Before you hit the trails, consider the safety of your four-legged friend.
By Trent Jonas
You love to hike, and your best furry friend loves to go on walks with you—so there's really no better experience than bringing your dog on a hike with you. But before you decide to hit the trails, first consider your dog's protection and safety. From understanding your dog's stamina to practicing trail etiquette, here are a few things to know about keeping your dog safe while hiking.
You know your dog, and simply put, not all pups are all-terrain dogs. Take into consideration whether your dog’s paws and stamina are up for the length of hike you’re contemplating and the terrain you’ll be trekking. If you’re uncertain, start training your pet for longer distances and different terrains by taking shorter walks on neighborhood trails.
Another thing to consider is your pup’s immune system. Is your dog old enough to hit the trail and up to date on vaccinations? Is there anything you need to worry about on the trails you plan to visit, such as giardia-contaminated water? Research the area where you want to hike. Then let your veterinarian know about your plans and ask about any recommended precautions before you go.
Before packing up your pup and heading for the trail, check the pet rules and regulations for the place you want to hike. Dogs are not permitted on all trails. Many national parks, in fact, don’t permit pets of any kind in certain areas. This is for the protection of both your dog and the area’s ecosystem. In places where dogs are permitted, a leash is almost always required. Check before you go and be prepared to abide by the rules: You don’t want your dog to get hurt—and you don’t want a citation to injure your wallet.
When researching the area that you plan to hike, take note of any plants, creatures, or potential pathogens that could affect your dog’s health. Are there venomous reptiles, spiders, or insects? Infected ticks or mosquitoes? Poisonous plants along the trail? Try and find out if there are any known animal outbreaks where you’re going, like rabies (often occurring in raccoons and skunks) or bubonic plague (common in prairie dog populations). Consult with your vet and find out what you should keep in your dog first aid kit—and yes, pack a dog-specific first aid kit.
Think about what you need to pack for your pup. If the weather is going to be cooler, consider bringing a sweater and/or paw covers. Bring snacks—if you’re hiking in bear country, keep the snacks in a zipper bag or something that will help to suppress the scent. Will there be adequate water where you’re hiking? If not, pack it in. For longer hikes that require more gear for your furry friend, consider letting the pup share the load with a dog pack, like those made by Ruffwear.
Being a good dog hiker means more than just keeping your pet on a leash. You have to maintain control of your pup at all times. Your dog must learn to remain calm when approaching other people, dogs, horses or bikers on trail. S/he has to respond to your commands and refrain from wandering off the trail into areas where your dog could do harm or get hurt.
When on trail, Leave No Trace (LNT) principles apply to dogs just as they do to humans. This means your dog must stay on the pre-existing, designated trails. You are responsible for picking up and packing out your pup’s poop—or burying it (unbagged) in a cathole at least 200 feet from the nearest trail or water source. Prevent your dog from digging along the trail or harassing wildlife—as much for your pup’s own safety as for the safety of the environment.