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How to Hike Safely with Your Dog

Hiking with your dog can be one of the best parts about having a canine companion. It’s great exercise (for both of you), good for keeping dogs socialized and just a really fun way to spend time together. If you’re looking to hit the trails with your four-legged friend, here are some tips for getting ready and staying safe on your hike.

dog hiking with backpack

Keep Your Dog Vaccinated

Dogs can get Lyme disease and a host of other parasite-borne illnesses, just like humans. Talk to your vet before hiking season begins to make sure your dog is up to date on all shots, and ask them to show you how best to check for ticks, burrs and other undesirable hangers-on.

Learn the Laws in Your Area

Look up any laws that govern hiking in the area you’re planning to visit with your dog. Dog-friendly parks often require you to keep your pup leashed, and many have a maximum length limit.

Be especially cautious in areas where dogs are allowed to go off-leash — some parks will allow dogs to go off-leash in certain areas or if they stay within range of verbal commands. You never know how other dogs will behave (let alone any wildlife you may encounter on your hike), so remember to put your dog’s safety first!

Assess How Much Hiking Is Healthy for Your Dog

Is this your first time hiking with your dog? If so, start on an easy trail and work your way up to the big ones. Choosing a 12-mile expedition for your first hike might land your dog-tired doggie on your shoulders for most of the trip!

Pack Snacks and Water

Dogs can overheat just like people, so keep them well hydrated along the way. Pack enough water for you both, along with some nutritious food to keep their energy up. And don’t forget to bring a hiking-friendly collapsible dish for them to eat and drink from.

Plan to Share the Load

If you’re concerned about the added weight of food and water in your pack, consider getting a dog backpack so your pet can help share the load! For some breeds (and especially working breeds), carrying their own packs can make them feel like they’re helping out and doing something important — which they are!

As a general guideline, dogs can comfortably carry from one-quarter to one-third of their body weight in their packs. Help your dog try on and use their pack on walks to prepare — just like you would test out a new pack before using it on the trail.

Know Dog First Aid for the Trail

It’s always best to be prepared for injuries and ailments, so make sure to study up and stock your pack with everything you need for doggy trail first aid.
Many outdoor retailers sell first-aid kits tailored to canine companions, and some even offer free classes!

lab with red collar outside ready to hike


Pay Attention to Drinking Water Safety

Water you bring from home or get from drinking fountains is fine, but water you find along the trail can host harmful bacteria, parasites or viruses. Humans know to sanitize their drinking water, so be sure to show the same consideration for your dog.

Avoid letting your dog drink from rivers, lakes or puddles. Instead, keep them hydrated with the water you’ve packed. If you notice that they’re trying to drink water they’ve found, they might need to take more water breaks!

Check and Protect Your Pup’s Paws

Your hiking boots protect you from sharp rocks, snow, prickly plants, heat and other dangers — but dog paws offer no such luxury. One innovative solution? Dog boots! You should always use boots for your dog if you’re hiking through ice or snow, rough terrain or on rocks when it’s going to be sunny and more than 70 degrees.

If you hit the trail without boots for your dog, be sure to stop and check their paws regularly. Use your water breaks to pause and check their feet for cuts, scrapes, bruises or rocks stuck between the toes. If your dog ever shows signs of pain or slowing down on the trail, they need your help!

In a pinch, liquid bandages from your first-aid kit can be a quick fix. But if you notice any cuts on their pads, be sure to take them to a vet after the hike in case they need antibiotics.

Outfit Your Dog for the Outdoors

Do you have a favorite shirt, jacket or hat for hiking? An extra layer can be just as beneficial for your dog. If it’s going to be chilly, a vest with some insulation will help keep them comfortable — especially if they’re a short-haired breed. Alternately, if it’s hot, cooling vests designed to be dunked in water and worn wet can help cool off your pup while you’re on the trail.

Practice Proper Poop Etiquette

If your dog has to go during your hike, always be sure to pick up after them — even if they don’t go on the trail itself. It might seem like dog poop would just blend in with wild animal waste, but your dog’s not a part of the natural ecosystem you’re hiking through, so neither is their poop. Taking care of their waste properly respects your fellow hikers and helps the environment stay healthy.

As the hiker saying goes: Take only memories, leave only footprints.

Keep Your Camp Comfortable

If you’ll be hiking or camping in especially hot, cold or wet weather, you might want to bring an extra blanket, crash pad or sleeping pad for your dog. Keeping another layer between them and the ground will help keep your dog comfortable in the great outdoors.

Hiking is a wonderful way to spend time bonding with your pup in the great outdoors. It not only helps you both get some healthy exercise, it’s just as good for your mental health as it is for theirs. These tips are our way of helping you hit the trails safely so you can have as much healthy fun together as possible!

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