Most dog breeds love to get outside for a hike, almost as much as they love treats. My dog instantly goes nuts when he sees my daypack or I start loading up my overnight pack. He loves exploring the trails of the Pacific Northwest and sleeping in our tent. If you have a new puppy or your dog hasn't spent much time hiking or backpacking, these are a few tips to make sure you both have an epic and safe day on the trail.
Going for a hike is one of the best experiences you and your canine companion will share. I assume that many of you are reading this article in preparation for taking a puppy or rescue dog hiking for the first time. So before hitting the trail, make sure your dog is well socialized and comfortable around people, dogs, and new experiences. If needed take a training class together, your pup will love spending time in class with you and you'll both learn valuable lessons that will come in handy on the trail. A good pre-hike test is to take several trips to the dog park, this will give your pup experience with new people and other dogs, and let you see how they handle the excitement.
Next you and your four legged friend should train for hiking. This is as much for you as for the dog, if you're both out of shape and you end up having to carry 20-50 pounds of fur down the mountain, you won't have a good day. Consider your dogs weight and age, and start taking long walks and shorter easy hikes before taking on more advanced trails.
Pro-Tip: If you have any worries about your pups health it is always a great idea to have your Veterinarian give them a thorough checkup before your hike.
Before heading out to a trailhead, do some research. I have made the mistake of driving to a trail only to find that dogs are not allowed, and finding an alternate trail can sometimes be tough, especially if you are in an area with no cell service. Many National Parks and some State Parks limit which trails and areas allow dogs, you can find more on particular parks on www.nps.gov or your State Park's website. Be sure to look for additional rules for dogs on the trail, there are often signs at the trailhead. Most trails require dogs to be on a leash, but even if leashes are not required, use a leash until you and your dog have done a few hikes, and you're both comfortable with the trail, people, dogs, and wild life.
Pro-Tip: Make sure your dog's wearing tags. In the unlikely event you and your dog become separated, current tags will help anyone that finds your pup reunite you.
You should also consider trails that will be gentle on your pups paws. Avoid trails with long sections of sharp rocks and choose trails that offer dirt paths. The temperature should also be considered, in warmer weather your dog will do better if a trail offers plenty of shade or shallow water crossings to cool off in.
Resources: Checkout the hiking guide book serious Best Hikes With Dogs. There is most likely an edition focused on your area and it's a great way to find new trails to explore with your dog.
When you go hiking by yourself you probably take trail mix, granola bars, beef jerky, and plenty of water. When hiking with your dog, bringing along food and water for them is just as important. I always bring some of my dog's normal food, and a ziplock bag with a mix of his favorite treats. I also like to make sure my dog is ready for the hike by feeding him a few treats on the way to the trail so he has plenty of energy on the trail. Then treats or food can be given as needed depending on the length and difficulty of the trail. A day of hiking will burn considerable more calories than your dogs normal routine of napping all day long, so it's ok to reward them with extra treats! For water, I find bringing my pup a separate water bottle and a collapsable bowl works best. You can then pour any extra water your dog doesn't drink back into their water bottle (just don't mix up your water bottle and the dog's).
Pro-Tip: They now make dog food energy bars that you can easily keep in your day pack, it's like a power bar for dogs, only it probably tastes better.
Leave No Trace principles aren't just for people, you are responsible for ensuring that your dog is respectful of the trail and ecosystems you visit. Do your best to keep your dog on the trail and out of sensitive or delicate areas. Leave No Trace also means picking up after your dog when nature calls. Dog waste should either be buried following the Leave No Trace guidelines, "6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails" or better yet just use a poop bag and pack it out.
Warning: Do not under any circumstances leave bags of poop next to the trail! We see this on almost every hike lately and it is so not-cool that we secretly hope the pet parents that do this get eaten by bears! (just kidding about the bear. Well, sort of kidding.)
Resources: Learn more about how to Leave No Trace at www.lnt.org.
You should have a dog specific first aid kit or supplement your own kit with items for your furry hiking buddy. Hopefully you will never need it, but you should always be prepared. In the event that your pup cuts a paw or gets a tick, you will be happy you are able to treat it immediately.
Depending on the size, age, and fitness of your dog you can let them carry some of their gear in a pack. Just like you would when buying yourself a new day pack, it is usually best to visit a pet store with a good selection of packs and try a few designs out until you find one that fits your dog well. Let your dog get used to the pack by wearing it around the house, making sure that it is comfortable and doesn't cause any chaffing. When loading your dog's pack for the trail make sure to load each side evenly and to keep the weight inline with recommendations for your breed from your Veterinarian. Take a few easy test hikes with the pack, and pay close attention to your dog for any signs of discomfort, and make adjustments to the pack as needed.
If the weather requires or you will be camping overnight, bring along appropriate clothing for your dog. When on the move your dog probably won't need a jacket, but on long breaks or overnight clothing will keep your pup warm and happy. The layer system isn't just for humans, and can be used for your dog too. Depending on the conditions bring layers like a fleece, puffy vest, and breathable rain shell. When staying overnight your dog can sleep in layers as needed and if it is really cold, share your sleeping bag.
Pro-Tip: When camping overnight, avoid a muddy mess by bringing a camp towel to wipe your dog off before getting in the tent.
Stopping for a lunch break or to camp over night? Bring your dogs favorite ball or squeaky toy. This will give your dog something to do in camp and can also be used as a distraction if your dog is constantly running off to explore.
Keep an eye on your dog throughout the hike for signs of discomfort, overheating, or fatigue. If your dog is suddenly sluggish, limping, excessively panting, or behaving oddly take time to find the cause, have some water or food, and use your first aid kit as needed. However, don't wait for your dog to show signs of fatigue to take a break, keep your dog hydrated and fueled with regular treat and water breaks and most problems will be avoided before they begin.
So you and your pup have made it back to the car after your first hike. If your dog knows how, celebrate with a high-five! You've been monitoring your dog over the course of the hike for any issues, but before you hop in the car it's time to do one last check. Pay special attention to paws, bellies, and any points the leash or pack might have rubbed. Also check for ticks or bug bites, if you find anything needing your attention you can use your first aid kit immediately.
Pro-Tip: Keep an old blanket or towel in the car so your dog doesn't get the seats all muddy on the ride home.
CloudLine ambassadors Justin and Patrice Lavigne live a life less ordinary. They are constantly doing what they love and that involves adventures like thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2011, living in their van for months at a time, spending the summer guiding kids on outdoor adventures at summer camps, writing for Backpacker's Magazine, and in 2015 they thru-hiked New Zealand's long trail, Te Araroa.
Beginning May 1st, 2017 the Lavigne's will be hitting the road in their camper van to speak about their thru-hike of Te Araroa at 31 events across the country.