The ultimate guide to hiking with your dog - BC SPCA
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The ultimate guide to hiking with your dog

June 23, 2023

Hitting the trail with your dog is a wonderful way to exercise together while enjoying the great outdoors and strengthening your bond. Before you and your dog get packing, however, it’s important to keep in mind certain considerations and steps that will keep your pooch safe and help transform them into your ultimate hiking partner.

Get a health assessment

It’s important to consult your veterinarian before you plan out your first hike. Here’s what you need to know before you prep your pup for the trek.

Your dog’s age. A dog that is too old or too young might not have the stamina or the physical conditioning that’s required for an extensive hike.

Your dog’s body type. Some body types make dogs better hiking partners than others. If hiking or backpacking is a regular activity, choosing a dog that is medium-sized or larger is an excellent choice to suit your lifestyle. Brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs like Pugs, Shih Tzus, and French bulldogs) have difficulty getting enough air, especially in the heat, which means a long hike could be dangerous for them.

Your dog’s health. A dog with health issues, like arthritis or hip dysplasia, wouldn’t make the best hiking buddy. You’ll also have to be cautious with dogs who are overweight as they might not be physically fit enough to endure the journey.

Your dog’s vaccinations. Make sure that your dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date and ask your vet about any medical preventatives for fleas and ticks, waterborne pathogens, as well as any first aid treatments you might need. Let your veterinarian that you hike with your dog and in what regions so they can advise you on any specific infectious diseases to worry about in that area.

Prepare your dog for the hike

Even if your dog is in top physical health and has tons of energy, it’s still a good idea to prepare them for a hike, especially if you’re hoping to bring them along on long treks. Keep these things in mind before you put on your hiking boots and strap a pack onto your pooch.

Build up your dog’s stamina. Just as you wouldn’t run a marathon without training, the same is true for your dog when it comes to hiking. It’s important for your dog to build up her strength and stamina before an intense physical activity to prevent injury or sore muscles.

Practice with small hikes. Start with short hikes and monitor your dog as she hikes and her recovery afterwards. If she seems wiped out, continue with easy hikes until she’s built up her endurance and strength. Once your dog seems to be adjusting well to your hikes, gradually increase the duration and difficulty of your hikes.

Prep your dog’s paws for the trek. Hiking on tough terrain can be hard on your dogs’s paws, which is why they need time to condition their paws for long hikes. You can also make it easier for your dog’s feet by buying him a pair of hiking booties or applying paw protection salve to his tootsies before you head out.

Experiment with a dog backpack. It can be useful to have your dog carry his own supplies by having them wear a doggie backpack. However, not every dog is built to carry one so it’s a good idea to consult with your vet before strapping one on your dog. If you’re given the greenlight, you’ll want to buy a pack that’s snug but not too tight. Then, start getting them used to the pack by wearing it empty around the house. Gradually start adding in a few pounds evenly on both sides before they’re carrying the maximum weight, which is typically 20-25% of their body weight. If your dog shows any signs of fear or dislike for the pack, positive reinforcement training may help. However, if the signs continue, then you should not ask your dog to wear one.

Practice your training cues. Safety is your top priority, and no matter how well-trained your dog might be, a new environment could overwhelm them. Practising your reward-based training skills and cues regularly at home and on hikes will help them feel comfortable and confident in different situations and environments.

Whether you choose to hike with your dog on or off-leash, keeping your dog with you and under control will ensure your and your dog’s safety and the safety of any other hikers and animals you might encounter on the trails. A reliable emergency recall can be trained and is a crucial skill to have when going for hikes with your dog. Remember, not all trails are off-leash friendly, so check before letting your off-leash.

Saundra Clow's dogs on a hike near Whistler
Photo by Saundra Clow

What to bring when hiking with your dog

It’s time to hit your favourite trailhead with your canine companion. Below is a list of the things you should pack beforehand for your furry friend.

Water and portable water dish. Keeping hydrated is important for both you and your dog. Make sure you bring enough water for your pooch along with a collapsible water dish. Offer your dog water every 15 to 30 minutes, and plan to bring at least one litre of water for every 5 kilometres. The warmer it is outside, the more water you’ll need to bring and drink. Also, if you’re hiking where there’s still snow around, know that snow isn’t a sufficient source of hydration.

Pet first aid kit. Make sure it includes all the basic supplies that you’ll need if your dog were to get sick or have an accident. A collar with I.D. and a sturdy leash. You might also want to consider bringing an extra leash just in case one breaks or you need to tether your dog and need additional length.

Poop bags. In accordance with ‘leave no trace’ guidelines you should pick up your dog’s poop and pack it out. Bring along a larger sealable bag or container to store used poop bags until you can dispose of it. If you’re camping overnight then don’t forget to bring a shovel to bury the poop in a hole that’s at least six to eight inches deep and at least 200 feet from natural water sources.

Reflective jacket, collar, and/or headlight. If you know you’ll be hiking near dusk it’s a good idea for your dog to wear reflective gear in order to protect them at night.

Bring a bear bell. Attaching a bear bell either on your dog or your person is a good option to help ward off the attention from bears.

Here are a few outdoor pet essentials, currently available in our online store:

Trail etiquette for your dog

First thing’s first: do your research beforehand to find out if the hiking trail is canine-friendly because not all trails welcome dogs. Other things to keep in mind before hitting the trail with your pup:

Does the trailhead require a leash? Find out if leashes are required or not for your destined trail. Even if the trailhead allows for off-leash, you’ll still want to bring a leach. If a recall isn’t one of your dog’s strongest skills, or they are still working on their manners with other dogs or people, then it’s best to keep them leashed.

Yield to other cyclists and other hikers. Train your dog to heel and sit when others approach for both their safety and yours. Your dog should not be running up to everyone and should reliably come back to you when called. Remember that not all hikers are comfortable with dogs and we need to share the outdoor space.

Respect the wildlife. In order to protect the beautiful wildlife around you, it’s crucial to keep your dog on the trail (and it’s another good reason why you might want to keep them leashed at all times). Keeping them close to you on the trail is for their safety too, since there is the risk of your dog munching on a poisonous plant or drinking from contaminated puddles or streams.

Leave no trace. It’s important to pick up after your dog at all times. Whether it’s their poop or any food or garbage you want to ensure that you’re supporting the natural balance of the ecosystem around you.

bernese dog outdoors
Photo by: Maren Bruun

Read the signs

Now that you are prepared for your hike, ensure your furry friend enjoys the experience by going at their pace. If your dog is lagging behind, panting excessively, or wanting to turn around, listen to their signals — they may be saying that they need a break or have had too much. Making the adventure a positive experience for your dog, will foster their desire to join you on on your expeditions again and again!

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