Hiking with Dogs (Safety and Rules)
Hiking With Dogs
I know a lot of hikers are also dog lovers; our dogs are an integral part of our lives and bring us a lot of joy. Seeing my dog run zoomies with a giant smile after getting to a hiking trail or a park makes me really happy. I know he loves being lazy and snoozing on the couch a lot but he also lives for adventures where he can run free and explore. If you own a dog, it can be fun to take them on hikes with you when the trail is dog-friendly. However, there are a precautions you should take to keep your pet safe and to follow the rules of the trail (and common courtesies).
Filthy Harlee sporting his Ruffwear pack
Rules and Courtesies
- DOGS ALLOWED? LEASHES? Make sure you research the rules about leashes for the hiking trail you plan to trek. There are a lot of trails that are not dog-friendly and there is usually a good reason. For example, when I lived in Tucson there are trails in Catalina State Park that do not allow dogs at all because of the bighorn sheep population. Some trails allow dogs but they must be kept on leash, usually to protect other hikers if the trail is well-used. It may be difficult to find a trail where your dog can run off-leash but they definitely exist!
- CLEAN UP. Please make sure you clean up after your pet. Follow the rules of Leave No Trace which still applies for your pet’s waste as well as yours. Consider buying environment-friendly waste bags instead of just regular plastic bags.
- WATER. Don’t let your dog drink standing water! I know, I know … it can be hard to control what your pet does while you’re trekking, especially if they’re off-leash. But, try to be aware of where they are drinking from; usually running water like a stream will be fine. But, if the water has been standing, it puts them at risk. Standing water is the source of a lot of bacteria and can get your dog really sick. For example, Harlee gets vaccinated for Leptospirosis which is a disease that comes from standing water but a lot of dogs do not get this vaccine. I usually bring him a collapsible water dish and share my filtered water with him along the way.
- WILDLIFE. Keep your dog within close distance to you while on the trail. When you pet wanders too far ahead of you, they may catch the attention of wildlife. If the two of you travel together, it’s more likely you will scare off that same wildlife. If you live in the Southwest, it is recommended to get your dog “rattlesnake training”. Their instinct is to go after an animal, which in the case of a rattlesnake is deadly…
- HEALTH. Before you even think about hiking with your dog, make sure he or she is healthy enough to hike. Hiking can be too overwhelming for a senior pet and very dangerous for a brand new unvaccinated puppy. It’s always better to be on the safe side and check with your vet that your dog is ready to be hiking.
- MEDICAL. First of all, it’s always good practice to have your own basic first aid kit with you on the trail (See 5 Essentials For Your First Hike). That being said, the kit can also be used for your pet in case of certain injuries. Also make sure to watch for signs of heatstroke in your dog, depending on the weather. This includes excessive panting, slowing energy, and apparent dizziness.
- TICKS. Always check your dog after your hike, or each night on a longer trip. Even if you’re using flea and tick protection they can still get ticks attached. Lucky for me, Harlee is short-haired and white so a tick is easy to find. But, a lot of dogs have long hair where it may take a lot more effort to search them thoroughly. Keep a tick key or other form of tick removal with you. While you’re checking them you can also keep your eye out for any injuries you didn’t notice.
Harlee on the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks
- BACKPACK. The general rule of thumb is to keep your dog’s pack within 25% of it’s weight. It’s always nice when your dog carries it’s own food instead of adding extra weight to your backpack if you’re on a longer trek, but make sure your dog is okay with it. Harlee is just above 30 lbs so I need to keep his pack under 8 lbs. Based on his last trip, I also recommend making sure the pack is on tight and fits well so it doesn’t irritate their skin, especially under their arms and tummy.
- PAWS. Especially on a backpacking trip, your pet may have a hard time with their paws. Rocky paths can be rough on their paws and may damage them to a point where they need to be carried. Try to figure out ahead of time what your dog will be able to handle and gradually get them used to the terrain if you’re planning a longer trip. Some dogs are willing to wear booties (mine is not) and this can help keep their paws more protected.
- ID COLLAR. Even if you’re not traveling on an off-leash trail there is still a chance of your dog getting away. Maybe their collar gets loose or you drop the leash on accident. Harlee is microchipped but even with that, I make sure he has a custom-made tag on his collar with my phone number on it. It’s important to get a new one of these every now and then because the etching wears out. If the phone number isn’t legible, it’s not going to be much help if are lost and found by anyone!
How do you keep your pet safe when hiking?
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