If you decided to bring your dog for a hike, you’ve made a great choice!
Hiking with your dog can be an amazing bonding experience and will create the best memories. But you might come to find that hiking’s not always trail mix and butterflies — it can get pretty dangerous if you’re not prepared.
The Dodo reached out to a few veterinarians for tips on hiking with dogs, including how to prepare, how to keep your pup safe and how to find the best dog-friendly trails near you.
How to prepare for a hike with dogs
“If you do choose to hike with your pet, it is important to plan accordingly,” Dr. George Melillo, a chief veterinary officer of Heart + Paw, told The Dodo. “In hiking with your dog, it is important to plan for the activity so that it is pleasurable and healthy for all participants.”
To prepare for your hike, here are some things you can do:
Consult your veterinarian
You’ll want to talk to your veterinarian before going on the hike for a couple of reasons.
For one, you want to make sure your pup can physically handle a hike. “Before any hiking trip, it is wise to consult with your vet to ensure your dog is fit for the hike,” Dr. Maureen K. Muritihi, a veterinarian working with Pet Keen, told The Dodo. “Some dogs are more tolerant to intense exercise compared to others.”
If your dog is a brachycephalic breed, like a pug or a French bulldog, he might not be able to handle a long, strenuous hike, for example. And if he’s a puppy or a senior dog, his “bones may not be able to handle such exertion,” Dr. Murithi said. So your vet might advise against letting your dog walk the trail the entire time.
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While at your vet, you should also make sure your pup is up to date on all his vaccinations.
Protect him against parasites
Before your hike, make sure your pup is on a flea, tick and heartworm preventative medication — since there might be a greater chance of exposure to parasites and mosquitos in certain areas.
“If hiking in a tick-/flea-infested area, it is advisable to have your dog on preventative treatment,” Dr. Murithi said.
Get your dog microchipped
“Make sure your pet’s microchip details are up to date. If they get lost, it will be much easier to reunite you with your dog,” Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian with SpiritDog Training, told The Dodo.
In addition to a microchip (which you can get done at your vet’s office), you’ll want to make sure your pup has an ID tag attached to his collar. (You can never be too safe!)
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Improve your dog’s fitness
Just like you’d train for a 5K, your dog needs to train for his big hike!
“Daily walks increase endurance ability,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Start small, half an hour each day, and then build up by 5–10 minutes each day.”
Once your pup is a walking pro, you can make the exercise even harder by adding light weights to the mix. “Wearing a ‘pack’ can help increase the intensity of the exercise for fit dogs, and you can add in small weights as your dog’s fitness increases,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Be careful not to overload the pack as, again, even fit dogs can succumb to injuries.”
This is especially useful if you plan on giving your dog a backpack to carry his stuff during the hike so he can get used to the extra weight first. (Just make sure you don’t have him carry anything heavier than about 25 percent of his body weight max.)
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Pack the essentials
Your pup will need his own set of gear for the hike. Here are some items that you should definitely take with you on the trip:
- First aid kit: “Have a first aid kit in case of an injury (an extra pair of socks and tape can be used as a quick bootie for an injured paw),” Dr. Melillo said.
Does my dog need a GPS dog collar?
A tracking device built into your dog’s collar is actually really nice to have on hikes, especially if your pup is off-leash.
“Technology is rapidly advancing each day, and recently GPS tracking devices for our pets have become available,” Dr. Wigfall said. “These are small devices that clip onto a collar or harness and enable owners (or a rescue party) to track the location of your pet. This could prove invaluable if your dog gets lost or wanders off.”
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Does my dog need boots for hiking?
Dog boots can be another useful item on your dog’s hike since they can keep your dog safe in unpredictable terrain and keep his paws protected. “Walking boots for dogs exist,” Dr. Wigfall said. “These help with grip when hiking through the mud and offer protection for pads for dogs walking long distances.”
Address dog car sickness beforehand
“Make sure your dog can travel in the car without being nauseous,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Starting a day hike after being sick is quite possibly the worst way to start a hike!”
If your pup does get car sick or has car anxiety, you might be able to help him get over this through desensitization, which is when you get your dog used to being in a car through a super slow introduction. “Training will be helpful here, and younger dogs will usually grow out of this with time,” Dr. Wigfall said.
Dogs who get really bad symptoms, though, might really benefit from meds. “If your dog struggles, there are medications you can give to help with travel sickness, so talk to your veterinarian regarding this,” Dr. Wigfall added.
Safety tips for hiking with dogs
There are plenty of dangers on the trails for both humans and dogs. Here are some things to be aware of so you can keep your pup safe:
Beware of wild animals
“Depending on the country you live in, beware dangerous animals, such as snakes and bears,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Research what to do in these situations, and avoid them if possible.”
Keeping your dog on the leash at all times (or having a super reliable recall) can help keep your dog safe in case you have any unexpected encounters. “Be sure to keep your pet on a leash to avoid a dog … running off and chasing a wild animal or startling another hiker,” Dr. Melillo said.
“When passing through open farmland, be cautious of livestock, keep your dog on the lead and close all gates you open,” Dr. Wigfall added.
Avoid risky terrain
“Keep your dog away from fast-flowing rivers,” Dr. Wigfall said. “And if cliff walking, keep away from the edge at all times. Gorge walking can have the potential for landslides or stones dropping from [a] height.”
Again, keeping your pup on a leash can keep him safe. “Having your dog on lead will help you to avoid trauma from these incidents,” Dr. Wigfall said.
Check the trail temperature
In hot summer weather, plan to go hiking either really early in the morning or in the late afternoon so you can avoid the heat — which can get brutal for both you and your dog.
The cooler months are ideal for hiking, but if you’re going in the summer, be careful it doesn’t get too hot for your pup.
“In the summer, trails can get very hot,” Dr. Wigfall said. “It’s easy for dogs to get burns from the heat of the trail on their pads. To test the trail, put your palm flat on the trail and hold it there for at least five seconds — if you can’t hold your hand to the floor for that long, it’s too hot for your dog.”
How long can a dog hike for?
The amount of time and distance your dog can hike will depend on his fitness level and ability.
“If your dog regularly walks three to four hours with no issues, you should be fine to attempt a four- to six-hour hike with regular breaks,” Dr. Wigfall said. “If your dog usually goes for a half-hour meander around the block each day, going for an eight-hour hike without any training is inadvisable. Just like people, dogs can get muscle strains and sprains from over-exercising, which can be painful.”
To get your dog ready for his hike, make sure to follow the fitness plan above.
Best dogs for hiking
Some dogs will thrive during a hike, while other dogs just aren’t built for it. “There are some breeds that would thrive with this activity (golden retriever, Australian shepherd, border collie, etc.),” Dr. Melillo said. “Many fall in the working, hunting or sporting group of dog breeds.”
“Other breeds, such as bulldogs, pugs and French bulldogs, have shortened snouts, which impact their ability to handle the challenges of a hike and stay oxygenated,” Dr. Melillo added. “Toy breeds (Chihuahua, maltese, shih tzu, etc.) are not made for long distances in difficult terrains.”
You can still bring these pups on your hike, though. Just make sure to carry them in a dog backpack carrier for some of the way!
How to find the best dog-friendly trail
There are a few things you should look for to find the best dog-friendly trail for you and your pup.
Most importantly, you’ll want to be 100 percent sure dogs are allowed on the trail. “Your local governing authority should have this information available online or with a quick phone call to clarify,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Remember, just because you saw a dog on the trail once doesn’t mean they were legally allowed to be there! Do your due diligence and check first.”
To get more information on the trail you want to visit, another resource is your local dog club or the dog club in the area you are planning to visit. “These are people who will have walked the trails personally and can recommend if they are safe or not,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Alternatively, you could try joining a dog Facebook group for the area and see if people have recommendations. Usually the same walks will pop up in the comments section.”
You should do your own research on these recommendations to ensure you are satisfied with the safety of the trail.
“Avoid hikes that go near exposed cliff edges, walks that need you to wade through deep rivers or are dependent on the tide for safe passage,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Do not attempt walks that are outside of your confidence level. You don’t want to wander off the path and be struggling to find your way back whilst also keeping hold of your dog.”
So the bottom line is that bringing your dog along for a hike can be a bonding experience unlike any other, and being prepared will make the trip so much better for everyone involved.
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