Adventure Time: DogWatch’s Checklist for Hiking with Your Dog
Are you planning a hike with your dog? Great idea! Hiking is a wonderful way to get some exercise, explore the outdoors and bond with your pup. Before you hit the trail, though, we’ve put together a checklist to make sure you are prepared for your big adventure.
Know the Rules
Before you bring your dog along, do your research. Many U.S. National Parks restrict dogs from joining their owners on the trail, but according to the American Hiking Society, here are three exceptions:
- Devil’s Postpile National Monument in California
- Acadia National Park in Maine
- Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
You’ll also want to check the rules concerning leash walking. Some sites may allow off-leash dogs in all or in only selected areas, while others may require your dog to be on leash at all times.
Map It Out
Once you’ve selected your destination, it’s time to plan your route. How long do you want to walk? And just as importantly, how long is your dog prepared to walk? The Wilderness Society‘s website puts it well: “Don’t assume that because Fido runs around the yard a million miles an hour, he will be able to hike upwards of ten miles a day.” If this is your first hike with your dog, start with a short one and work your way up to the longer, day-long trips.
Also think about your dog’s age and other medical needs. Leave puppies at home, writes the Appalachian Mountain Club, for “hiking up and down steep, uneven trails can adversely affect the development of a growing puppy’s hips, shoulders, and other joints, which are not fully formed until a dog is at least nine months old in smaller breeds, and a year old in larger breeds.” Older dogs, dogs with hip problems and brachycephalic breeds (Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, etc.) may also not be good fits for vigorous hiking. If you have any concerns about your dog’s ability to hike, check with your vet first before heading out.
Finally, if your trail has off-leash areas, are you and your dog ready to go leash-free? This is very important. Good recall is crucial to keeping your dog safe, as well as making the hiking trail accessible to all (including those who may not enjoy dogs running free beside them). A BigLeash Remote Trainer can be very helpful in maintaining that connection with your dog. Our office dogs regularly wear the BigLeash when hiking at lunchtime in a nearby nature preserve, and it allows even our most stubborn pups (looking at you, Lucy!) the ability to run freely on the trail while remaining safe and connected to their dog parent.
By now, you’re itching to go, but first, get your supplies ready. First, make sure your dog has an ID with his name and your contact information, in case your dog gets separated from you. Microchips, which can be scanned by a vet or animal shelter and traced back to you, are also very helpful in these worst case scenarios.
You’ll need to bring plenty of water, enough for you and your pup. A collapsible bowl comes in handy – you can find them at your local pet store. Longer hikes mean bringing along your dog’s food, as well as treats and toys to keep him going. Pack some extra kibble if you’re planning a strenuous hike.
If your dog is strong enough, you can fit him with a dog backpack so that he can carry his own supplies – here are some options from REI and EzyDog. In addition to food and water, you’ll want to pack some first aid supplies. Wilderness Society recommends “tweezers for pulling out ticks or thorns in paws; adhesive tape and a sock to wrap an injured paw in; and a disposable razor for shaving fur around a wound.” For a complete list of first aid supplies to have on hand at home for your pet, consult this guide from The Humane Society of the United States.
Finally, leave your retractable leash at home. These leashes can easily get tangled in branches and are not a good fit for hiking.
Good work so far − you’ve made it to the trail! Now that you’re here, it’s important to treat your environment with the respect it deserves. Practice the conversation motto “leave no trace,” and clean up after yourself and your dog. Stepping in your dog’s “business” is a quick way to ruin your fellow hikers’ enjoyment of their surroundings.
You’ll also want to keep an eye on other behaviors that could harm or harass fellow hikers or the flora and fauna that live in the area. Don’t let your dog chew the plant life or chase the wildlife. (It could means bad news for him as well!) Try to keep his barking to a minimum as well, so as not to annoy your fellow hikers looking to enjoy a peaceful retreat.
Congrats, you’ve completed your hike. Time to rest and relax…almost. First, check yourself and your pup for ticks, which can cause a variety of unpleasant ailments you’d both rather avoid. Next, make sure your dog doesn’t have any cuts or sore spots, particularly on her paws. Clean up any minor wounds with your first aid kit, and consult your veterinarian in the event of a more serious issue. Lastly, don’t forget to reward your dog for her good behavior with some happy belly rubs and maybe a special treat! She’s earned it!
Stay safe, and have fun out there with your best hiking buddy!