If you are a hiking enthusiast, take you dog along with you and he/she will be more excited than you are to be heading out for a hiking or backpacking adventure. Dogs love the sights, sounds and smells of a wilderness area (particularly the smells). Whether it is a casual day hike or an extended backpacking trip, dogs make great outdoor companions.
If you are taking your dog hiking for the first time consider the dog’s size and physical condition. If your dog is not in top notch shape the best course of action is to acclimate them slowly to more strenuous activity. Take daily walks, increasing the distance you cover gradually, add in hills and uneven terrain if possible, until your dog is strong enough to cover the length of the intended hike. These walks will benefit both you and your dog as you both get in shape. Generally speaking, a smaller dog will tire sooner and have more difficulty keeping up on a long hike and may need to be carried over water barriers, rough terrain or steep rocky inclines. It is wise to consult with your Vet for guidance concerning the reasonable expected physical ability of you particular pet. Your Vet will also advise you on vaccinations needed in advance to protect the dog from rabies, Lyme disease, or other diseases that can be picked up in wooded areas.
Be sure the ID information on your dog’s collar is accurate and updated even if it has a Microchip. Even the best trained dog can escape from its owner if it becomes excited. Carry a photo ID in your pack to assist searchers in the unlikely event that your dog becomes lost.
Another precaution to take is to carry a pet first aid kit. Basically, it should contain tweezers, calamine lotion for bug bites, baking soda for bee stings, canine eyewash, bandages, gauze pads and tape, scissors, and antibiotic ointment. Also carry a dog brush for removing burrs, insect repellant and sunscreen. The sunscreen should be used on the nose, the tips of the ears and any other place where fur is scarce. Both the sunscreen and the insect repellant need to be manufactured specifically for dogs. The human versions of these products can often be toxic to dogs.
Dog packs are readily available for sale at most pet supply stores. If your dog wears a pack it can carry its own supplies. Another question for the Vet is how much weight your dog can safely carry in its pack. In general, the average dog can safely carry about 25% of its body weight. It’s best to check with your Vet about the appropriate weigh limit for your particular dog. A dog pack should be adjusted to properly fit your dog. It will fit snugly with room for about two fingers of room underneath it. Ideally, the pack will have an adjustable handle on the top, divided side pouches for easy weight distribution and be waterproof and reflective. Some are equipped with water bladders or a pocket to hold a cooling insert.
The right size pack will accommodate food and treats packed in sealed plastic containers or bags, water, disposable food and water bowls, a dog coat or vest, booties, a clip on light, the first aid kit and an optional cooling collar. If your dog has never worn a dog pack before, ease into it by having the dog wear it around the house with light loads, gradually increasing the weight and duration. Once acclimated, then use the dog pack on your daily walks to further build strength and endurance.
An extended or strenuous trip will require additional supplies. Hiking burns more calories than walking, therefore, your dog will need more food. The rule of thumb is double the amount of food your pet usually consumes. Just like people, dogs are susceptible to Giardia, so a water filter is a necessity. Try to keep your dog from drinking out of lakes, rivers, streams or standing water to avoid algae or parasites and provide plenty of clean drinking water often. Depending on the expected weather, pack a dog coat or vest. On a hot day the vest can be soaked in water to keep the dog cool. Dog booties protect from sharp stones or sticks that may lacerate your dog’s feet, they also help with warmth on overnight trips. A child’s sleeping bag, a two person sleeping bag if you want to share with your dog, or an air mattress and warm blanket will keep your dog warm on chilly nights. An LED or clip on light is helpful for locating your dog in the dark.
At the end of your hike, check for ticks and burrs and remove them immediately.
Once all the training, planning and packing requirements have been met the next step is to find a dog friendly place to hike. Be aware that most U.S. National Parks have a “NO Dogs” policy. Check ahead for the dog regulations for your intended hike destination. Most public trails have a “leash only” policy requiring a leash length of six feet or less. At destinations with more lenient rules many hikers prefer a waistbelt system that leaves them hands free yet able to easily control their pet quickly if need be. Even in a “roam free” environment common hiking etiquette advises always leashing dogs around other hikers, other dogs, bikers, horses and in steep, slippery or rocky terrain. In difficult terrain a harness system works best. Hikers in all wilderness areas respect the “Leave No Trace” policy. Do not disturb wildlife or plants and leave no trash behind. Dog waste should be carried out or buried at least 200 feet away from a trail, campsite, or any water.
The website “Hikewithyourdog.com” contains a state by state listing of dog friendly trails. Although it may seem like a lot of preparation and planning for a simple walk in the woods, the initial effort will pay off when you safely enjoy your dog’s companionship during your time in nature’s wilderness. A recommended book detailing the benefits of hiking with your dog is “Hiking with Atticus, Forty Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog and an Extraordinary Friendship” by Tom Ryan.