There are a few things better than camping and hiking in the great outdoors. One of which is hiking with dogs and puppers. Most dogs instinctually desire to be outside. So, a trip through a forest or down a hiking trail is bound to be a real treat. Next time you pack up your tent and sleeping bag, consider bringing Fido! It’s bound to be a good time for you and your furry pal. But, there are a few important considerations you should make beforehand. This will ensure that you and your dog are fully prepared for your adventure.
How do I get my dog physically fit for hiking?
Just like how you can’t be expected to run a marathon without any training, your dog can’t be expected to go on a hike without any prior conditioning. It takes time and practice for your dog to build the stamina required to walk for long hours on rugged terrain. Training your dog before your trip will help prevent injuries by building their muscle and joint strength.
Conditioning for dogs
Before you start, it is important to realize right away that every dog will have unique limitations no matter how much you condition them. Obviously, a German Shepard will be able to go on more demanding hikes than your average Dachshund, and that’s ok! This is meant to be a fun time to bond with your best friend out in the wilderness, no matter how far you go.
If you’re new to hiking, this is a great opportunity for you and your dog to be training partners. Just like if you were preparing for a big race, you need to give your dog plenty of time to get properly conditioned for their first hiking trip. A minimum of six months is the recommended amount of time you’ll need to assure your dog is fit and ready to go.
Now that you have determined your timeframe, it’s time to get to work! Conditioning your dog will require an everyday commitment. You can’t have them laying on the couch all week and expect to see results on the weekend. Start off with small walks or light runs lasting only about a mile or two. Gradually build from there once you see their endurance and speed improve. Patience is key, and if you don’t see significant results right away, just keep working with them. Every dog builds strength at their own rate.
Once they get some experience running, it’s time to mix it up a little bit. Take them on new routes that involve climbing some hills. If they have only run on pavement in the past, have them run in the grass or dirt. At this point, you can even start taking them on short walks or runs on your local trails. This is all a new experience for your pup. Along with gradual exposure to rigorous activity, they will need regular exposure to the wilderness.
While you are training or hiking, always be sure to watch out for signs of fatigue. Unlike your human friends, your dog can’t look at you and say, “I’m so tired. Can we take a break?” So it’s up to you to keep an eye out for any peculiar behavior. This could be anything from excessive panting to swaying of the hips in breeds like Pit Bulls. Other signs of injury to watch for include limping, rapid heart rate, and excessive licking of an area of their body. Any unusual behavior should be carefully monitored to avoid further injury.
Training your dog mentally is just as crucial as conditioning them physically. It is highly recommended to start training your dog as soon as possible. But, it’s never too late to teach an old dog a new trick. When it comes to hiking and camping, an obedient dog is a safe dog.
Keeping your dog safe while camping is a matter of them knowing these three commands: “come,” “stay,” and “leave it”. “Come” and “Stay” are important in keeping your dog close and in your range of sight. Often, if you have your dog walking the trail without a leash, they’ll start to run ahead and wander away out of curiosity.
You can teach your dog “come” and “stay” at home by having them get into a sitting position, and slowly moving away while saying “stay”. Wait a few seconds, and follow up with “come,” increasing the distance over time.
“Leave it” is the command that could save your dog’s life. If they are trying to eat animal feces or charge after a bear, learning the command “leave it” will get them to stop. Teach “leave it” at home by holding a treat in each hand. Expose the treat in your right hand so your dog can see it while hiding the treat in your left. Put your right hand on the floor with the treat underneath. Once your dog stops trying to get it, reward them with the treat from your left hand. Gradually add the verbal command “leave it,” and practice until they understand.
During training, your dog will be burning more calories than usual. Understandably, they will require some extra food to refuel for the next big workout. With food, quality is just as important as quantity, so now is not the time to go with the cheapest option. Invest in a good quality dog food that is high in essential fats and proteins, and make sure it is specific to your dog’s breed size.
When you are teaching your dog the three essential commands, you will need to reward them with treats. Make sure that your treats are also of high quality and nutritional value.
You can buy training treats at your local pet store, or try out this simple recipe:
- 2 cups of whole wheat flour
- 1/3 cup of creamy peanut butter
- 1 ½ tsp. of baking soda
- 1 cup of warm water
- 2 tbsp. of honey
- Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl until it forms a stretchy dough. Add flour as needed to achieve the right consistency.
- Roll the dough out onto a floured surface into a ¼ inch-thick sheet. Cut into bite-sized treats with a knife or cookie cutters.
- Bake at 350° for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Dog size and age
Special considerations need to be made regarding the size and age of your dog. If your dog is still in that early puppy age, you may want to wait a while before putting them on a strict training regimen. A lot of strenuous activity can do more damage to your puppy than good. On the other hand, if your dog is in its golden years, too much rigorous activity can be harmful to them as well. Their aging bones and joints are more likely to fracture under the stress of too much running or walking.
Larger breed dogs are usually the best for hiking. Their size and strength allow them to take on some rugged territory. Smaller dogs may need a little more resting time but still make excellent hiking buddies. They may require a lift now and then, but that’s what friends are for, right?
What should I bring for my dog on the hike?What should i bring for my dog while hiking?
You get hungry after a few hours of hiking, and so does your dog! Pack meal-sized portions for your dog in Ziploc bags for easy access. But, make sure to add a little extra to supplement all that energy being burned. Bring a few healthy treats along too so you can reward them when they listen and obey commands.
The easiest way to gauge when your dog might be thirsty is when you start feeling thirsty. Try to stop and give your pup a water break at least every 30 minutes. Even though they might be tempted, don’t let your dog drink from standing water or streams. They can get sick from drinking untreated water just like us.
No matter how careful you are, injuries can happen. You should always pack a first aid kit with supplies for both you and your dog. Here are a few items to consider packing:
- Anti-bacterial spray
- Gauze and tape
- Liquid bandages (regular ones can slip off their fur)
One of the most important steps to planning a hike is to put together a list of supplies that you will need. While dogs are not as high-maintenance as us, your furry friend does require a few supplies of their own.
Most hiking trails and public areas will require you to leash Fido for the safety of your dog and everyone else. Even if you are hiking in an area that does not require leashing, you should keep it handy out of respect to others on the trail. Invest in a good, strong leash, and inspect it for any tears or weak points. If your dog has a habit of pulling on their leash, a harness might be a better option.
Although your dog will most likely dread every second they have to wear them, dog shoes can save their feet from a lot of pain. They’re useful for traveling over rocky terrain and wet ground in cold temperatures. Just make sure you find a pair that fits your dog’s feet, so they don’t fall off mid-hike.
Some campsites with tents already set up have specific rules that dogs are not allowed inside. Rather than making your dog face the elements on their own, you can buy them a doggy tent. These are small tents specifically built for your dog. But let’s be honest, most of the time you two will be cuddling together in a sleeping bag.
You already planned the trip, packed the gear, and drove to the site. Now it’s time for your dog to pitch in with some of the work. Doggy packs allow your dog to carry some of their gear. Be careful not to load them up too much and risk them getting injured. The pack should be 15-25% of their body weight based on their fitness level, so it works well for carrying food, treats, and toys.
Dog waste bags
This is just proper trail etiquette. Bring several bags for cleaning up your dog’s waste. Not only is it unpleasant to step in, but other dogs might try to eat it. You can use something as simple as a trash bag, or the trendy dog waste bags available at pet stores.
What are dog hiking regulations and etiquette?
It pays to do your research on dog regulations at the park or area you are planning to hike at. Some parks don’t even allow dogs on their trails. Most parks that do allow your dogs to hike with you have some leashing requirements. Often you’ll need a leash shorter than 6 feet. You can easily find dog regulations by going to your park’s website or calling the information line. Even if your selected park does not require your dog to be leashed, you should always bring one along. Finally, be sure to always practice good trail etiquette.
Proper trail etiquette when hiking with dogs:
- Do not let your dog go up to a person without asking them first
- Do not let your dog go up to another dog without asking the owner first
- Watch for aggression signs when meeting other dogs (tense muscles, growling, or pulling away)
- Clean up after them
What kind of weather is best for dogs?
Your dog is just like you. They prefer it to be not too hot and not too cold. If you’re uncomfortable, they most likely are too. Don’t let the thick coat of fur deceive you. Dogs can get cold and become susceptible to hypothermia, especially if they get damp. When the temperature starts to get down to around 35 degrees, consider buying your dog a jacket. A pair of booties for damp ground will help their paws stay warm too.
Watch out for these warning signs of hypothermia:
- Becoming less alert
- Muscle stiffness
Hot weather can be extremely harmful to your dog, so take provision to make sure that Fido doesn’t overheat. Try to only hike at times when the sun is low. If you do get stuck hiking in the extreme heat, keep the pace slow and stop for water and shade whenever possible. If there is a lake or river nearby, take your dog for a nice swim or splash them with water to cool off. The last thing you want is for your dog to get overheated, or worse, develop heat stroke.
Keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Thick saliva
- Bright red tongue and gums
- Excessive panting
- Laying down or stopping mid-walk
- If you see any of these symptoms of extreme hot or cold weather, it is time to stop the hike and seek medical attention for your dog.
What do I do if my dog gets a tick bite or poison ivy?
Aside from your usual cuts and scrapes, other mishaps can occur during your hike. Your dog will be walking through forests with brush and trees filled with bugs and other things. These misfortunes are common, and there are ways to handle them quickly and safely.
Poison ivy is just as annoying and painful for dogs as it is for humans. Your dog is most likely to run into poison ivy along trails where the path meets the forest. A dog’s fur does a great job of protecting them from the elements and other potentially harmful things. But, areas covered by little fur are the most susceptible to getting poison ivy. This includes the groin area, face, and underarms. If your dog has short hair, their entire body is prone to becoming itchy and red if they come into contact with the plant. If you think your dog may have come into contact with poison ivy, look for red bumps that resemble the poison ivy rash that we get. Left untreated, the area can become infected and painful, so catch it early and treat it fast. If you see your dog has poison ivy, bathe them with a special dog shampoo formulated to treat itchy skin. Try to stop them from scratching the affected area.
We all know how devastating a tick bite can be to a human, causing horrible illnesses like Lyme disease. Unfortunately, dogs are not immune to these diseases either. Anytime when you are hiking in the woods, you run the risk of coming into contact with a tick. The key to minimizing the effects of a tick bite is prevention. You should check your dog for ticks periodically, especially if you walk through thick brush. When you are done hiking, give your dog’s body a thorough inspection. If you find a tick, remove it at the base with a pair of tweezers. Check to make sure you got the entire tick out, including the head. Clean and disinfect the bite area, and prevent your dog from scratching or irritating it. After treating the wound, keep an eye on your dog in case they start to exhibit strange symptoms. Seek immediate attention from a vet if you notice anything off. If untreated, your dog may be infected with one of the many tick-borne diseases including:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
There will always be risks associated with taking your dog hiking with you. But, with a little preparation and planning, you will both have the time of your lives!