Your dog is your best friend and you want to take him everywhere. If you are an active dog owner – you love the outdoors and being in nature, then having a canine that loves to do all the outdoorsy types of activities right along with you, is probably a dream come true. Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities dog many dog owners like to do with their pups. It’s not only fun and relaxing for you, but your pup gets a real enjoyment out of the hike, too, and for many of the same reasons. They love to be outdoors, they love the thrill of nature all around them, and it’s a physical challenge that gives them a great way to get the all-important exercise they need. If hiking is yours and your dog’s favorite sport, here are some tips for bringing your dog on a hiking trip that you should consider, especially if you or your dog is a novice at the sport.
The following are lessons for hiking with your dog
Leash your dog
There are a lot of adventures to be had when hiking with your dog, however, taking every precaution to keep you and your dog safe is very important, because along with the adventures, comes risks and dangers if you aren’t careful. One important lesson, told by an avid hiker who has hiked all over the country, is to be careful of the wild animals out there and what dogs are capable of. They like to chase, and depending on where you’re hiking, you may run into a bear or two, a snake, or other dangerous creatures. If your dog is not on a leash, you can almost bet that by instinct alone, a dog is going to get hot on the trail of an animal he sees, and if he comes in close contact with certain ones, a big bear, or a snake, the outcome may not be so pleasant. So first lesson is to keep your dog on a leash so that you always have control over him and he doesn’t put himself in harms way without you at least being close by to lend a hand.
Stick to the trails
Some hikes may require following trails and paying attention to trail markings. If you are not familiar with the trails, one thing you don’t want to do is to take off away from the marked trails as you can quickly get lost and get into a situation where you can’t find your way out. Doug Gelbert described a similar situation while hiking with his dog one day, when he turned a short hike into a 20 mile hike that left him and his canine both exhausted, although not hurt or in danger. He thought a few shortcuts would be fine, but those shortcuts turned out to be wrong turns that lead him in circles. Stick to the trails, is his recommendation, and it’s a good one.
Train your dog for trail hiking
You can get just about any type of dog to be a trail hiking dog, but it’s always best to train them and work with them first, to get them used to it before you venture out and take an all-day hike. Here are things to plan ahead of time:
- Make sure your dog is all caught up on his vaccinations before you venture out.
- Consider the age of your dog. If your dog is older, take into consideration their health and hips and joints.
- They may not be able to tolerate rough terrain or hills and steep grades.
- Train with short walks, then gradually increase the time, the distance, the terrain and the elevation, to get him acclimated.
- Make sure your dog is trained in short commands, like, “sit,” “heel,” “stay,” and “come.”
- Learn canine first-aid. Should your dog get injured on a hike, you want to be able to lend a hand to help him until you can get him medical attention. You can take a canine first-aid class, which is highly recommended for any dog owner, but particularly one who plans to be an active outdoor partner with your dog, and always bring along a first-aid kit.
Rules for hiking with your dog
Yes, there are rules that you should follow when hiking with your dog. These are the best rules to know and adhere to:
- Take regular rest breaks – don’t get going too fast, but pace yourself to keep your stamina level even. You want to hike at your dog’s fitness level, not yours.
- Offer food and water often – Dogs can get dehydrated quickly, so be sure to carry plenty of water, a way to give it to them, and offer it often to keep them well hydrated – about 8 ounces every hour is recommended. They also burn a lot of calories and will need to refuel, so the same as water, have food ready to offer at regular intervals to keep their energy level up. It’s recommended to give them low-fiber, high-fat, and high-protein foods on a hike. Offer the food in small amounts about every two to three hours for optimum fueling.
- Keep an eye out for distress signals – Make sure to always watch for distress signals, such as a dry nose, rapid panting, limping, or other unusual behaviors from your dog. A dry nose indicates possible dehydration, and rapid panting can be a sign of heat stroke.
- Keep your dog in control – You want your dog to behave well on a hike, so practice good trail manners before trailing out. Your dog should be able to yield to others when you say, keep his bark in control, and not pull towards other hikers when passing. Always have him in control on his leash.
Always be aware of trail hazards
There are a lot of things that can happen to a dog while hiking, and some are illness related. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are 20 diseases related to the outdoors that outdoor lovers should know about. Some include, tick-borne illness, like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Tick and flea prevention is very important for hiking dogs.
Know what type of wildlife you have in the area you plan to hike. This includes insects, foliage and other concerns, like bodies of water and dangerous cliffs. Most importantly, know what your dog is capable of and not capable of. Your dog’s limitations should dictate the type of hiking you do with him, from where you hike, to how long you hike. Don’t push him beyond what he can do.
Caring for your dog after the hike
Preparing for the hike is important, but as equally important, is how you take care of your dog after it’s over. Here are some post-hike care tips.
- Cool down and recovery is critical. Let him cool down in a nice cool place and rest. Don’t expect him to continue being active after until he has recovered.
- Check his body good for ticks, injuries, scrapes, cuts, burns or any other unusual marks. You can use a comb to get to the skin for tick checks, and remove with a pair of tweezers.
- Clean your dog with a nice wet towel if your dog is dirty. Wiping him down removes dirt and debris and will feel good during the recovery period.
- Give him food and water to replenish what he lost. Make sure he takes in both at some point after his hike.
If you love to hike but don’t have a hiking buddy, there are actually ways you can still hike with a dog that would love to get out in the open air and out of a shelter. That’s right, you can hike with a shelter dog through a volunteer program. Check with your local shelters and see if they offer any type of program that allows you to have some fun with a dog for a day on a good hike. They get time away from the shelter, and you get the enjoyment of hiking with a four-legged buddy who loves dogs, and loves to hike.