Once people discover hiking, they usually want to invite their friends to discover the wonderful wide world of nature. That includes man’s best friend. Hiking with your dog can be a great way to exercise your pup and can strengthen your bond as a dog owner. Watching your dog take in nature's sights, sounds, and smells is rewarding. It’s hard not to smile when you see a dog happily bopping down the trail, eyes alert for a brave squirrel to cross its path.
Proper preparation can make the difference between an enjoyable hike and a confidence-breaking experience for you and your dog. Like humans, each dog has their unique limits to physical capacity. Always check with your vet before hiking with your dog or puppy, and schedule screenings for heart disease, Lyme disease, and other tick-borne illnesses. Starting healthy and prepared ensures every hike is a great experience for everyone on the trail.
Is it safe to take your dog hiking?
The short answer is yes. Just about every able-bodied dog can be an excellent hiking companion. Guineafowl guides have seen every shape and size on the trail, from Chihuahuas to Great Danes. But, of course, your dog’s ability to hike depends on a few things, including their age, fitness level, the difficulty of the hike, and the weather.
Your dog’s age is an important indicator of its ability to safely hike medium to longer distances. Young dogs may not be ready for long, difficult miles as their bones are still growing. Small dogs' bodies won’t fully mature until ten to twelve months. In larger dogs, it takes as long as 18 to 24 months. On the other end of the age spectrum, older dogs may be unable to keep up on longer hikes. In addition, older dogs are more prone to arthritis and orthopedic injuries. For both older and younger dogs, keep hikes short and relatively easy. Let your dog tell you when they’ve had enough by slowing the pace, sitting frequently, or other non-verbal cues.
A dog’s fitness builds like its human counterparts – slowly and with consistent efforts. This is to say, don’t take your dog from the couch to a 10-mile hike. Instead, help them build their fitness over time by starting with neighborhood walks, short hikes, then longer hikes. Many pet owners would assume that because their dog is active (or hyperactive), it will be able to handle a long, mountainous hike. However, structured activity, like hiking on a trail, is pretty different than playing at the dog park or chasing a frisbee in the yard. Physically active dogs must build stamina and endurance to handle a 5-6 hour hike.
Aside from your dog’s physical abilities, there are a few safety tips to remember when hiking with your dog. The National Park Service uses an easy-to-remember acronym for dog owners: B.A.R.K. Their B.A.R.K. rules are good to follow, regardless of where you’re hiking with your dog. B.A.R.K. stands for Bag your pet’s waste, Always leash your pet, Respect wildlife, Know where you can go. For example, many National Parks allow dogs, but only in improved areas, not on traditional hiking trails. Other parks and private preserves may have different rules, so check with the landowner before you go.
Preparing your dog for a hike
Just because your dog can hike doesn’t mean it’s as easy as loading them in the car and setting off toward your favorite trailhead. Hiking with a dog means extra planning, packing, and maybe training. What to pack for your hike with your dog is covered in the next section.
The National Park’s B.A.R.K. acronym reminds us that dog owners need to know where they can go. Some trails are closed to canine visitors or have leash rules. Other trails are specifically designed for off-leash dog play, which is important to note if your dog is dog- or human-reactive. If you’re unsure, call the landowner or park office to confirm their dog policy.
If you want to hike with your dog off-leash, check the dog policy for the trail. Second, be honest with yourself about your dog’s behaviors. If your dog is dog- or human-aggressive, jumps up, or is highly prey-motivated, these are signs they should be leashed on your hike. It doesn’t mean your dog is bad or you are a bad dog owner. When introducing a dog to a new environment, like a hiking trail, a leash can provide extra security and confidence for you and your pup.
Essential hiking gear for dogs
What one person might consider essential could be a luxury item to someone else. Backpackers will debate the necessary things for hours if you let them. Suffice it to say, there are many options and room for interpretation when it comes to hiking and outdoor gear. For our part, there are a few non-negotiable items every dog owner needs if they’re hitting the trail with their favorite pup.
It’s hard to overstate the value of a nice leash. Some hikers prefer a hand-held leash, while others like a waist-attached leash. Regardless, store-test many options and find one that works for you and your dog. If you prefer, you can pair a good leash with a harness. Be sure to check your dog regularly for any hot spots or rubbing a harness may cause during your hikes. In addition to a leash, be sure to pack a collapsable water bowl and extra water for your furry friend. Relying on streams can be a dangerous gamble if the streams are contaminated or run dry.
Let’s not be squeamish – poop happens. And bagging it out is the right way to handle dog poop. You may already have your favorite dog poop bags (these are ours), but carrying a smelly bag for miles isn’t fun. So to keep the smell contained and avoid forgetting to pack it out, we like the PooVault system. Don’t forget to transfer the poop into the trash after your hike!
Finally, we’ll assume you have a few first-aid items packed for the humans on your trek. But don’t forget a few essential dog first aid items. Ticks are commonly found on dogs as they are lower to the ground and tend to brush against more plants. A tick key or other tested removal device is essential to removing them before they transmit diseases. It’s also a good idea to keep a pair of scissors or nail clippers, gauze, and tape or vet wrap in case a paw pad is torn and needs to be trimmed and bandaged.
Hiking with your dog will bring new life and enjoyment to your time spent outdoors and your relationship with your dog. So start your dog’s hiking journey on the right foot–pun intended–by planning ahead, preparing for their needs, and proactively managing their experience on the trail.
Guineafowl Adventure Company provides full-service, turnkey guided day hikes in the White Mountains and beyond for people of all abilities and experience levels. We take care of all the planning and preparation for hiking and provide round-trip transportation from the Greater Boston area, day packs with hydration and snacks, safety and convenience items, and friendly, knowledgeable, and experienced guides to lead the way! Guineafowl's mission is to remove the barriers and obstacles that keep people from exploring nature, so they can feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed while experiencing the physical and mental health benefits of hiking and connecting with nature. Visit our website to schedule your guided hike or contact us to book a private excursion.