All the plans are set, the course laid out, safety gear purchased, and all preparations have been made. But what about your dog? This question is becoming increasingly popular as families decide to no longer leave their beloved canine companions at home but instead choose bring them along for the hike.
There is no more agreeable and easy-going hiking partner than a well-behaved and friendly dog. With the inclusion of a dog to the hiking pack, certain precautions and arrangements must first be made to ensure that everyone, including the dogs, have a pleasant time without worry of the rough terrain and possible disasters for both dog and owner.
Remember that you, your family, and your dog will not be the only ones on the hiking trails. Depending of the trail you decide to take, there could be several people or several hundred people with their families and other dogs (and possibly horses) traveling along the same path. This is not the place for an aggressive or poor-mannered dog.
Dogs that have not been well trained and those that have aggression issues should be left at home for the protection of other hikers as well as themselves. Dogs that do not listen well to their owners can also find them in very dangerous situations as they may stray easily from the hiking trail or encounter things along the trail that should not be touched, such as poisonous plants and wild animals.
Dogs that do venture to the hiking trails should carry their own packs. Packs should hold provisions for at least one week should you ever become stranded or found off course. Since a dog can hold up to one-third its body weight, carrying their own packs is not a problem.
How well-behaved will your dog be on the hiking trails and around other people and their dogs? In order to maintain a friendly environment and enjoy your hiking time, the following behaviors should be enforced:
Do not allow your pet to chase wildlife.
Leash your dog around water sources and in sensitive trail areas.
Do not allow your dog to stand in any sources of drinking water.
Be mindful of the rights of other hikers not to be bothered by even a friendly dog.
Bury your pet’s waste or deposit it in the nearest trash bin.
Take special measures at shelters. Leash your dog in the sheltered area, and ask permission of other hikers before allowing your dog in a shelter. Be prepared to “tent out” when a shelter is crowded, and on rainy days.
Do not let wet dogs loose in shelters as they tend to rub against other hikers and cause more muddy and slippery conditions within the shelter.
Clean up after your dog when leaving a shelter by sweeping up.
Do not allow the dog to beg or steal food from other hikers.
Verify that dogs are permitted on the trails you wish to hike. Many national and state parks do not allow dogs.
Hiking is a very aerobic activity that should not be undertaken by those in poor health or those who cannot handle the rigorous conditions of a hike. This is equally important for dogs and because of this, the following should be considered prior to bringing Fido along for the hike:
All dogs should be wearing a collar with proper identification tags. Be sure to obtain a proper dog license and attach an ID tag to your dog’s collar.
Make sure your dog has updated vaccinations, nails trimmed and is in good health. Get a rabies tag and attach it to the collar.
Dogs under 15 months of age can easily sustain bone damage as they are in their growing phase, and long walks can permanently damage the bones or growth plates. Remember to keep walks short while they’re in this phase.
Long walks for older dogs with arthritis or other medical conditions that make it difficult for them to walk could also cause damage and pain, so consider this, too, before you take your dog out for a long hike.
Female dogs in heat could cause aggression issues in other dogs along hikes, and the owner could end up with an unwanted pregnancy. Those dogs that are spayed need the veterinarian approved resting and recuperation time prior to hiking.
Male dogs should be neutered prior to hiking and allowed time to rest and heal properly. Aggression and wandering are common traits in unaltered male dogs.
Fleas and ticks are abundant in the great outdoors, so be sure that your dogs are up-to-date on their preventive topical medications.
Pet first aid kits should be carried.
Feel confident that your dog listens to you and is well behaved.
To avoid sickness, do not feed your dog right before you exercise or hike. Feed them afterward when they are rested.
Bring lots of water and a bowl for Fido to drink from.
Bring food or treats, even if you plan on being gone for only a short period of time.
Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day to keep your dog from overheating.
Have a towel handy to clean your dog up or clean wounds that may occur during the hike.
Every national or state park will have different rules and regulations for their parks and those enjoying the hiking trails. These should be posted at the entrance to the park, but you should contact the park first to obtain a copy of the rules and regulations prior to setting off on your hike. Such rules are in place to keep you and your pets safe. Even with the rules in hand, dog owners should acquire the following:
Always keep your eye on your dog. Mischief can happen quickly.
Never leave your dog unattended.
Always fill in any holes your dog digs.
Always use a leash. (Each park has different regulations as to the length of the leash.)
Dog owners must obtain permits for their dogs (where necessary).
All dogs should be up to date on their vaccinations.
Always clean up after dogs.
Aggressive dogs are not allowed on any public hiking trails or open beach areas.
Now that you are armed with all this knowledge and are ready to hit the trails with your canine companion, where do you go? Lucky for us, there are many parks across the United States that allow dogs. To help you find them, here are a few “dog friendly” directory listings on hiking trails.
DogFriendly.com – http://www.dogfriendly.com/server/travel/guides/park/park.shtml
Hike with Your Dog – http://www.hikewithyourdog.com
Pet Friendly Travel – http://www.petfriendlytravel.com/?page=state_parks
There are also many offline resources that can help you become more knowledgeable about hiking with your dog. Some of these resources include books, such as:
A Guide to Backpacking With Your Dog by Charlene G. Labelle
First Aid for Dogs: What to do When Emergencies Happen by Bruce Fogle
Ruffing It: The Complete Guide to Camping With Dogs by Mardi Richmond
The Canine Hiker’s Bible by Doug Gelbert
The Pet Travel and Fun Authority of Best-of-State Places to Play, Stay & Have Fun Along the Way: 35,000+ Accommodations, Pet Sitters, Kennels, Dog Parks … Tons-of-Pet Fun & More Guide! 12th Edition by M. E. Nelson
Hiking with your dog should be a fun experience that allows for not only exercise, but also the gift of bonding between owners and their dogs. By following not only the rules of the national or state park, but also by acting in an ethical manner that respects nature and others who are enjoying the hiking trails, your hike will be a positive and memorable experience. There is nothing better than fresh air, lush greenery surrounding you, and a furry hiking companion by your side each step of the way.
Copeland, D. (2005). Backpacking Doggy Style: Basics for Hiking with Dogs.
Hiking with Dogs. (2007). Appalachian Trail Conservatory.