your dog’s head, ears, neck and feet.
Removing A Tick From Your Dog
It’s really important to get rid of the whole tick, and not leave it’s face burrowed in your dog’s skin. Try not to squeeze the tick, as this will force blood into your dog, and it may have come from an infected animal.
Follow these steps to remove the tick:
- Part your dog’s hair so that you can get at the tick
- Get your tweezers and gently close them on the tick as close to the skin surface as possible
- When you have a firm grasp of the tick, twist it in a clockwise direction several times until the tick comes loose
- Take a look at your dog’s skin and make sure the tick is completely removed
- Wash or sanitize your hands
Plants and Grasses
Foxtails are barbed seedpods found on many grasses during spring and summer. They can be very dangerous to dogs, because they snag on their coat, between the toes, in ears, nose, eyes and genitals. They then begin migrating inwards, and can cause infection, abscess and death. Along the way, of course, your dog suffers a lot of pain.
Areas with these grasses should be avoided. If your hound starts sneezing, coughing, shaking their head or licking excessively, check for these barbs, and remove immediately.
Dogs will occasionally chew at plants while they’re out and about. This should be discouraged. Distract them with a healthy treat, and move on.
If your dog is excessively panting, or drooling, take more breaks. Keep their fluid up, and find some shade for them to cool down. If they take a long time to normalize, or seem reluctant to carry on, go home. Keep them cool and hydrated. Let them have plenty of rest. See your vet immediately if you’re concerned.
Flooded or Swollen Rivers
If you’re in high-country areas, rivers and streams can get out of hand, very fast. An already tired dog may struggle to swim through a fast-flowing waterway. If you’re not sure, but you have to cross over, carry your dog to safety. Some dogs are not good swimmers, and there have been many hounds washed away in these circumstances.
Where Can I Hike With My Dog?
No matter where in the world you are, there are some great on-line resources, to help you find some great dog-friendly hikes. Here is a small selection for you to check out:
Leave It As You Find It
Lastly, take only photos, and leave only footprints.
The ‘Leave No Trace’ Principles:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Pre-planning your trip can be a fun part of getting ready for your hike. Once you get to your destination, adhering to a few safety principles and trail etiquette, will ensure a happy and successful hike with your dog.
It’s a fantastic experience to share with your hound, and they will enjoy it as much as you do. I absolutely love hiking with my dogs. I always feel a much stronger bond with them, and they are such joyful hiking buddies.
Enjoy yourself and the countryside, keep safe, and feel free to send some pictures.