Fall is here and this can be the best time of the year for hiking with your dog. The cooler temperatures and smaller crowds make it more comfortable for both you and your pup. And the changing colors make already fabulous views even more breathtaking. We talked to Kurgo’s consulting Veterinarian, Dr. Susan O’Dell, DVM, and she gave us some great tips for hiking with dogs this season. Tell us your favorite tips in the comments below!
Preparing for Your Hike
- Check with Your Vet – “As with any physical exercise, you should check with your vet about the limits for your dog based on their breed and physical health,” says Dr. O’Dell. “Even though your dog may race across the yard after a ball, they may not be ready for a hike of two hours or more. Most dog breeds are meant for short sprints.”
- Start Gradually – “Just as with running, gradually increase the length and difficulty of your hikes with your dog” says Dr. O’Dell. “If your dog is only used to walking a mile or two for bathroom breaks, first start him off walking longer distances building up to 3-6 miles. Then try easy hikes of 1-3 miles with some elevation gain.”
- Basic Training – Hiking in the wilderness or even just a strange place can be dangerous if a dog gets loose or runs after birds, squirrels, skunks or bears. Depending on the trail, there could also be other humans and dogs. Has your dog mastered their heel? Will they come when called even if there’s a tempting bird to chase? If not, consider working on these skills so you can count on your dog minding you if they get in trouble.
Your dog needs gear to safely hike as well. If you are going into a wilderness area, just like for yourself you should assume you might get lost and you need supplies for your dog to cover spending the night in the wilderness.
Take Food and Water – No matter how long the hike, make sure you bring plenty of food and water as well as a lightweight dog travel bowl. “For a day trip, you should bring enough to water and feed your pup for 24 hours in case you get lost,” according to Dr. O’Dell. “Most dogs need 8.5-17 ounces of water per 10 pounds of their body weight in a 24 hour period. Stop frequently for water breaks, and be sure to use clean water from home or filter water along the way. Dogs can get infections and parasites from contaminated water, just like us,” she says.
- Always Bring a Leash – Most parks and trails have areas that require leashes. Also, you may need to have greater control of your dog on an off-leash trail if they are distracted by dogs or wildlife. There are many hands-free dog leashes that enable you to wrap the leash around your waist so you can use your hands to maneuver over rocks.
- Use a Harness – “Consider using a dog harness specifically designed for hiking or running,” recommends Dr. O’Dell. “You want one with a v-neck design as these types of harnesses distribute force when the dog is pulling or you both are unsteady on uneven terrain. Look for a harness with a back handle which can help you lift your pup over a log or help him along a rocky scramble.”
- Consider a Backpack – Dog backpacks are a good idea so you don’t have to carry all of your dog’s supplies. “Dogs like having a job and a backpack gives them purpose,” says Dr. O’Dell. “It also is a good way to slow your dog down if they race ahead. Just be sure to never put more than one-quarter of his body weight in his pack.”
- Protect Their Paws – If you are doing a long or especially rugged hike, you should consider dog booties or putting balm like Musher’s Secret on your pup’s pads.
- Pack First Aid – Be sure to pack a well stocked pet first aid kit along with your own. One that is pet focused will have pain and allergy medications recommended by your vet (they aren’t the same as those for humans) as well as a vet wrap which is self-sticking tape that is used with gauze or bandages. Be sure to review a basic pet first aid guide too, so you know how to handle situations you might find on the trail.
For more ideas on what to bring, check out this Dog Hiking Checklist
Select Your Trail
- Rules, Regulations & Laws – It’s always good to check out a specific park’s website or to call a ranger station to confirm dogs are allowed before you make the trip. Know the rules too: are dogs allowed off leash? May dogs swim in the water along the trail?
- Terrain – Make sure you read the trail specifications on All Trails or in a guide book. How steep is the trail? How rocky? A one-mile hike can feel a lot longer if it’s all uphill. Before you head in, know how long the trail is and if you and your pup can handle the effort.
- Traffic – Who else is using the trail? If there are a lot of hikers with dogs, will your dog be well behaved? If it’s busy, will you constantly be fighting for control of your dog, making it no fun for either of you? What about if there are mountain bikers flying by? Make sure your dog will be able to handle the traffic on the trail.
While on the Trail
- Keep Your Dog Leashed – “I highly recommend you keep your dog leashed on their first few hikes until you know how he/she will react to wildlife and the other hikers on the trail,” says Dr. O’Dell. Use a hands-free leash if you need your hands for climbing.
- Pick Up After Yourself – Leaving dog poop even in the wilderness is not ok. Some areas get excessive use and the impact from dog and human waste can hurt fragile ecosystems. Pick up your dog’s poop and pack it, just like any other waste you produce while in the wilderness.
Check Regularly for Fleas and Ticks – Fleas and ticks are rampant in the woods so Dr. O’Dell recommends consider using either a flea and tick deterrent or a product that kills the insects. “Topical tick control products containing chemicals like fipronil and permethrin that keep ticks off of your dog so they cannot spread disease,” she says. “Newer insecticides and acaricides kill ticks and contain newer compounds like flumethrin, deltamethrin, cyphenothrin, afoxalaner and fluralaner. These medications are usually administered to dogs by alternate methods – some orally and some by treated collar.“ No matter what you use, you should thoroughly look over yourself and your dog for ticks and remove them.
- Protect Him from the Sun – “Even though they have those beautiful fur coats, your dog can still get sunburned. Make sure you hit them with some sunscreen, especially around the nose and other less-hairy areas,” warns Dr. O’Dell.
- Rest and Hydrate Frequently – “Just like you, your dog needs to stay hydrated while hiking. Unlike you, they cannot tell you when they are overdoing it,” says Dr. O’Dell. “So stop frequently for breaks and give your pup water. Check for signs of heatstroke, such as excessive drooling, reddened gums, rapid heart rate, or producing very small amounts of urine.”
With some planning, hiking can be a great activity for both you and your dog to bond over. So get out there and enjoy the fall, because winter is coming!