We all love hiking in the great outdoors, so knowing you’ve had to leave your best friend at home can really hurt. But you know what, it doesn’t have to be that way! So many people are finding hiking with dogs to be not only a great form of stress relief but also a great way to strengthen that special bond.
It sounds easy, but where should you start? Here at The Adventure Junkies, we understand the excitement and trepidation that can come in preparing for your first hike with your dog. To help ease your concerns and make it the best possible experience, we’ve put together this comprehensive FAQ to get you on the trails with your hiking buddy in no time!
1. WILL MY DOG ENJOY HIKING?
Yes! So long as your dog is in good physical and mental shape, you are assured they will thoroughly enjoy a couple of hours or more out on the trails. Urban life is unavoidable for most of us and our pets, so to get outside among the smells, sights and sounds of the outdoors is like a holiday for your dog!
2. DOES IT MATTER WHAT SORT OF DOG BREED I HAVE?
Yes. Firstly, there is no “ideal” dog breed for hiking. However, a dog that is too small may get fatigued very quickly or could find it difficult to navigate the ups and downs of a rough trail.
At the same time, large breeds don’t have the stamina of a smaller dog and aren’t as nimble when it comes to obstacles. There are always exceptions to the rule, but we’ve found that the ideal weight for a hiking dog is between 25 and 50lbs.
Another consideration is the length of your dog’s coat, with short hair varieties being far easier to manage as they don’t collect prickles and won’t get caught in the undergrowth.
You’re the one who knows your dog best. Take them on a short hike and see how they go!
3. WHERE CAN I GO HIKING WITH MY DOG?
National parks and other natural reserves are the perfect places to take your dog hiking. However, it’s important to check that dogs are permitted. Some will allow on-lead only. Others allow off-lead, while some might altogether prohibit dogs.
4. CAN I TAKE MY DOG HIKING OVERNIGHT?
Yes! There is nothing at all stopping you from enjoying a night under the stars together. The logistics of this do need consideration as it isn’t as simple as a normal overnight hike. For more information, please have a read of our article 8 Tips for Hiking With Dogs.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
5. IS HIKING WITH MY DOG SAFE?
Yes! With good preparation, the right gear and a smart approach, there is no reason at all that hiking with your dog should pose any significant risks.
Preparation is the key, making sure you understand the potential dangers to your dog such as wild animals, rough terrain and climate. Then, you should be able to figure out how to stop those things from happening or create a plan ready to be put into action if needed.
6. WHAT CAN I DO IF MY DOG SLIPS THEIR COLLAR OR RUNS AWAY WHEN HIKING?
In most cases, if your dog gets free unexpectedly or runs farther from you than you would like, there will be no harm done. They’ll have a great time sniffing about and relishing their newfound freedom and you’ll watch on with a smile!
But, there is a chance that this could occur when there are other hikers nearby that may be fearful of off-lead dogs, there may be an animal hidden in the vegetation, or they may get so excited that they follow their nose so far that they become lost.
Before you even set foot on your hike it is strongly recommended that you train your dog to have excellent recall performance, so that a whistle or calling their name is all it takes for them to return to your side.
Failing this, investing in a GPS unit for dogs will give you excellent peace of mind. By tracking their location on your cell phone, you will know exactly where they are at all times.
7. DOES MY DOG NEED DIFFERENT FOOD WHEN HIKING?
For half-day or shorter hikes, you won’t need to worry about bringing food (but do bring plenty of water).
For day hikes or longer, you will need to consider bringing food with you. The food doesn’t need to be any different from what you feed them at home (although dry food will weigh a lot less and stay fresher than canned food), but you should bring more than they would normally eat to account for all the energy they will burn on the trail!
8. WILL MY AGE OR FITNESS LEVEL STOP ME FROM TAKING MY DOG HIKING?
No! Of course, some trails or conditions will present a significant challenge for even the fittest among us, so choose your trail wisely and in line with your own capabilities. The best way to check is to walk it by yourself first before taking your dog along.
We also recommend giving thought to the type of dog you’ll be taking on the trail. Will you be strong enough to maintain control over your dog if they spot an animal? If not, then perhaps you could find a friend to assist.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/solovyova
9. WHAT GEAR DO I NEED TO GO HIKING WITH MY DOG?
At its most basic, you don’t need any gear. However, this relies on your dog being extremely well trained and having an excellent recall ability.
In reality, you will probably need to purchase a strong lead with a metal clasp to attach to your dog’s collar. You may want to buy a longer lead than normal, to allow your dog extra freedom to explore the edges of the trail. Not too long though, or you’ll find them getting tangled up in bushes and around trees!
On days of extreme heat, you may want to purchase and fit a set of dog shoes. These fit over your dog’s feet and protect their tender soles from sharp rocks and hot surfaces such as sand or rock. And don’t forget to take a bottle of water and a small bowl.
To give you a greater sense of security, you may also want to invest in a GPS tracking unit. This will let you track your dog and help find them in the possible event that they become injured off trail.
10. CAN MY DOG HELP CARRY ITEMS WHEN HIKING?
Yes! Dogs love contributing and feeling like part of the team. So why not purchase a small backpack designed to fit your dog? Obviously, you don’t want to weigh them down too much (no more than 25 percent of their own body weight), but it’s a great way to share the load and increase your dog’s fitness at the same time. For more information please read our guide to the Top 10 Dog Hiking Packs.
11. WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT HIKING WITH DOGS?
There is plenty of free online information about hiking with dogs. You’ll also find that most government bodies responsible for national parks will have a section on their website describing not only what is or isn’t permitted, but also tips on how to ensure you enjoy your time in the wild with your dog.
Another great resource is right here at The Adventure Junkies! We know how important it is to get out on the trail and share your experiences with your dog, so we’ve put together this article on 8 Tips for Hiking With Dogs.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/chalabala
12. ARE THERE OTHERS OUT THERE WHO ENJOY HIKING WITH DOGS?
Definitely! We recommend getting in touch with your local hiking club to see if there are other like-minded people in the community, or if they have information on hiking in your local area.
You may also want to get in touch with your local dog training school, as excursions are sometimes organized to help with socialization and to give dogs a change in routine.