Dogs crave adventure, especially in the outdoors with their best friend (that would be you). There’s something special about watch a dog trot along the trail, greedily inhaling scents of game and fallen logs. The well trained will alert you to things you might have otherwise overlooked—from birds and beetles to other hidden animals and interesting plant life.
Hikes with Dogs: Where to Go
Hiking with dogs is different from hiking alone or with human companions. There’s a special rhythm to walking with a canine on a trail—even the most ordinary leaf or rock can be one of nature’s great wonders. Plus you’ll get exercise, spend time with a beloved companion, and gain a new appreciation for the great outdoors.
Finding a place to hike or walk with your dog should be part of the fun.
The good news is that there are plenty of dog-friendly trails across the country—some require leashes and others dictate only that your dog stays in sight and obeys voice commands. Most national parks don’t allow dogs off the pavement, but the majority of trails in state and national forests and on BLM land are dog-friendly. Generally, national monuments, national battlefields, and national recreation areas also have trails you can hike with your dog.
If you can’t decide on where to go, there are dozens of books, websites, and videos dedicated to the subject. Sites like BringFido, Hike with Your Dog, and DogFriendly.com have detailed information about local and regional resources across North America. It’s not a matter of “no place to go” but more a quandary of picking your first outing!
Almost any dog can become a trail hound. A lot of hiking with dogs is common sense—smaller dogs are more suited to shorter distances, and larger dogs generally have greater endurance and can cover more territory with their longer strides. Dogs need to develop strength, stamina, and trail sense, just like people.
Start with a short trail—one or two miles at most. The abbreviated distance will give you and your dog a chance to gauge fitness, trail manners, and water and food consumption. While some dogs are well suited for leash-less travel, keep in mind that they are generally safer when on a leash—especially if you encounter wild animals, cliffs, or fellow hikers.
When you feel your pup is ready, you can absolutely plan multi-day trips that involve camping. Be sure you know the basics about hiking, because you will be responsible not only for you, but also for your dog. Hikers and their canine companions frequently embark on epic adventures involving places such as the Ice Age, Pacific Crest, and Appalachian trails.
Always bring a collar, a leash, and current ID and shot tags. Chances are you won’t need medical treatment mid-hike, but a small backcountry first-aid kit with antibiotic cream, bandages, gauze, aspirin, and tweezers can be used for both you and your furry-faced friend.
Pack a lightweight water bowl, especially if you’re traveling along waterways used by other hikers as a water source.
If there’s a chance of cold, miserable weather, consider a dog raincoat. If you’re combining hiking and canoeing, a doggie life jacket might be the safety buffer you need for peace of mind. Typically, dogs don’t need booties, but for travel over sharp volcanic rock; hot desert sands with prickly cactus; or crusty, snow-covered terrain, foot protection might be in order.
Most parks and forests encourage a “leave no trace” policy for both human and dog waste. Bring plastic bags or a trowel, depending on the type of terrain you are covering.
Dog packs are great if you have a mid-size to large animal. A good rule of thumb: The load shouldn’t weigh more than 20 percent of your dog’s weight.
Transporting your Dog
Many overlook the fact that your pup will need to be in your vehicle as you drive to and from the trail. If this is a few hours away, that drive will be considerable.
Consider bringing your dog’s bed, or another thing they are familiar with, in the vehicle with you to give them a comfortable home base. If you are going on a camping trip with lots of gear, you might want to consider getting a roof top cargo box (we like the Yakima Skybox carrier) in order to clear out space in the vehicle and give your dog a little room to stretch.
Finally, don’t forget that dogs’ paws will often be muddy and dirty after a hike, so have some old towels along to wipe them down so they don’t create a mess inside your vehicle.
When hiking with your dog, you’ll want to keep an eye on them at all times, especially if they’re inexperienced in the great outdoors. Bring plenty of water and food, keep track of your dog’s energy level, and be wary of the temperature. If they are panting excessively or seems to be struggling, it’s time for a break.
Be extremely cautious near cliffs and other hazardous areas. It’s a wise idea to make sure your dog always comes to you on command. Even in areas where you can take your dog off the leash, if they’re prone to running off to chase wildlife or other dogs and people, use the leash.
It doesn’t hurt to read some local reviews of the trails you’re visiting to see what others have to say about bringing their dog along. It is also a good idea to understand the restrictions and rules around dogs, such as the pet guidelines that the National Park Service has.
Another thing to look out for is if the water in ponds, lakes, and rivers. Is it clean enough for your dog to drink? Don’t take a gamble as your dog could catch leptospirosis or something just as frightening. You don’t want them getting sick from something they drank on the trail, especially from a dirty puddle.
Overall, when it comes to safety, always be aware of your surroundings and take necessary precautions.
Bringing Puppies, Seniors, and Flat-Faced Dogs
Although we talked a little about your dog being trail ready, there are some things to know about bringing puppies and senior dogs hiking. Firstly, remember that just because a dog is as small as a puppy, doesn’t mean you can’t bring them hiking. As we discussed before, smaller dogs are more suited for shorter hikes, whereas bigger dogs are more suited for longer hikes. However, your puppy or adolescent dog may not be ready to go hiking as their bodies are still too fragile. Give them more time to grow and develop before going out on the trail, especially if they are from a small breed of dog. Bringing an underdeveloped puppy hiking can cause many complications in their growth, including pain and injury to their joints. If you’re unsure whether your puppy is strong enough to go hiking, bring them to a vet for advice.
Now, before bringing your senior dog hiking, consider if they’re able to handle the physical strain of it all. Older dogs often have weaker joints, and a hike may be painful for them. Of course, senior dogs still need exercise, so it’s best to take them on shorter hikes so that you don’t put too much stress on their aging bones and joints. If your senior dog is having a hard time keeping up with you or seems exhausted after short distances, take a break (or many) and let them rest. Every dog is different, so make sure to keep an eye on your senior dog’s energy level when you’re out hiking as it could be a sign of something serious.
If you own a brachycephalic breed (flat-faced dogs) such as a Pug, French Bulldog, or Boxer, you should know that they have shortened and narrow nasal passageways. Their respiratory systems are also less-efficient than almost every other breed, making them more likely to get exhausted and overheat on hikes. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t go hiking with them. Just be ready to take plenty of stops along the way! These dogs will probably do best with shorter, low-intensity (slower and less elevation) hikes in cooler weather.
Your Dog’s Eating and Drinking on the Trail
Don’t forget that your dog will definitely get thirsty on the trail, and your responsibility as a pet owner is to keep it hydrated. During a hot day on the trail, your pet will undoubtedly get dehydrated. It is best to use tap water that you bring from home, with an easy portable water bowl (like this one on Amazon). Because water is heavy to carry, on a shorter hike it is best to hydrate your pup in the parking lot, right before you leave and as soon as you return.
As for eating, most dogs can get by on a short hike without a snack, especially if their normal schedule is to eat morning and evening. It is best to not to give them your human hiking snacks, although they may love a small piece of jerky if you are carrying. Best is often to carry a small baggie of doggie treats, which can be used in the event your dog gets away from you and you need something to lure them back. Expect any dog treats to break and crumble in your backpack, which is why you definitely want them in a baggie.