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Image of a woman and her dog out for a mountain hike

Hiking With Your Dog

As we enjoy the last remnants of beautiful fall weather, it's a great time to get out and enjoy the outdoors with your before winter arrives. Here are some safety tips and what new products are available to make your hiking adventure more fun with your dog.

SAFETY TIPS

If you love nature and getting some exercise with your dog, you will most likely hold on to life time memories. God’s landscape truly does take most humans' breath away and taking your dog only enhances the journey. Preparedness with proper gear, physical conditioning and knowledge are key to a safe journey and I am going to share some advice I got from a few experts.

Start Slow and Use Easy Trails:

The first most important factor is if you are in good shape and the age of your dog. If your dog is young then go slow and choose the easiest trails. As your pup grows then you can extend your hike and the trail terrain. Just work your way of the “Getting In Shape” ladder. A rule of thumb is you are choosing a 5-mile hike then your dog and you should be able to walk 10-miles.

If you are new to hiking, take it slow, and take easy trails. If you are experienced, still go slow and take easy trails for your young dog. (Note: Brachycephalic dog breeds —smoosh-faced — don’t make the best hiking partners, as they are prone to breathing issues.) However, you can walk you dog for a little while and then give the dog a rest in a back pack or front pouch. There are many back pack products on the market for dogs so check them out. If you choose to use a backpack with your dog, your dog needs to get used to the backpack slowly over time before your first real hike. Help him work his way up in carrying up to the maximum 15% of his body weight. Dog backpacks also need to be packed properly, with even distribution of weight on each side. If your dog is going to carry his own water, the water should be drunk first (before the extra water you are carrying for the dog), so the weight he is carrying decreases as the water is used. Sixteen ounces of water weighs roughly 1 pound — keep this in mind when packing your dog’s backpack.

Check the Weather:

Always check the forecast before deciding to go on a hike. Heat exhaustion can be prevalent on hikes—respect the weather which includes lightning, hail, rain and snow storms. Then you need to know the condition of the trail. Respect the weather. Heat exhaustion happens too often on hikes. Hike with your dog when the weather is cool enough to avoid any possible heat exhaustion.

Wear “Hiking” Clothing:

There are so many “Hiking” clothing, socks and shoes on the market. I recently went on a wolf expedition in Yellowstone National Park. I chose to go the last week of May as many of the wildlife have/or still in the birthing season. The wolf pups are also usually coming out of their den. We were based at the Mammoth Lodge (far Northwest corner of Yellowstone) and it would be sunny and 70ish degrees at Mammoth but when we went up into the mountains it could be snowing and cold. One never knew what to expect every day of the week expedition. Our biologist recommended that we always have at least 2-extra pair of socks with our hiking boots. He stated that when you feel a blister then you are sweating in your socks and you need to immediately change them—it prevents the blister from forming.

Choose trails with even terrain and ones with trail signs, blazes and markers, like the well-maintained trails found at state parks, nature preserves and green belt systems. (Reminder: Not many national parks allow dogs on the trails, but on the ones that do, dogs always need to be leashed.) Hike only on established trails with even ground that is not too rocky. Most hiking trails are packed dirt with sure footing and are the best option for hiking with your dog.

Choose a comfortable harness that works with your dog’s physiology, not against it, and one that helps you lift your dog, like the Ruffwear Flagline Harness. My other No. 1 piece of gear on a hike is my hydration pack that holds up to 3 liters of water, plus first-aid supplies and snacks. Nothing is more important beyond health than having water on a hike.

Dog booties are also important. Get your dog used to wearing them for hiking. He may not need them on the hikes, but in case of a paw injury, it is super handy to have booties on hand.

I’ve had to carry out a dog from a hike for about 3 miles. So I’m really happy that a few years ago a very experienced hiker with a great love of dogs invented the Pack-a-Paw Rescue Harness by Mountain Dogware. This rescue harness is a must-have for anyone who goes hiking with their dogs, especially those who do it regularly.

Don’t get lost in the woods:

Learn how to read a trail map, and always stay on the marked trails. Print out a trail map or get one from the park office. If there is a sign-in sheet for the trail you’ve chosen to hike on, sign in, say hello, and be memorable in a good way at trailheads.

Train Your Dog For a Hike:

Work on getting your dog walking with a loose leash - this will make hiking all the more enjoyable. You dog must have a reliable recall command down pat. This is for many reasons. Approaching a stranger that might be fearful of dogs—no need to scare them or have them use their “Bear Spray” on your dog. Be respectful of sharing the trails and training your dog to “Come” is essential. If the trail you choose to hike on lets dogs be off leash (note: most require your dog to be on leash), it does not mean your dog is welcome to run up to anyone else on the trail. So instead of running your dog off leash, use a long lure line safely. Long lines are amazing for hikes. They are a great way to improve the recall cue as you go, plus long lines are a very respectful way to ensure your dog doesn’t interrupt anybody else’s adventure on the trails—that includes all wildlife.

Follow “Trail Etiquette:

Technically, as you and your dog are walking, you have the right of way to bicycles and/or horses (although avoid hiking trails that allow horses). People going uphill on a trail system also have the right of way. Move to the side of the trail and let people pass you easily; sharing mixed-use trails goes a long way for having a good day.

Also, a very important and helpful courtesy for your fellow hikers is to announce your presence. I also announce the presence of my dogs if coming up on someone from behind. Let other hikers know you are there by saying, “Hello.” If you can’t see around the corner and are concerned that someone might be coming from the other direction, call out “On trail.” Don’t let someone surprise you or be surprised by you or your dog.

A Few Last Tips:

If you are going to any National or State Park I can assure you that you will need to have a copy of your dog’s current vaccinations with you. Always expect the unexpected. If things go wrong, don’t sit around and complain. Assess your options, act accordingly and move forward. When you arrive at a National or State park then ask the Ranger if there is cell service on some of the trails, ask for a phone number should you need help, and of course take a “Boating Horn” with you should you need to summon someone.

Having a first-aid kit with you is better than not having one when needed. Thankfully there are plenty of dog first-aid kids available for purchase that are already assembled.

Read up on canine CPR before going on a hike with your dog. One early sign that a dog is getting tired and possibly overheated is that his tongue will loll out of his mouth, hanging lower than normal. Know your individual dog.

Ensure your phone is fully charged in case of emergencies on the trail. Always bring a portable battery pack for your phone.

NOW GET OUT THERE IN WITH NATURE AND YOUR DOG!

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Thank you to Donna Chandler, the canine behavior specialist behind My K9 Behaves for writing this blog post and allowing us to share it here!

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