How to Hike With Your Dog

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on September 24th, 2022

It’s no surprise that dogs make ideal hiking partners. Their enthusiasm will inspire you to keep going, and they’ll keep smiling even during the toughest inclines. With the right doggy backpack, you might even convince your pooch to carry an extra granola bar for you!

But, there are a few things that you should know about hiking with a dog before you pack up and go. In this article, we’ll share some tips on how to hit the trail with your dog the right way.

#1: Know your dog’s athletic ability
Here in Washington, we have an endless list of beautiful, awe-inspiring hikes. But, no matter where you live in the US, not all trails are suitable for every dog. Elderly dogs, small dogs, or dogs with respiratory challenges such as Pugs and French Bulldogs may not be able to navigate difficult obstacles like steep trails or river crossings. 

#2: Do your research on dog-friendly trails
In order to protect your pup and natural ecosystems, dogs are not allowed in many protected wildlife areas. Most National Parks have strict guidelines that keep dogs off of unpaved trails and out of undeveloped wilderness areas. Campgrounds and other public areas may also be restricted.

According to the National Park Service, National Forests are a different story. These public lands tend to be more open to dogs, and you can find a wide network of unpaved trails in national forests that are dog-friendly. 

#3: Check the weather and air quality before you go
Remember that your dog may be more sensitive to certain conditions like heat and forest fire smoke than you are. So, you’ll want to check the area before loading Fido in the car.

How hot is too hot? Take a look at our recent article for some tips on finding the ideal hiking temp for your dog.

#4: Keep your dog safe during the drive
As you approach a new area, you may notice that your dog gets over-excited in the car. This can be dangerous if you have a pupper who may be tempted to jump out, especially if they catch a glimpse of wildlife.

BreezeGuard Screens can be fitted to your back windows to keep your dog safely in the car until you’re ready to hit the trail. They’ll love that they can still smell all of the new, unfamiliar smells of the great outdoors. And, you can enjoy the drive without worrying about them. 

#5: Be ready to have your dog on leash
Some trails allow your dog to be off-leash. But, there are a few reasons why you should always hike with a leash, either attached or readily accessible:

  • Your dog may be tempted to chase after wildlife. Even if your dog has excellent recall skills in everyday scenarios, many pups forget everything they know when they see a deer or coyote. Unless you know that your dog is reliable under all conditions, you can keep them and wild animals safe by keeping them on a leash.
  • It can keep them out of dangerous situations. Depending on where you’re hiking, your dog may be exposed to fast-moving rivers, ticks, spiders, cliffs, or rattlesnakes. Having them on leash can lower their risk of injury. 
  • You may come across unknown dogs. If you’re enjoying nature with your pup, chances are, so are other dog owners! And, even if your dog is friendly, you never know how another hiker’s dog will react. So it’s best to have your dog under control until you get the go-ahead from the other owner.
  • Other hikers may not want to interact with your dog. Our doggos are our world, but that doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same way. If you come across other hikers on a trail, assume that they don’t want to interact with your dog unless they say otherwise.

#6: Always carry water
Just like humans, dogs can be susceptible to certain bacteria and algae found in creeks and lakes. So, it’s important to have clean, safe water for them to drink.

Cool water can also keep your dog from overheating during exercise, so you might consider carrying an insulated water bottle on hot days.

Exactly how much water to bring for your dog will depend on their size and activity levels. A large dog who runs laps around you will probably need about .5 to 1 liter of water per hour.

#7: Know the signs of heat exhaustion
Dogs suffering from heatstroke will show signs of extreme fatigue, rapid pulse, drooling and discoloration of the gums. They may also refuse to continue or be generally unresponsive to commands.

If you think that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, carry them into the shade and offer them cool water in small amounts. You can also help cool them down by pouring tepid water over their body.

Symptoms should improve after a few minutes of rest. If symptoms do not improve, you’ll need to get your dog to a vet right away.

#8: Have the doggy bags ready
One of the most important things about hiking with your dog is making sure you leave it as pristine as you found it. This means carrying doggy bags with you to remove all waste.

But wait, don’t wild animals poop freely in the wild? Why do you have to pick up your dog’s doo? Well, because dogs are not inhabitants of the forest and have a different diet than wild animals, their excrement can be damaging to the fragile balance of the ecosystem. In fact, the high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in dog poop can increase the likelihood of dangerous algae blooms and invasive weeds. If you absolutely can’t pack it out with you when you leave, it’s recommended that you bury waste at least 6 inches underground.

#9: Take lots of pictures!
Last but not least, keep that camera charged for plenty of pictures! Whether you’re getting your holiday cards ready or you just want some frameable photos of your pooch, you’ll love looking over the pictures from your hike with your dog!

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