Many of the rules for hiking with humans also apply to hiking with dogs. If you’re an experienced hiker, you have a head start in knowing how to prepare for a hike and many of the same practices apply to hiking with dogs.
In Utah, you’ll find lots of great trails that are dog-friendly and offer gorgeous views and chances for you and your dog to explore. Of course, if you’re not careful and don’t take the time to properly prepare, you may end up with an injured pooch- or an emergency trip to the vet.
While it’s fairly unlikely, you do have to keep in mind the possibility that your dog could get sick or injured while you are hiking. There’s even a possibility that he will end up getting lost when he takes off for an instinctive scavenger hunt. Always be prepared every time you adventure with your pup.
You need to check and make sure a particular path is dog-friendly before heading out. You need to be sure that you avoid going on trails that have steep hills or sharp rocks. In addition, you want to stay away from those trails that are frequented by individuals riding horses or mountain bikes. These types of trails typically have a pretty rough terrain that’s not suitable for your dog’s soft paws. In addition, your dog may not be comfortable around riders.
If you don’t already have a trail in mind, do some research by checking with your state’s Park Commission or asking friends and family.
Keep in mind that if you have a puppy, it’s not the best idea to take him out into the hills unless you want to end up carrying him the whole time. If you plan on taking short hikes at first to get him used to it, you may want to get a carrying pack for your puppy. However, if you plan on taking longer treks, it could put a strain on your back if you’re not used to carrying a heavy load.
Of course, just because your dog is old enough doesn’t mean that you need to take off on a long trip. You should take the time to condition him to being outdoors. Spend time outdoors- but not too much- just enough to get him used to the elements and harden his paws. If you’re really worried about the pads of his feet, you might want to invest in some dog booties (although some dogs really don’t like wearing them).
Before you plan a hike, make sure to take the age and energy level of your dog into consideration. After all, senior dogs may not even be able to tolerate short hikes. If you have a sedentary dog, he may not enjoy being outside. So, for the first few trips, take short hikes. This will help you decide if your dog will enjoy it or not.
When you have your pooch out and about, it’s very important that you keep him on a leash in certain areas- especially if there are lots of strangers and other dogs around or if you are where your dog could get in trouble. Make sure that you have worked with your dog and gotten him leash trained- especially on not pulling, since this is one of the most important commands.
Avoid using a retractable leash. While they are great for using on a daily basis and shorter walks around the block, your dog may tend to be more excited out on a trail and you’ll both end up having issues if you use a retractable leash.
A harness is very helpful as well because it will allow you to secure your dog in the car to keep him from jumping around and it will also keep him safe while he’s on the leash. The harness will distribute the leash pressure through the chest instead of the neck, like collars do. Plus, a harness will be easier to hold if you come across other hikers and you don’t have the time you need to secure his leash.
The amount of food and water you bring along with you on your hike depends heavily on how much you and your dog eat, how long you plan to be out, the weather, where you are heading, and how likely it is that you will stay over or get lost.
Take the time to figure out how much you are going to need and then bring a little extra water for both you and your dog. Dehydration is quite likely, especially in the warmer months and is something that can lead to severe health problems.
If your dog is a large breed, you can have him do some of the work for you. Consider purchasing a hiking backpack for your dog if he is strong enough to carry supplies. This may only take a few pounds off of your back, but every pound counts when hiking!
Of course, before you put a pack on your dog, make sure to take the time to do your research. Make sure it’s not heavier than 20 percent of his weight and be sure to purchase a pack that will fit him properly. If the backpack is too loose/tight it can cause chafing or even lacerations that will make your dog miserable on the hike.
Think about this: what if your dog sees/hears a squirrel over the horizon and his natural instincts kick in. He’s going to try to run off after the prey. This could potentially result in your dog becoming injured or lost. Therefore, you must realize that there are going to be other animals on the trail.
Depending on the area you are in, you may encounter horses, other dogs, snakes, coyotes, and/or mountain lions. This is another area where proper training will come in handy. In addition to training, you must be completely confident that your dog is going to listen. If you can’t say that you’re confident, you shouldn’t take him off the leash/harness.
Of course, there is always a chance that a freak rain shower will pop up. However, if you have a good idea of what the weather is going to do, it can be helpful. You can deal with snow by putting on an extra layer- you might even consider getting a coat for your dog. However, the extreme heat or strong rains are going to be more of a challenge for you both.
While you can’t really do a whole lot if the rain pops up suddenly, you do want to make sure you get your dog dried off as soon as you reach the base. After all, dogs can develop hypothermia as well as humans, so it’s best to play it safe. If you are going on a short hike, you can leave a towel in your car and dry your dog off when you get back. Make sure to pay close attention to the weather for a few days before the hike to help you be prepared.
As mentioned, heat is very difficult to deal with when you’re hiking with your dog. If you’re hiking in hot weather, make sure that you take it slow, take breaks and rest in the shade as much as you can. Of course, you also want to make sure you stay hydrated and keep your dog hydrated too.
If you notice that your dog is exhibiting symptoms of dehydration such as drooling, pale gums, fatigue, refusing to move, excessive panting, thick & sticky saliva, and a red tongue- take a break and have your dog drink some water as soon as you can. If you do think your dog is dehydrated, head back right away. You may even want to go straight to the vet for IV fluids.
The whole point of taking your dog out on a hike is to enjoy some time together and get away from everyday life. Don’t get too focused on whether or not your dog is having fun- he certainly will! Avoid smothering him with attention- give him time to look around and explore, but pay attention so that he doesn’t get lost or hurt.
I love the saying, “proper planning prevents poor performance” and this certainly applies to taking your dog on a hike. If you are adequately prepared for your hike, you and your dog will have a much more enjoyable experience!
Kevin is the webmaster and head honcho at The Bark Buzz. I am many other things too- a dog lover, outdoor enthusiast, Eagle Scout, DJ, event organizer and someone who manages to stay up on a snowboard (most of the time). Thanks for reading this article, I hope you enjoyed it!