Hiking With Dogs: A Guide for Hitting the Trails in 2020

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An adventure hike in the great outdoors is a fantastic way to share an epic experience with your best canine companion. Hiking with dogs is a fun and exciting way to hit the trails and get in touch with the world around you. If you’re wondering where to start, you’ve come to the right place! 

We’ve put together this simple guide to hiking with your best 4-legged friend to help you gain confidence on the go, and to ensure you’re plenty prepared for the adventure ahead. Here you’ll find things to consider before your excursion, dog trail etiquette and safety, dog hiking gear essentials and more. Keep reading to find everything you need to know to get started!

​4 Things to Consider Before Hiking With Dogs

1. Hiking Terrain

Before you ever hit the trails with your dog, it’s important to consider the terrain you’ll be hiking in. Different environments will require different gear and safety procedures, and your dog will have unique needs in each. 

For example, if you’re planning a hike in a wet marine environment, your dog will likely need anti-slip dog shoes and a dog life jacket. On the other hand, if you’re planning a mountain or deep woods adventure, you’ll likely want to bring a quality dog pack and even a dog jacket for rugged environments. The environment you’ll be hiking in will determine how you need to prepare for both yourself and your dog. Pay close attention to the following to determine what’s needed for your adventure:

  • The surface your dog will be walking on
  • The surrounding landscape hazards
  • Whether or not water safety gear is required

hiking up a steep hill

2. Weather Conditions

Regardless of how trail savvy your dog is, the weather conditions will play a large role in their ability and safety during the hike. It’s always best to check the official weather forecast in your area before hitting the trails, and understanding what conditions to look for on the go can be a great skill on any hiking trip. Here are several weather conditions to look for while adventuring outdoors:

  • Thunderstorms: A highly recognizable sign of an approaching thunderstorm, cumulonimbus clouds are flat bottom clouds with large blooms rising vertically and anvil shaped on top. If you notice these clouds forming while you’re exploring outdoors, it’s important that you head back to your vehicle or to camp as soon as possible. These types of clouds typically result in heavy rains, dangerous lightning and concerning thunder. Additionally, these elements can even create more concerning threats such as tornadoes. 
  • Lighting: As previously mentioned, lightning can be dangerous and you should avoid hiking during these weather conditions if at all possible. If you notice lighting in the distance, it’s time to head back to your vehicle or campsite before the storm reaches your location. 
  • Barometric Pressure: A rapid decline in air pressure is a likely sign of changing weather conditions, such as thunderstorms. To have a better understanding of the pressure in your area, carry an altimeter in your hiking gear for an easy read. If the altimeter plummets quickly or unexpectedly, this should be taken as a signal that it’s time to wrap up your adventure.

woman and dog on a mountain hike

3. Dog Behavior

If you feel confident that your dog is up to the task of joining you on a hiking adventure, you’ll need to determine if they are well-behaved enough to keep them safe on the go. Before you hit the trails, it’s crucial that your dog can mind his manners around others, and that he knows how to sit, stay, heel and come to verbal commands. Additionally, your dog needs to be comfortable on leash, and if you’re traveling to an approved off-leash area it’s important they don’t chase wildlife or other dogs on the trail. 

Along with basic dog etiquette, your dog should be socialized with other dogs and people. Hiking trails are often narrow in width and dense with undergrowth in the surrounding areas. This means when you’ll be in close proximity to others when you pass them on the trail. If your dog is aggressive towards others or overly protective, this can create a hazard for both you and others. This type of dog is not ready for hiking, and it will need proper training and socializing before you take them on an adventure. Additionally, barking can disturb wildlife and other hikers, so if your dog is prone to barking they’ll need proper training before hitting the trails. 

family with their dogs hiking

4. Dog Health & Fitness

If your dog is well-mannered and ready to hit the trails at your side, you’ll need to determine if they’re healthy enough to do so. Hiking tends to be more strenuous than walking, as the terrain is often uneven and usually involves a vertical slope. Before packing your hiking bag, you’ll need to do an honest assessment of your dog’s health and fitness to ensure their comfort and safety on the adventure. Additionally, if your dog has health ailments or considerations that affect its ability to hike or exercise, then it’s not a good candidate to take with you on your excursion. 

To determine if your dog is capable of a hiking adventure, consider the following:

  • Dog’s Age
  • Dog’s Health
  • Dog’s Size
  • Dog’s Energy Level
  • Dog’s Stamina
  • Dog’s Individual Health Concerns
energetic dog running

Dog Hiking Etiquette

Practicing proper etiquette with your dog on the trail is essential to keep them safe, and to keep others around you comfortable. Here are 7 rules of the trail you’ll need to follow to prevent conflict on your adventure:

  1. Control Your Dog at All Times: Your dog should always be properly leashed and restrained while hiking the trails. If you’re in a permitted off-leash area, ensure your dog obeys voice commands and is within eye and ear shot at all times. If the trail you’re on requires your dog to be leashed, or if there’s a chance they’ll bother other hikers, keep them on a 6-foot leash or less at all times. 
  2. Make Way for Other Adventurers: When you’re approaching other hikers or riders on the trail, keep your dog close by, and step off the trail to make way for others to get by. If other adventurers yield to make way for you and your dog, say ‘thank you’ and make your way past quickly and safely. 
  3. Communicate With Others: When you meet another adventurer on the hiking trail, acknowledge them kindly and feel free to communicate if they seem up to it. If they’re interested in meeting your dog, communicate if your dog is friendly and invite them to say hello if your dog is comfortable with others approaching. 
  4. Take Nothing but Photographs: Don’t take plants, rocks, shells or other natural items as mementos. Removing naturally occurring objects from the environment can disturb the local ecosystem and natural habitat.
  5. Understand Your, and Your Dog’s, Limits: You’ll be carrying gear while hiking, as well as holding your dog’s leash, and you need to be honest with yourself about both your and your dog’s limits. Don’t try to carry more than you can handle, including multiple dogs. If you need more hands, invite a friend or family member to join you on your adventure. 
  6. Leave Nothing but Footprints: When you’re adventuring outdoors, make sure that you leave nothing besides footprints. Bring dog waste bags to collect and properly dispose of your dog’s poop, and ensure any other waste you accumulate during your adventure is contained for disposal when you have the proper means. This ensures other hikers won’t be hassled by anything you’ve left behind, and that local wildlife won’t be harmed by it. 
  7. Protect the Local Environment and Wildlife: Being a responsible hiker means keeping your dog on the trail, and preventing them from chasing wildlife or damaging plants. Aside from some plants and wildlife being dangerous to your dog, your dog can also cause hazard to them. Practicing proper etiquette means protecting the environment you’re adventuring in.
couple with a dog hiking

Dog Trail Safety Concerns

There are several common safety hazards and concerns you’ll need to watch out for when taking your dog hiking. From weather conditions to injuries, understanding the risks helps you to prepare for the unexpected. Here are 7 dog hiking hazards you should be prepared for during your experience on the trail:

  1. Extreme Temperature and Weather Conditions: From freezing temperatures to extreme heat exposure, the weather plays a large role in your dog’s safety while hiking. Snow and slippery ice can create hazards on the trail, and heat exposure can lead to dog dehydration or overexertion. Always check the weather beforehand and pack plenty of fresh and clean water for your adventure, offering your dog frequent drinks. 
  2. Dangerous Plants: Poisonous plants like poison ivy, poison oak, certain varieties of mushrooms, hemlock and more, can create a dangerous emergency situation if your dog ingests them. Additionally, prickly plants like burrs and thorns can cause discomfort if your dog steps on them or gets them stuck in their fur. 
  3. Dog Overexertion: Your dog is likely to get excited while hiking, and it’s important to keep an eye on their heart rate and breathing throughout the day. Understand their health before your excursion, and don’t push them beyond their comfortable limits. 
  4. Paw and Other Injuries: Rough terrain, sharp rocks, prickly plants and more leave your dog’s paws vulnerable to cuts, scrapes and abrasions. To protect their feet, invest in a quality pair of dog shoes for maximum protection on the go. 
  5. Falling or Tripping: Steep and unstable terrain create hazards while hiking with your dog, and require dog security gear to keep them safe. When you’re hitting the trails with your canine companion, ensure your dog wears a quality harness or waterproof collar, with a durable and secure leash. This gear offers you control over your dog, and even provides a means for you to help them over obstacles. 
  6. Wildlife and Other Creatures: Wildlife and local insects can cause a hazard for both you and your dog on an adventure. Use caution while exploring and be prepared for ticks, snakes, scorpions, predators and more. 
  7. Pathogens: If your dog drinks water that’s contaminated with Leptospirosis, Giardia or other pathogens, they can become dangerously ill. These kinds of pathogens typically cause gastrointestinal distress like diarrhea and vomiting, as well as lethargy. To prevent this, don’t let your dog drink from lakes, streams or stagnant water bodies. Bring plenty of fresh water to keep them plenty hydrated throughout your adventure.
winter hiking with a dog

12 Essential Dog Gear Items for Hiking

Keeping your dog safe and comfortable while hiking means packing essential gear that they’ll need on the go. Here are 12 pieces of dog gear you’ll need when hitting the trails:

  1. Dog Food and Treats
  2. Fresh and Clean Water
  3. Collapsible Water/Food Dish
  4. Dog First Aid Kit
  5. Cooling Vest or Dog Jacket
  6. Dog Waste Bags
  7. Dog Shoes or Boots
  8. Waterproof Dog Collar and Identification
  9. Dog Leash
  10. Dog Pack
  11. Reflective Gear
  12. Microfiber Dog Towel

If you’re interested in dog gear you’ll need for other outdoor adventures, check out this article: Complete Outdoor Adventure Dog Gear List. Additionally, if you’re searching for more information on camping after your hike, check out this article: How to Take Your Dog Camping in 2020

dog resting and drinking water

​Final Thoughts

A dog makes a fantastic built-in companion for outdoor adventures like hiking, and they’re typically eager to hit the trail at your side. Hiking with your best canine companion provides health benefits to you both, as well as strengthening your bond through a fun shared experience. Using this guide, you can safely prepare for your upcoming adventure to ensure both you and your dog are safe, comfortable and happy on the trail throughout the day. 

Has this guide helped you get one step closer to a hiking adventure with your best 4-legged friend? Share your thoughts, comments and questions in the comment section below! 

Hiking With Dogs: A Guide for Hitting the Trails in 2020

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