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Bark n Wag 15 Minute Vet Talk

Jun 24, 2022

Dogs can be excellent company in the outdoors. Exploring the wilderness with a furry friend can be an incredibly fun and bonding experience, but only if you plan ahead. If you don’t, bringing your dog could be a dangerous mistake, one that ends abruptly, unpleasantly, or even tragically.

What do you need to know, bring, do, and avoid when camping or hiking with your dog?

  • First, you’ll want to determine if your dog is capable of making the trip.
  • Next, locate dog-friendly outdoor adventure spots.
  • Prepare your dog physically for outdoor adventures.
  • Learn proper trail etiquette for dogs and their owners.
  • Learn how to deal with dog poop on a long hike or backpacking trip.
  • Know the most common dangers and threats to dogs while hiking.
  • Learn how to load a dog’s pack properly (and what to bring to ensure your pet’s comfort and safety).
  • Make your own dog booties (if you want) dog bootie instructions.
  • Find answers to other frequently asked questions about hiking with your dog.

Below, you’ll find everything you need to know to adventure safely and optimize the fun for both you and your pet. 

Can I Take My Dog for a Hike?

First, it’s important to recognize that not all dogs are capable of hiking. Since your dog will do her best to keep up with you, possibly at the risk of her own health or safety, it’s up to you to be realistic about what you’re asking your pet to do.

  • Dogs that are very young or old may not only lack the stamina and strength for the trip, but their immune systems might make them even more vulnerable. (Old dogs might still go on hikes if you keep these tips in mind.)
  • Any dog that has health issues or isn’t physically fit enough to exercise all day and endure temperature fluctuations might not make the best hiking buddy.
  • Brachycephalic breeds (short-muzzled dogs)—like pugs, boxers, and Boston terriers—do not do well in heat and are not known for their endurance. Their shortened muzzles and narrowed nares actually make it quite dangerous to take them out in the heat or on endurance hikes. These breeds are at higher risk of heat stroke and exercise intolerance. That doesn’t mean they can’t kill it on shorter jaunts; just use caution.
  • Breeds that might get overly excited in nature, like scent and sight hounds or dogs with high prey drive, are not ideal in the wild. Some can be conditioned out of these behaviors and learn to obey whistles and commands, but these dogs are more likely to take off after something and ignore your commands.
  • Dogs that are not properly trained and don’t follow commands can be a danger to themselves, to other hikers, and to wildlife, so they should be left at home.
  • Don’t overestimate your dog’s capabilities, even if she regularly accompanies you on walks. Consider the terrain and weather conditions of that specific trail. Is the ground steep, jagged, icy, or slippery? Will it be extremely hot, and will there be enough shade?
  • Check with your vet to see if your dog is ready for action. Make sure you are up-to-date on vaccinations and ask the vet about medical or preventative measures to take for waterborne pathogens and the treatment of snakebites and parasites (like ticks). If you microchip your dog, then you’ll have some way of locating her if you get separated on the trail.

Is my puppy too young for hiking?  

Michelle Richardson, a vet in Helena, Montana, advises waiting until your puppy has received all her shots (about five months) before taking her on the trail, and keeping hikes shorter than one hour to start. DHPP, a combo vaccination administered serially, will be required, as is a rabies shot which is given at 4 months. You can also elect to get the Leptospirosis vaccination, which will protect her from pathogens found in wildlife urine.

taking rest breaks while hiking with dogs Every hiker needs a break every once in a while—even the canine kind.Lottie

Where Can I Take My Dog Hiking or Camping?

Once you’ve determined that your dog is indeed capable of hiking, the first thing to consider is location. Many trails and campsites require leashes or don’t welcome dogs at all, so you’ll need to do your research ahead of time. Most national parks don’t allow dogs, and if they do, they require leashes at all times and sometimes require that you keep your dog on paved trails. Take some time to get to know the rules and regulations of that specific trail or campsite, and familiarize yourself with the wildlife (and possible dangers and hazards) to watch out for.

Look for places that are “easy on the paws,” advises Craig Romano, author of Best Hikes with Dogs Inland Northwest. Pick shady trails with soft, leaf- or needle-covered terrain; avoid paths littered with sharp rocks, off-trail routes with steep drops, and any surface that gets very hot. “Stay away from areas with heavy horse use and mountain bikes,” he adds, since they increase the risk of injury.

How to Prepare Your Dog for Camping or Hiking

In order to get your dog mentally and physically prepared for the trip, you’ll want to do the following:

Practice by taking small hikes ahead of time.

Build up to longer trips with a series of shorter hikes. Start small, with easy or short walks, and work your way up from there. Begin on a relatively flat and smooth surface, monitoring your dog’s response. If she still has energy after an hour or so, increase the next hike’s difficulty and add distance, slowly building up stamina and strength.

Prepare your dog’s feet to go the distance.

The small practice hikes are also your opportunity to toughen up your dog’s paws or get her used to wearing those snazzy hiking booties you bought for her. A paw salve might help to condition her feet for longer treks. If she’ll be sleeping in a tent, be sure to trim her nails pretrip to prevent rips in the tent floor.

Reinforce your dog’s obedience training.

It’s your job to keep your pet with you and under control at all times, both on- and off-leash. Even if you think you’re alone on the trail, your dog should always be within sight and close enough to hear your commands. No matter how well-trained she usually is, the excitement of the new setting is likely to require a refresher course in obedience. On practice hikes, make sure she remembers how to listen, sit, stay, heel, and come. Consider recall training with a whistle that can be heard 400 yards away.

Teach your dog the rules of the trail.

Even the most well-behaved dog will need to learn some new tricks for the trail. See the section on proper trail etiquette below, and read “How to Train Your Dog For the Trail.

hiking with your dog in heavy undergrowth When hiking with a dog, it’s important to keep her under control at all times. Obey every trail rule and use proper trail etiquette.Ryan Somma

Rules and Proper Trail Etiquette for Hiking With a Dog

  • Keep your dog under control at all times. She should always be within eye- and ear-shot. If the trail requires leashes or if there is any risk that she might run into or jump up onto other hikers, keep her on a short leash (six feet or less) since a long leash is more likely to get tangled on brush. Even if you’re sitting safely at a campsite, your dog should not be allowed to roam freely. Here’s more information about hiking off-leash.
  • Yield to other hikers and riders. Always step off the trail make your dog heel when others approach.
  • Communicate proactively. When you meet someone on the trail, let them know that your dog is friendly and communicate that calmness to the dog.
  • Don’t try to manage more than one dog. If you need to bring two, bring another human to help. But no matter how many hikers are in your group, don’t try to manage more than two dogs, because three or more becomes a pack, and packs of dogs may be harder to manage.
  • Leave no trace. Bring bags to collect and carry out your dog’s poop. If you’ll be backpacking overnight, bring a shovel to bury it at least 8” deep and at least 200 feet from walkways, camping sites, and water sources.
  • Protect the wildlife. Don’t let your dog stray off the trail to chase animals, run through the foliage, or play in water. The natural flora and fauna will need to be protected from your pet’s curiosity and enthusiasm (and not only that, but some plants are poisonous, and some creatures bite back and may host dangerous viruses or diseases).

How to Deal With Dog Poop on the Trail

Although a bear can poop in the woods, your dog definitely shouldn’t. Dog poop is extremely disruptive to native fauna. Many wild animals communicate via scent (fecal, too), and dog poop can interrupt territorial claims and cause distress. So if you care about the nature you’re walking through, you’ll avoid this disruption.

The old rule ‘pack it in, pack it out’ also applies to dog poop. Don’t forget to bring bags to collect it all and carry it out. If you’ll be hauling it long distances, bring extras for double-bagging to ensure against leakage. If you’ll be camping overnight or don’t want to carry it, bring a shovel to bury it at least 8” deep and at least 200 feet from walkways, camping sites, and water sources. If you bury it, don’t use a bag.