These days many people consider their dog a part of the family and it’s natural to try to include your pet in outdoor activities like hiking and backpacking. Dogs can be great companions when hiking but it’s important to keep a few things in mind before putting your pooch on the trail:
1. Keep your dog on a leash. I know, I know, your dog prefers to be off leash, especially when romping through the woods, but this is really a matter of safety. Your dog may be perfectly well mannered and responsive to your every command but you never know what you’ll encounter in the great outdoors – wildlife, unfriendly dogs, dog-unfriendly hikers, dangerous terrain, etc.
Once while hiking in Colorado with our dog Jackson we encountered a rattlesnake sunning itself on the trail. Although I immediately recognized the danger our curious dog (he was only a puppy at the time) was very interested in the furiously rattling snake. He was off leash at the time and thankfully I was able to draw him away from the snake by yelling but things could have ended differently.
On another hike in Colorado with our dog off leash, we encountered a lost horse at the dead end of a remote dirt road (fully saddled with packs no less!) and not a rider in sight. Jackson, a German Shepherd, saw the huge animal and decided to give chase up the mountain. No amount of yelling could stop the dog and I just hoped he would return as I jogged up the mountain calling his name. Eventually he came back uninjured but he could have easily been stomped to death by the horse. Just goes to show you never know what you’ll find on a hike and you never know how your dog will react. Keep your dog on a leash and you’ll both be happy.
2. Consider the temperature and sun exposure on your route. Dogs can quickly become overheated in even the mildest conditions so it’s important to consider where and when you’ll be hiking. I remember hearing that Iditarod dogs can suffer heat exhaustion even in temperatures below freezing due to sheer exertion. Pay attention to your dog’s breathing and take breaks often in the shade. Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day.
3. Bring extra water for your dog. You already know it’s important to bring plenty of water for yourself on a hike and it’s just as important for your dog. Dogs need more water than people oftentimes because they’re not quite as efficient at drinking as we are (very few can drink from a water bottle without spilling ). Instead, consider bringing a collapsable bowl (seen above) to make it easier for your pup to slurp.
Once, during a surprisingly hot and grueling hike with our dog we found ourselves out of water. We did, however, have some iced tea and decided to share with Jackson. Anyway, it turns out Jackson, like most dogs, doesn’t like to drink anything but water. So if soda or even beer is your beverage of choice, be sure to bring some water too – your dog will thank you!
4. Know your dog’s limits. Dogs are like humans in that they can need to acclimate to strenuous activities. Unfortunately for dogs, most don’t know their limits and will push themselves to exhaustion to keep up with a fit owner. Keep initial hikes with your dog short to see how he or she performs. Also consider distance and elevation gain when planning a hike with your dog.
5. Bring snacks for your dog. Yep, humans need energy on the trail so why wouldn’t dogs need the same? If you’re going for an extended, multi-day hike with your dog bring more food than you would usually feed your dog at home – hiking burns a ton of calories! We use a doggie backpack for our dog and he absolutely LOVES to carry his own food and water (seriously).
6. Plan for the unexpected. Even though you should try to keep your dog on a leash while hiking, sometimes things happen and your dog may become lost. Consider fitting your dog’s collar with a “bear bell” to warn off potential predators and to help you find your dog if he/she wanders off. Many hunting supply stores also carry electronic devices to recall or locate your dog – definitely consider this if your dog is a retriever.
Hiking with your dog is a rewarding experience for both man and beast but it’s up to you to keep your pet safe on the trail. Follow these tips and you and your dog will return home happy every time!