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Tips for Hiking with a Dog

Once you put away the snow boots and cold-weather hiking shoes, it’s time to break out all the best shoes for summer that are perfect for kayaking, summer runs and hikes, beach days, and other adventures where clunky, hot shoes would just be a drag.

Before you start hiking with your dog, though, there are several considerations to keep in mind.

Hiking with a Dog

Planning

If you were going hiking with your human best friend, you wouldn’t get started without properly planning where you were going, how much food and water you’d need, what hiking clothes you’d wear, and other factors, so make sure this doesn’t change when you’re taking your pooch along.

Most important, make sure the trail you’re hiking allows dogs. You’ll find that most U.S. National Parks don’t allow dogs on their trails, and other regulations stipulate if leashes are a requirement. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, for example, allows dogs on most parts of the trail, but a leash is required on more than 40 percent of it.

It’s also advisable to choose a trail suitable for your dog. If you know a friend doesn’t have the experience or stamina for a certain trail, you wouldn’t force them to hike it. Likewise, don’t take your dog on a technical hike for their first time out of the suburbs.

Gear Essentials

When you take your dog on a trail, you’re not only responsible for their safety and comfort, but that of fellow hikers as well. The best way to make sure your dog is well taken care of, and other hikers aren’t put off by your pet, is to take the right outdoor gear.

It’s important that your dog have a collar or harness that shows they’re a pet, not a wild, roaming animal. And even if the trail doesn’t require you to leash your pet, take one along anyway. Common trail etiquette is to keep your dog on a leash at all times, even if it’s not required.

If you do have your dog on a leash, be sure it’s durable and a fixed length of no longer than six feet, rather than the flimsy, telescopic leashes often used in cities and suburbs.

It’s also a great idea to keep an ID tag on your dog’s collar, complete with vaccination certifications, phone number, and address, just in case the scent of a deer is too overwhelming and Fido takes off into the trees.

Some people even attach LED lights to their dog’s collar, so they can easily be spotted and tracked at night. Also, if you plan to go canoeing with your dog, you can find specific PFDs that will keep your pet safe.

Hiking Backpacks for Dogs

Don’t think your pup gets off easy out of sheer cuteness. For longer trips, or if you plan to take your dog on hikes on a regular basis, a dog pack works great for transporting the extra food and water you’ll need. Unless your pet is a lap dog, they’ll most likely be able to pull their weight in carrying gear.

However, make sure to acclimate your dog to the pack before hitting the trail. Start with a lighter load and go for short walks, gradually working your way up, making sure the pack is always even on both sides. When ready, your dog will safely be able to carry about one-fourth of their weight on a trail. You may want to check with your vet first, though, as some breeds may get too hot covered up in such a pack.

The pack should contain your dog’s food and water, which will change depending on the duration and intensity of the hike. If you plan to use a water purifier for yourself, go ahead and use it for your dog’s water, too. They may be canines, but their stomachs are still susceptible to polluted water.

Dogs haven’t quite mastered drinking out of water bottles, so make sure to take a collapsible bowl with you and provide at least eight ounces of water per hour of hiking.

Clothing and Sleeping

Those little booties you see on dogs racing in the Iditarod aren’t only for the tundra of Alaska. While dogs’ paws are certainly tougher than our bare feet, they’re not invulnerable, and a hurt paw could really slow both of you down. Boots keep dogs protected from snow and ice, too-hot rocks, and uneven and jagged terrain. They even give paws better traction, just like our hiking boots do for us. In colder temperatures, you may need a wool vest for your dog, too, especially if they’re a skinnier breed with a shorter coat.

If you’re backpacking, give your dog a quick brush before entering the backpacking tent to keep it clean inside, and lay a cover down over the vinyl bottom of the tent. In colder temperatures, you may need a small wool blanket to lay over your dog. Also, it’s a great idea to trim your dog’s toenails before going on the hike to keep the tent safe from any scratches or tears.

First Aid

Canine first aid is just as important as your own, so carry any supplies you’ll need to give your pup the proper attention. This may include hydrogen peroxide, scissors, bandages and gauze, and tweezers. You may also want to consult with your vet about basic first-aid application so you’ll be prepared to handle whatever injuries may happen.

Leave No Trace

Dogs can’t quite clean up after themselves, so make sure to pack out any waste from your dog and dispose of it properly. If you’re backpacking, this means following all LNT principles as if your dog were human—carrying waste 200 feet from tents and water sources, and burying it under about six inches of dirt.

Think of Others

Even with all the best outdoor equipment, it’ll be up to you to know the etiquette of hiking with a dog. Don’t let them run into the woods to chase animals or jump into springs and other clean drinking water sources, and understand that not everyone on the trail is a dog lover like you.

A dog can be a great addition to any hike as long as you’re prepared with the right gear and knowledge.

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