How to Hike with Your Dog

By: Shanna Freeman
Person exploring nature with dog in forest.
Image Gallery: Dogs A canine companion might be the perfect hiking partner on a beautiful day. See more pictures of dogs.

For those of us who enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, hiking is a fantastic way not only to enjoy beautiful surroundings, but also to get exercise and challenge ourselves physically. Who better to bring along on your next adventure than man's (and woman's) best friend? Most dogs enjoy being outside even more than we do -- it's a brand-new world of smells, sounds and sights for them to discover. Due to our busy schedules, they often don't get the kind of activity that they really need to stay healthy and happy. Taking your dog along on a hike is a wonderful way to bond, too. It's a win-win situation.

Once you decide to start hiking with your dog, you just pack up the car, drive to your destination and hit the trail, right? Not exactly. Hiking with your dog means taking some extra steps to ensure that both of you have a great time. Not every park or location allows dogs on its hiking trails, so some research is in order. Not every dog is suited to every type of trail, either. And even if you have a dog that's suited to the trail you want to take, you can't just hit the ground running. Just as humans can't go from couch potato to marathon runner, dogs can't go from taking a 15-minute daily walk to going on a 10-mile difficult hike without potentially running into trouble. There are also some important safety tips to keep in mind when you take your dog to an unfamiliar location, and you'll have to think a little differently about how you hike with doggie along.


But don't get discouraged. Read on to learn about everything you can to do make hikes with your dog a fun new part of both of your exercise routines, starting with the prep work.

Preparing to Hike with Your Dog

Siberian husky
This Siberian husky is happy hiking in the mountains in cold weather, but not all dogs would be.

The first step in preparing to hike with your dog is to think about what would work best for its breed. Some dog breeds are naturally well-suited to activities that require endurance and stamina. Most Siberian huskies, for example, would do well on long hikes in the winter. However, a toy poodle probably wouldn't be able to keep up. Some larger dogs, like German shepherds, can have joint problems that make steep terrain difficult. Do some research on your dog's particular breed to find out what types of exercise suit it best.

Your dog should already be trained to respond to basic voice commands; if not, you'll need to get that under control before going on a hike together. And if your pet has been spending most of its time napping, you'll need to start conditioning before you go all out. You could start with short walks, then increase the distance until you're both ready to hit the trail. If you want to hike in places with steep or rough terrain, start getting your dog used to that kind of exercise and gradually build up.


Also, make sure that your dog is up to date on all of vaccinations and on a regular flea, tick and heartworm control regimen. Find out what kind of animals you may encounter in the area, and familiarize yourself with basic first aid for your dog.

Before you set out, your dog needs to have an ID tag with all of your contact information. You'll also need to remember a leash -- most places that allow dogs require them. Finally, pack a kit that includes:

  • an extra collar and leash
  • plastic bags or a spade
  • basic first aid supplies, such as bandages, fine-tipped tweezers and antibiotic cream
  • your vet's phone number
  • the location and contact information for the closest emergency vet clinic
  • a current picture of your dog (in case it gets lost)
  • water
  • snacks or food (depending on how long you'll be gone)
  • dog booties (depending on season and terrain)

Once your dog is conditioned, trained and all set with the supplies it will need, take time to carefully choose your destination. Many national parks only allow dogs in limited areas, for example. Make sure your dog is allowed, find out about leashing requirements, and get a trail map so you can get on the right trail for both of you.


Hiking with Your Dog

sign saying to clean up after dogs
It's fair to say that most people don't want to step in poop.

Now that you're headed for your hiking adventure, there are some more things to think about while you're hiking with your dog. When you're out on the trail, you serve as an ambassador for everybody who enjoys hiking with dogs. Keep that in mind and you'll be sure to make a good impression.

Even if the particular area or park you've chosen doesn't require that you keep your dog on a leash while hiking, it's probably still a good idea. Not only will this keep your canine friend from being able to take off after animals, it'll also keep your dog from other potentially unpleasant encounters. Some people don't approve of dogs on a hiking trail, don't like them or are allergic to them. If your dog is leashed, you can keep it away from anyone you might pass on the trail. This includes other dogs, because you never know how either dog will react. Unless you're very confident that your dog will obey your commands no matter what it may encounter, leashing is best. Do your best to curb barking, too.


Be sure that when you're hiking with your dog, you keep to the trail. You should be keeping to the trail anyway -- that's why they're marked -- but that way, your dog will be safe. When people or even horses (you may encounter them depending on the trail) are coming the other way, give them a wide berth.

Remember those plastic bags in your kit? They're to scoop up your dog's feces when it needs to go. Leaving them on the ground is one sure way to ruin other hikers' enjoyment of the trail. If there aren't waste containers along the way, you'll need to have something to carry the poop with you until you can dispose of it. You can also use a spade or small shovel to bury it; just be sure it's well off the trail and away from any sources of water.

Now that you've got the basics down, let's take a close look at how you should protect your dog while hiking.


Protecting Your Dog While Hiking

dog drinking from a water bottle
Parasite-free water: always a bonus.

Your dog can get into a lot of trouble while out on the trail, and it's your job to do everything you can to keep it safe. This means paying close attention to the dog's needs. If it's panting, then break out the water, because dogs can't sweat like we do when they get hot. You can buy collapsible bowls and other gadgets if your dog won't drink from a water bottle. And don't let it drink from a stream or puddle; these can be full of nasty bacteria like Giardia. Not hiking during the hottest parts of the day will also help to avoid dehydration.

If your dog isn't wearing booties to protect its feet against rough terrain or the weather, stop periodically and check its paws for cuts. And if you're hiking in an area where you might encounter hunters, get your dog a bright orange vest or bandanna so it isn't confused with something else.


You also need to worry about other dangerous threats, like snakes. Dogs will notice wildlife sooner than you do -- another reason to keep them on a leash. Make sure they know "leave it" or a similar voice command. In the event that your dog is bitten by a snake, try to keep it calm and use your first aid supplies. Call your vet as soon as possible.

Poison oak or poison ivy can also be a real menace while hiking. If your dog does get into a patch despite your best efforts, you'll need to bathe it as soon as possible while wearing gloves. It's more likely to affect your skin than your dog's. While they're most likely to just roll in it, some dogs will even eat poison ivy leaves and may need to take activated charcoal and IV fluids at the vet's office.

At the end of your hike, check over your dog thoroughly. It may have picked up a tick. If you do find one, use your tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it out straight. Keep the tick if possible so it can be identified if your dog gets ill. If you can't get the tick off, a trip to the vet is in order. Also, check for any scratches or abrasions on your dog's skin and treat them accordingly.

With any luck, now you've found another fun activity that you can do with your dog, and now you know how to keep it safe and happy while hiking. Happy trails!


Lots More Information

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  • Aitkenhead, Donna Ikenberry. "Backpacking with your best friend. " American Fitness . Vol. 13, Issue 6. MAS Ultra - School Edition. EBSCOHost. November/December 1995.
  • Anderson, Mark C. "Tails on Trails." Monterey County Weekly. Alt-Press Watch (APW). Jul 3-Jul 9, 2008.
  • Bleyer, Jennifer. "See Spot Hike. See Spot's Boots?" New York Times. E8. Feb 5, 2009.
  • Farrow, Connie. "Taking a hike? Six feet can be better than two." Los Angeles Times. ProQuest. August 23, 2004.
  • Gelbert, Doug. "The Canine Hiker's Bible." Cruden Bay Books. April 2, 2004.
  • Grenell, Tom. "Hiking with Fido." Appalachian Trailway News. November/December 1989.
  • Hahn, Joseph. "Properly Conditioned Dogs Make Great Hiking or Running Companions." Pet Columns, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. July 8, 1996.
  • LaBelle, Charlene G. "Backpacking With Your Dog." 2nd edition. Alpine Publications; July 2004.
  • Mullally, Linda B. "Hiking with Dogs: Becoming a Wilderness-Wise Dog Owner." 2nd Edition. Falcon. 2006.
  • National Park Service. "Visiting Parks with Pets." NPS. December 3, 1999.