Get Your Dog Ready for the Big Day
Dogs love accompanying their humans on a fun hike in the wilderness. We love the beautiful natural views, exercise and company of our dogs. They also love the companionship and exercise along with the wild and unfamiliar smells on the trail. You must be realistic about your dog’s level of endurance and plan accordingly. If you plan and prepare for your hike, you’ll have a fun, safe and respectful visit to the home of many plants and animals. Now, let’s learn how to hike with a dog!
Pick a day that is not too hot and humid for your dog. Your dog should be spayed or neutered to reduce the urge to roam. Since i.d. tags can come off of your dog’s collar he should be microchipped. He should have basic obedience training to follow your cues and good socialization for contact with other people with their dogs. Groom your dog before leaving on the trip to remove seed heads that could spread invasive plant species. Vaccinations should all be current to keep both him and wildlife safe.
HEALTH – Never bring a puppy who has not been weened and needs his mother. Canine etiquette calls for 1:1 human/dog ratio on hiking trails and you do not want to bring a stressed mother along anyway. Also avoid bringing a dog with hip dysplasia unless your vet thinks it’s alright and prescribes some pain medication.
BEHAVIOR – Before you take your dog into the backcountry, be sure he can heel, sit, stay, and come at your verbal command. Your dog should also be comfortable on a leash and completely socialized among other dogs and humans. After all, other people and dogs will be on the trails trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.
SIZE – Depending on the trail you will have to make the judgment call about whether your dog will be able to comfortably hike along it. Generally speaking though, any dog who is at least 40 pounds should be fine.
AGE – Older dogs, like humans, have stiffer joints, arthritis and other ailments that reduce their physical abilities. Avoid taking dogs over 10 years old as well as undeveloped young puppies under aged 9 months.
FITNESS & ENDURANCE – Be honest about your dog’s fitness because hiking involves strenuous, uneven terrain and steep climbs. If you can’t feel his ribs he is first going to have to get more exercise to lose a little weight. You don’t want to carry your dog the last half of the hike. Make sure to start near your home with hikes that coordinate with your dog’s fitness level. Start with a one-hour hike and gradually increase the time. Include uneven terrain to toughen up your dog’s paws and increase his cardio levels. Give your dog plenty of water and snack breaks. Get him used to wading in water and swimming. Within a few weeks your dog will likely be ready for a day-long hiking excursion out in the wilderness.
VACCINATIONS & TREATMENTS – Hiking in wilderness areas or suburban wilderness areas is risky for your dog because of disease-carrying foxes and coyotes who make their homes there. These are the vaccinations and treatments your dog needs before going with you on a hike:
- RABIES (required by law)
- BORDETELLA aka “kennel cough”
- DHLPP to protect against distemper, canine hepatitis, parvo, para influenza and four strains of leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease transmitted directly through contaminated urine on land or in water. The bacteria can stay active for up to a year after the dog has recovered.
- HEARTWORM treatment protects your dog intestinal parasites like raccoon roundworm and controls fleas.
- TICK prevention product recommended by your veterinarian. Ticks transmit Lyme disease which starts to spread within 24 to 48 hours. Check your dog’s coat each evening and bring along some tweezers.
- 6-FOOT LEASH WITH HARNESS – attached securely and kept on at all times. This keeps your dog safe from all the hazards in the wild (falls, poison ivy or oak, nettles, snakes, hornets and bees, larger wild animals) and from bothering other people and their dogs on the trails. His collar should have his id, rabies and license tags on it.
- DOG BACKPACK – must be strong, padded for comfort, breathable and lightweight. Your dog should try on a backpack for proper fit and walk around the store. Make sure he’s not getting chaffed on his belly, chest or legs. Pick out a pack with good reflective material or else add an LED light. Tie a bell on the backpack for warning bears you are in the area.
- FIRST AID KIT (see below)
- VET RECORDS – a copy of your dog’s vet records with medical conditions listed, name of vet, address and phone.
- POOP BAGS
- BOWLS – Two nylon collapsible nylon bowls for water and kibble.
- KIBBLE (50% more) and snacks for the trail in Ziploc bags. Dogs need extra food for all the extra exercise.
- WATER – Quart with water purification tablets.
- TOWEL for cleaning your dog’s paws.
Dog first-aid kit:
- Bandage scissors
- Dog toenail clippers
- Hydrogen peroxide and Betadine
- Canine eyewash
- Calamine lotion (for itchy bug bites)
- Bacitracin or Neomycin
- Baking soda (for bee stings)
- Enteric-coated aspirin or Bufferin
- Imodium A-D
- Dressings and bandages
- Adhesive tape (1- and 2-inch rolls)
- Muzzle: for snappiness from stress
- Booties for sore or injured paws
- Snake bite kit with pump, antivenin (from vet)
DESTINATIONS – Do your homework before going out to these areas. Many hiking trails are closed to dogs in national parks while many trails are open to dogs in national forests or wilderness areas overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. You can find out more online about wilderness areas around the country at wilderness.net. Pick up a guidebook of the area to take with you and check in with forest rangers about current weather conditions, trail closures, water access, steep terrain, available shade and snakes. You don’t want to go where it’s too hot or dangerous for your dog.
WATER ALONG THE TRAIL – You should discourage your dog from drinking water along the trail because they are susceptible to waterborne illnesses. Dogs can pick up a giardia infection from contaminated water. Symptoms include diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss. Some dogs show no obvious symptoms, but they can still infect other dogs, so when you get home, collect a stool sample and take it to your vet; if your dog needs medication, it’s best to get it started right away. Guide your dog to clear, running water, and always carry water and a water dish for your dog. Streams frequently dry up, and dogs are not allowed around water sources for shelters and campsites.
If you are crossing a river or stream, look for the calmest stretch. Throw a stick in to see how fast it gets carried downstream. If you’re not sure how deep the stream is, first wade in without your dog (tie him to a tree) using walking poles to assess depth and current strength. Take your time and above all, if you don’t feel confident about safety, be willing to turn back.
Dog Trail Etiquette
Everyone should strive to follow these guidelines in order to keep the trails open to dogs and avoid expensive dog rescues in the backcountry.
- NEVER OUT OF SIGHT – Stay with your dog at all times and keep him under constant control.
- THE 1:1 RULE – Only bring one dog for best chances of taking instant control. In groups, have a maximum of two dogs or else you risk having an unruly pack that adversely impacts the environment.
- RIGHT OF WAY – Give hikers without dogs the right of way. Step out of the way, and command your leashed dog to sit until the other hikers have passed.
- HELLO – Say a friendly hello to others on the trail to signal to your dog that a friend and not a foe approaches.
- LOOSE DOG – If you run into a loose dog on the trail, control the situation by allowing the two dogs to meet and sniff each other, and speak to them in a friendly manner. As soon as the brief introduction is over, continue briskly on your way, ignoring the other dog.
- BEGGING – No begging allowed. Have enough snacks on hand for your dog.
- LEAVE NO TRACE – Clean up after your dog because they are not wild animals and their refuse is not part of nature. Use the “Leave No Trace” principles and store full bags in your dog’s backpack until you can dispose of them properly in a trash can at the end of the day.
- FRAGILE PLANTS & WILDLIFE – Do not allow your dog to disturb plants or wildlife. Keep your dog on the trail or rock areas to avoid trampling and erosion.
During your hike you will feel just like our nomad ancestors carrying their possessions on their backs with their loyal dog at their side. It’s wonderful to see your dog having a great time and feel the ancient special bond and partnership shared by a human and his dog. You will realize that all your careful preparations made this a unique and memorable experience for both of you!