November 17 is National Take a Hike Day! The majority of dogs, regardless of size, make great companions on a hike—if they are physically fit for the level of hiking that you plan to do, if they are obedient, if they are socialized among people and other dogs, and if the weather is not too hot. Hiking with your dogs takes more thought and preparation than simply starting up a trail. Therefore, we have put together essential information on hiking with your dog.
What to Know About Hiking with Your Dog
Hiking is a more strenuous activity than walking, as the terrain is uneven and typically involves vertical gain. If you have mapped out a 10-mile hike but your daily dog walk consists of a casual stroll around the block, you may be carrying your pup for the second half of the hiking route.
Therefore, before loading up your hiking tools in your backpack, make an honest assessment of your dog’s fitness level. Be sure he can comfortably go the distance.
Additionally, your dog may have other health considerations that affect his ability to hike. Two of the most common are nursing pups and hip dysplasia. For the nursing pups, it is ideal to wait until they are weaned, as they need their mother nearby. A nursing dog’s body is already under a lot of stress caring for the little ones. For hip dysplasia, your vet might be able to prescribe medication to lessen his pan.
Regardless, never give your dog ibuprofen, such as Advil or Motrin, or naproxen such as Aleve. These anti-inflammatories can have dangerous, even lethal, side affects for pets.
If you feel your dog is fit enough, then consider whether he is sufficiently well-behaved. While hiking may take place in the wild, that doesn’t mean you will be alone. Before hiking with your dog, make sure he can heel, sit, stay and come at your verbal command. Also, he needs to be comfortable on a leash and, off-leash, as well as be more interested in staying with you than chasing critters. It is essential your dog be completely socialized among other dogs and humans as well. Trails can be narrow, frequently with dense undergrowth on either side.
If your pet is aggressive or overly protective, he will not be a good hiker companion. This is also the case if your dog is prone to barking, which disturbs the quiet that so many people value in the backcountry.
Assuming your pet is in shape and well-mannered, almost any breed or mixed breed over 40 pounds should make a good hiking companion. However, this is not to say that small dogs cannot trot down the trail just fine.
An energetic Yorkshire terrier can humble a lazy black Lab if the trail is relatively smooth or short, but small dogs have to take much more steps to cover the same piece of ground, and they can’t stretch as far up or down a rock. This is why small dogs may need a lift where a larger dog would not. There are some trails that any dog can handle, and others that only the most exceptional mountain dog should attempt.
Age is more a factor than size. Old dogs tend to have stiffer joints, arthritis and other ailments that reduce their physical abilities. Smaller breeds tend to live longer, but any dog age 10 or older requires careful assessment before taking him on all but the easiest routes.
Also, be gentle with puppies. Aside from lack of obedience training, hiking up and down steep and uneven trails can adversely affect the development of a growing puppy’s hips, shoulders and other joints.
No matter how mountain-savvy your dog may be, if the weather is hot and humid, a flat, shaded route to a pound is a better choice than a steep, rocky scramble up an epic 4,000-footer.
Or, consider saving the hike for another time.
Canine Trail Etiquette
Both you and your pet are ambassadors for everyone else who hikes with dogs. It only takes a few incidents, a couple of outspoken dog-haters, or several expensive dog rescues for a backcountry area to become more restricted to dogs. Following these guidelines will help make you a model dog master on the trail:
- Keep your pet with you and under control at all times. Even when he is off-leash, your dog should always be in sigh and within range of your commands.
- Hold the dog-to-human ratio at 1:1. If there are more dogs around than people, it can be difficult to quickly control your dogs.
- Be sure to limit the total number of dogs in your hiking group to two, regardless of the number of humans. Three or more dogs become a pack of dogs, which can intimidate other hikers and increase the impact to the environment.
- Give Dog-less hikers the right-of-way. When meeting others on the trail, put your dog on a leash. Step out of the way and command your dog to sit until the other hikers have passed.
- Give a friendly hello to others on the trail. This signals to your dog that a friend and not a foe approaches.
- If you come across a loose dog on the trail, be sure to put your own dog on a leash. You can control the situation better if at least your dog is on a leash.
- Prevent your dog from begging. If you satisfy him with his own treats and water, he will be less likely to beg from others.
- Clean up after your pet just as you would after yourself, using Leave No Trace principles. Carry out or bury waste in a hole that is at least 6 or 8 inches deep and disguise the spot.
- Do not allow your pet to disturb plants or wildlife. Keep him on the trail, and when above treeline walk on rock as much as possible.
Not every hike is a dog-friendly hike, and those that are might still have elements that seem attractive to you but that could pose a danger to your pet.
Before committing to a route when hiking with your dog, consider the following:
- Fire towers. These are historic lookouts with their steep, narrow stairs and scaffolding-like construction. However, fire towers can disorient dogs and most cannot make it to the cabin, and if they do, the space is extremely cramped inside for a nervous pup.
- Cliffs. While your dog will not intentionally jump off a cliff, he will sense your excitement or trepidation and get excited himself, often bounding ahead. You can avoid these scares by making sure to put your dog on a leash and keeping him calm and close when approaching cliffs.
- Ladders. Avoid hiking trails with ladders. Taller ladders lower the odds of your dog finding an alternate route.
- Water. Dogs are susceptible to waterborne illness. When hiking with your dog, discourage him from drinking water along the trail. If possible, guide your dog to clear, running water and always carry water and water dish for him.
These are just a few tips on what to know about hiking with your dog for National Take a Hike Day. Contact All Pets Veterinary Medical Center with the link below for more information!