Hiking with Dogs – Tips and Considerations

Dog running down an autumn forest trail
Dog running down an autumn forest trail
Running through the leaves

There’s little that makes me happier than watching my pup run around through nature. Whether it’s a beach or the forest, he radiates joy as he runs around with abandon. Of course, hiking with dogs also means there’s lots of stopping to smell every other tree limb and more marking than you’d think would be possible!

Going out for a hike with dogs is a bit different than taking a walk around the neighborhood park, especially if you take the trails that lead you miles away from your car and civilization. It’s definitely worth it to have your pup with you, but here are some things to think about before taking off:

Will your pup like it?

We all have our preferences on things we like to do. Some dogs love nothing more than to run for miles, but some would really prefer to just stay home and chew on their bone. Unfortunately, I’ve seen dogs that were terrified in the woods and never able to relax, and some dogs that physically were not capable of making the entire hike because of an injury, illness, or their body composition/endurance level.

You won’t know for sure until you take your pup, but understanding their personality and endurance will help you decide if this is an activity for them.

Dog enjoying the water on the beach
Merlin on the beach

Training

The first steps for hiking with a dog take place before you ever see the trail. It’s imperative that your dog is well trained and, at a minimum, consistently comes when called, walks well on a leash, and can stay in ‘place’ while at home before you take them on an exciting new adventure.

The forest contains many tempting smells, animals to chase, and other people and dogs to see. If your dog isn’t reliably trained at home, there’s little chance that they’ll come back when they’re on the scent of a squirrel. It’s really uncomfortable and frustrating to be pulled along by a hyper pup, and it can be extremely unsafe over rough terrain, so hiking with dogs with good leash manners makes everyone’s life more fun. And trust me, whether it’s during a break for snacks or while enjoying an amazing mountain view, you’ll find a time when you’ll be thankful that you can put your dog in ‘place’ instead of constantly watching what they’re up to.

Many places have laws requiring dogs to be on leash. Hiking with dogs on leash isn’t my favorite, but it’s for good reason since many dogs are not properly trained. Don’t be one of those people who is constantly yelling for your dog because they’ve run away, or who lets their dog run up to others (I know it sounds weird, but not everybody loves to have strange dogs come running at them!). If you do let them run free, I highly recommend learning the correct way to train them on the e-collar.

But keep in mind- the only way to train your dog to hike is to actually do it, and there will be a few mistakes along the way from both you and your dog. Don’t be too hard on either of you when they happen. Hiking with dogs is awesome, so don’t let a few bad moments ruin your trip.

Merlin sitting on the rocks
He’s king of the world on his rock perch

Bugs and Ticks and Good Preventive

Depending on where you’re located and when you go, there will be bugs and ticks and maybe some other creatures crawling through your dog’s coat. They may be exposed to things like Giardia and wild animals. Ensure your dog is properly vaccinated, microchipped, and on good flea/tick preventive before hitting the trail. Your vet will be able to help you determine what’s right for you- and will help you to determine if your pup is in shape for your adventure.

Also, remember that they will bring nature back with them. Do yourself a favor and perform a thorough coat check before letting them back into your car or house so you don’t end up finding ticks where you really don’t want them.

Know Before You Go

There are several things you’ll want to know about the trail before you set out on your hike. Dogs require a lot of water, so hiking a trail that has several streams for them to jump in not only helps you cut down on the amount of water you have to carry, but it also helps them keep cool on warmer days. However, if your water-loving dog just has to jump in all the water, a lake right by the trailhead may mean you’re in for a soggy ride home (or a really, really cold dog if the weather is too chilly).

You’ll also want to know the terrain to make sure your dog is physically in shape to handle it. A small, flat jaunt along the river is much different than climbing mountains, and just like you, they’ll need to be in good shape for whichever trail you chose. I’ve come across trails that had crossings that were impossible for the dogs to cross, which isn’t any fun to realize miles away from where you need to be. Check the weather and, if possible, check the trail conditions before you go to make sure you won’t have any surprises. I don’t know about your dog, but mine won’t fit under my raincoat- but he’ll give it a try!

Helpful Items

I love, love, love the collar that Merlin wears that has his name and my phone number on it. Although he’s also microchipped, reading it requires a trip to the vet or the shelter, and it’s a trip that can possibly be avoided if he were to get lost. Tags with names and numbers attached to the collar are great, too, but they can easily come off or wear down so they’re hard to read. I ordered my personalized collar on Amazon, but a quick Google search is an easy way to find customizable collars.

It can also be a great idea to attach a bell and/or a light to their collar. Bells are really helpful at alerting wildlife to your pup’s presence before your pup becomes aware of them and avoiding unwanted interactions. I don’t use them a lot because I really like to hear the sound of nature, but I do use themĀ  when the foliage is heavy because it’s easier to keep track of him by hearing the bell rather than by keeping him in sight. I also use them in bear country as an added precaution.

Be forewarned: Dogs are like little children. They love to jump in mud puddles and roll in dirt (and other unspeakably smelly things). Additionally, they really depend on you to keep them safe and healthy. I like to make sure I take a good fast-drying towel (it can also be used for ‘place’ once your pup is trained), some biodegradable soap to wash away those really smelly or dirty rolls, and an extra collar and leash, just in case. I also make sure the first-aid kit is stocked with baby wipes, dog nail trimmers, dog-sized bandages, and meds the pup can take- check with your vet for approved pain meds, antihistamines, and tummy trouble meds.

 

Me and Merlin in the tent after a long day hiking with dogs
Ready to go camping with your dog?

Hiking with Dogs

If you ask me, then yes. You should absolutely go hiking with dogs and experience the unbridled joy they display when running through nature. You’ll need to do some preparation and to add a few extra items to your backpack, but the memories you’ll make will be worth it.

So what do you think? Do you go hiking with dogs? What are some of your favorite trails or tips?

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