Hiking with a Dog—Top Tips for Safety and Fun
One of my great joys living in Phoenix is all the mountains in and around the city for hiking. There’s nothing I love more on a weekend than packing up my pups and heading for the hills. And by their singing and dancing, I’d say they love it too. Hiking with a dog (or two!) is a special time.
As much as we love it, there have been times that have been quite challenging. Sadly, it’s often due to other people and their dogs on the trail. It’s tough as there’s no published rule book, but ask any regular hiker and they’ll rattle off a bunch of things that are just downright annoying about people hiking with a dog.
Here’s what you need to know about hiking with a dog to keep your dog safe and happy. And, to ensure everyone, including the other hikers you come across, have a great time. You don’t want to be that person that ruins someone else’s hike, either!
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Hiking with a Dog: Etiquette
Etiquette is somewhat according to the opinion of each person. A few of these recommendations will likely meet with criticism, and that’s ok.
I believe my dogs should be well-behaved if they are going to get privileges. Hiking is exercise and training time. It’s also a great bonding opportunity and for dogs who like it, a wonderful bonus for them. However, if I’m going to take my dogs to a populated trail, they need to behave.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me. But ask any hiker what annoys them about hiking, and you’ll probably get a few criticisms about dog owners. And, rightfully so. I love hiking with my dogs, but I don’t love hiking around owners who aren’t responsible. Here are some rules of etiquette you should consider when hiking with your dog.
- Clean up after your dog. Bring poop bags, use them, and carry them out with you. No one wants to step in your dog’s mess, and no one wants to see your bag stacked by the side of the trail. If you are coming back the same way and plan to pick it up on your way out, that may be ok, but will you remember? If you’re not sure, don’t leave it. Double bag it to reduce the aroma.
- Don’t let your dog approach people without approval. Believe it or not, not everyone loves your dog. Ask if it’s ok and give them the opportunity to say no. If they do say no, they aren’t awful people. Maybe they’re allergic or scared of dogs. Above all, don’t let your dog jump on the person, whether they approve of your dog approaching or not.
- Don’t let your dog approach another dog without approval. Sure, your dog may be wonderfully dog friendly, but not all dogs are. My dog is selective so I have to be careful with introductions. Depending on what I see for a dog’s temperament, I’m most likely going to say “no, thank you.” I’m not being rude or mean and I don’t hate your dog. I just know my dog and what he will tolerate, and I don’t think introducing them is a good, or safe, idea.
- Don’t let your dog walk off-leash unless you have perfect recall. If your dog doesn’t come when you call them 100% of the time, then they should not be off-leash. What if you run into a wild animal or encounter another dog who is not friendly? And, it should go without saying, but you should either put your dog on-leash when you approach someone with a dog or ask if it’s ok.
- Only hike as many dogs as you can control. Consider how your dogs will behave when approaching a person or another dog. If you have six dogs, can you really control them all? Maybe you can, and that’s great. For me, I think 2 is a reasonable number for me. Depending on your dogs, that number may be one, or maybe it’s three.
- Check if dogs are allowed. Not all trails allow dogs, including some state and national parks.
Hiking with a Dog: Safety
Safety is always an important thing to consider when hiking with a dog. You never know what you might encounter on a trail, and there may be no one around to help you. Of course, you’re limited by what you can reasonably carry, but give some thought to what you might need.
- Make sure your dog is fit enough for the trail you plan to do. Just like you, your dog may need to build to the rigor of a trail. If you usually hike for an hour with your dog, slowly increase to make sure he can do it. Otherwise, you may be trying to figure out how to carry him home! If you’re not sure, talk with your vet.
- Bring safety gear including a first aid kit. Try to be prepared for what could happen and you’ll always have a great hike.
- Consider the weather. Your dog is wearing a fur coat. If it’s hot, consider if it’s too hot for your dog to safely hike and be sure to bring plenty of water. If it’s cold, he may need gear to keep him warm, too.
- Consider conditions. Will there be any climbing needed, on rocks or even a ladder? Will the trail be well groomed? Make sure you know what you’ll encounter on the trail so you know your dog can handle it.
- Try to limit your dog from drinking water you find on the trail. Lots of dogs are tempted by a puddle or a stream. However, you really don’t know the quality of that water. There are many risks inAnd then, there are areas with blue-green algae that can kill dogs. Do your research and be sure to bring plenty of water that you’ll need.
- Consider threats. In my area, there are rattlesnakes, insects that can sting, and cacti. Last year, my big dog got cactus needles in his foot and I had to remove them. I didn’t have tweezers with me, so I ended up sticking myself several times in the process. (Those buggers are sticky!!)
- Respect wildlife. Keep your dog away from any animals you find on the trail. And keep your dog on the trail, particularly important for areas where they are doing preservation and restoration efforts. If you see a sign, “Don’t bust the crust,” please steer clear.
- Pull you and your dog off the trail to let people pass. Unless the trail is really wide (and honestly, even if it is), pull to the side to let people pass.
What to Be on the Lookout For When Hiking with a Dog
Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior. Hiking is a great opportunity to exercise your dog, do something you both enjoy, and for training. Reinforce the commands you’re teaching like sit, stay, down, and leave it. Is your dog barking a lot, or pulling on the leash? Hiking with a dog is a great opportunity for practicing good behaviors.
Also, keep an eye out for any potential threats. This could include wildlife, poisonous plants, and loose dogs. It could also include people on bikes or horseback riders and others. If you’re unsure how your dog will react, be very careful and keep them on a tight leash.
Your caution doesn’t end when you’re done with your hike. Do you live in an area with ticks? If so, give your dog a thorough look-over to make sure he’s not heading out with any little friends. There are a number of tick-borne illnesses your dog can get, including ehrlichiosis (commonly called tick fever) and Lyme disease, among others.
How Do I Know My Dog Will Like Hiking?
Believe it or not, not every dog is going to love hiking. There are lots of great new and exciting smells, but not every dog is cut out for it. And that’s not really based on a dog’s size, either.
My big dog is a pit/boxer mix and he loves hiking. I was surprised with how much my little guy liked hiking as well, and he’s a chihuahua/pug mix. He’s a pro hiker and does great. So, dogs don’t have to be a certain size to enjoy a hiking adventure.
Some of whether your dog may enjoy it may depend on the trail conditions. Since I live in the desert, the trails are very rocky here. Sometimes they are soil and small rocks and other times they are large rocks that you need to navigate. My little guy scampers up the boulders like a little mountain goat and my big guy sometimes needs a little boost.
If you’re not sure if your dog will like it, try a short hike first to see how he does. Or, know that you may need to turn back. If you have never hiked with your dog, it’s a good idea to do a shorter, somewhat easier hike the first time. Your dog may love it, but see how he recovers from it. Just like with us, it’s not a good idea to overdo it the first time.
Packing List for Hiking with a Dog
Hiking with a dog isn’t all that different from hiking with a child. There are things you need to bring to keep them comfortable and safe. Here’s a list that you can adapt for your specific needs.
Required Items to Bring Hiking with a Dog
- Leash—It’s a good idea to use a leash that’s six feet and no more than ten feet. The longer the leash, the less control you have over your dog. And when they are really long, they can easily get caught on things. Here’s a simple, standard leash, here’s one made from mountain climbing rope, and a rope one with reflective patches and a comfortable handle. I personally use a simple “old fashioned” one but it’s great to have options!
- Collar—Make sure the collar is snug or consider a martingale collar, which tightens when you pull the leash to ensure it won’t slip off. Here’s a standard dog collar that’s reflective, and a collar with the dog’s name and your number embroidered into it. I personally use martingales, and there are a lot of styles to choose from. Some have buckles and some don’t, while others have chain links.
- Water—Bring a water bottle and a bowl for your dog to drink from. They have some cute bottles with a little cup attached for drinking, which may work if your hike is short enough and it’s not too hot. Be sure to bring enough water for you and your dog and a little extra. There are a lot of options! For short hikes, this one would work well or this one for a longer hike. This one offers some insulation to keep it cool. I personally always bring a pack with water. My one dog will drink from the tube if I squirt it into his mouth. You can get a pack like this or throw this into any pack you want to use. My little guy likes a bowl, and I use something like this that is compact.
- Poop bags—Bring a few just in case. They even make biodegradable bags, but please don’t leave them on or near the trail. I love the biodegradable ones, but have had some unpleasant experiences, (read as: poop bag tears and explosions—not fun during a hike!). I use bags similar to these.
- First-aid kit—You can buy one or make your own. Some of the things you’ll want to include are a cleaner and disinfectant, tweezers, eyewash, toenail clippers, bandage scissors and bandages (gauze pads, non-stick pads, and vetwrap). There are a lot of first-aid kit options. For a nice compact one, check out this first-aid kit.
There are a lot of items you may want to consider bringing.
- Dog harness. When I hike my dogs, I always use a harness. I do have them wear their collar for identification, but I use a harness to secure them. This Kurgo harness is great, or this one. I personally use this one for everywhere we go.
- Dog booties. You might want to consider dog booties for your dog, depending on the terrain where you’ll be hiking. It can take a while for a dog to get used to them, so try them at home first. Ruffwear is a good brand that I have used for dog booties or these Kurgo booties would be great as well.
- Dog food or treats. This may depend on how long you plan to hike. However, if you were to get lost, it’s a good idea to have at least a snack. You can certainly use a ziploc bag for carrying dog food, or if you want something more sturdy for hiking, this is an option.
- Medications. The same would go for any medications your dog takes. If it’s required, you may want to bring a dose or two, just in case.
- Dog hiking pack. They make packs specifically for a dog. Though it’s not required, if your dog has some extra energy to burn, it’s a great idea to have them carry their gear. It lightens your load and is a great way to work them out! This Kurgo dog backpack is amazing, or for a more affordable option, I like this Outward Hound one.
- Dog coat. If your dog gets cold, which I have found especially when they get older, a coat may be a good idea. Here are some different options.
Now You’re Ready to Hike with Your Dog
You now know all of the things you need to bring and to consider when hiking with a dog. Just remember—it’s YOUR job to keep your dog safe and happy while hiking (as well as any other people or animals you encounter on the trail).
What tips have you found helpful when you hike with your dog? Or what is annoying about other people hiking with their dog? Post them below!
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