My family adopted a high-energy cattle dog and we don’t own any cattle so almost immediately I was looking online for some tips for hiking with dogs. I hike regularly, but I didn’t know anything about hiking with a dog. Jinx was a year old when we got her so I asked our veterinarian before we set out. Our veterinarian’s advice was that medium size dogs can go on longer hikes starting at 12 months old and larger dogs need to wait until 18 months because they’re still growing and you don’t want to disturb their growth plates.
Tip #1 Conditioning
Start small. Dogs, just like people, need to build up their strength and endurance. It’s not a good idea to start off with a 10-mile hike. If you are already walking your dog every day then a 2-3 mile hike would be a good place to start. I walk Jinx 5 miles a day and her first big hike was 5 miles. At any time during the hike, I was ready to turn around if it looked like it was too much for her, but she loved it.
Tip #2 Paws
Be mindful of your dog’s paws. Your frequent daily walks before you take your dog hiking not only build up their endurance but it will help to toughen up their paws. In summer you need to be aware of how hot the ground is and in winter of snow and ice. Some people suggest booties for your dog but check with your veterinarian first. Booties for a long hike when it’s warm is probably not a good idea because dogs sweat through glands in their paws. Booties can cause them to overheat. I always have a container of Musher’s Wax in my backpack. This wax can be used to coat their paws if they are walking on a lot of snow or ice or I’ve even used it to massage Jinx’s rough paws after a really long hike.
Tip #3 Water & Food
A good rule of thumb is if you are thirsty so is your dog. You need to bring plenty of water for both you and your dog and a lightweight water bowl. A water filter is a great idea if you are hiking in a place where you can filter water. Your dog shouldn’t be drinking unfiltered water. I’m guilty of letting Jinx drink unfiltered water and twice it has been a problem. She got sick. You know your dog best, but dogs are just as susceptible to bacteria in untreated water as we are. As far as food goes, bring snacks. Your dog is using a lot of energy hiking so they may need some extra calories. Jinx rarely eats breakfast when she first gets up so I bring her breakfast and plenty of treats.
Tip #4 Vaccines and Flea & Tick Meds
Check with your veterinarian and make sure your dogs are up-to-date on their vaccines. Fleas and ticks can make your dog miserable. Here in Southern California, we have both, therefore Jinx takes a monthly oral medication. We found out the hard way that she is allergic to fleas. I also carry a tick pick in my backpack and as soon as we get home I give her a thorough once-over looking for any ticks.
Tip #5 First Aid
Hopefully, you’ll never need to provide first aid for your dog, but it’s better to be prepared. I carry a normal first aid kit in my backpack. I can use the gauze inside to wrap a wound or cover a paw. I also have duct tape. The tape can go over the top of the gauze to hold it in place. In addition, I have a pair of baby socks that I can put over the gauze and then put the duct over the top to hold it in place. In case of an allergic reaction, I carry Benadryl for myself but talk to your veterinarian because dogs can also take it.
Tip # 6 Poop
Everyone poops, but nobody wants to see dog poop in nature. You have two choices: to bag it or bury it. Bagging is fine as long as you actually carry it out to a trash can. Nothing is worse than seeing old poop bags littering the trail. I assume hikers think they will pick it up on their way out, but they often forget. I carry a lightweight titanium trowel. I dig a hole and bury the poop, that way I don’t have to worry about finding a trash can for the poop bag.
Tip # 7 Heat
Jinx is an all-black dog and on a hot sunny day, she will overheat quickly. First, if it’s going to be over 80 degrees without any shade she has to stay home. Last summer I took her backpacking and I knew the first 2 miles would be hot and no shade. The second part of the trail was shaded and next to a creek. I was worried about her overheating before we got to the creek so I bought her a cooling vest. It is a light color and I soak it in water before putting it on her. The vest retains moisture and helps her stay cool. We took breaks and I encouraged her to rest in the shade on the way up the mountain.
Tip #8 Off-leash
Off-leash is a sensitive topic for many dog owners and hikers. The entire first year I hiked with Jinx she was always on her leash. I bought a hands-free bungee leash that goes around my waist. Year number 2 I started letting her off her leash on some hikes. However, it’s vital for me to say that Jinx has 100% voice recall. If I see people or other animals I call her and she returns for me to put her leash on. If your dog doesn’t have good recall, this might not work for you. Even if hikers like dogs they don’t want your dog jumping on them. Regardless of whether your dog is on or off leash, they should be wearing identification preferably with your cell phone number. Microchipping is great, but a tag with a collar is extremely helpful.
Tip # 9 Exhaustion
Dogs love to please their humans and they will continue to hike because you do. Keep a close eye on your dog for signs of fatigue. Some signs to look for are wanting to lay down, foaming at the mouth, or excessive panting. Make sure to allow them sufficient rest and water and be prepared to turn back.
Tip #10 Have Fun
Hitting the trails with your dog is a great bonding activity for you and your dog. Hiking not only provides your dog with exercise but also stimulates their brains from the new smells and sights. Have fun and enjoy the benefits of being outside and enjoying nature with your best friend.