Tips for Hiking with Your Dog

This is a great time of year to get out and enjoy the beautiful Fall scenery and weather. One way to do that is to take a hike with your dog, you'll both love it. When planning a hike, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Go prepared. Be sure your pet is up to date on vaccinations and flea and tick medicine, and microchipped before you head out. Take note of the nearest emergency vet.

A few things to consider bringing include:

2. Find a dog-friendly trail. Be sure the trail you are planning to hike is dog-friendly. Some may not be. Check our Hiking and Walking Trails page or try Animal Planet’s top dog-friendly trails for help finding a dog-friendly trail. Make note of restrictions. If rules dictate your dog has to be leashed, then do so. If you aren’t sure of the regulations, call the ranger station, national park or state agency in charge of the trail you’re about to hike.

3. Know your dog's limits. Hiking can be a wonderful preventative for any number of physical and behavioral canine disorders and running up trails and leaping through streams is great exercise for that one in every three dogs that is overweight. But just like us, a dog used to being a couch potato can't be expected to easily complete a five-mile loop trail. Have your dog checked by a veterinarian before significantly increasing his activity level.

If necessary, go for short walks and gradually increase distance and time to get you both ready for the trails. Keep in mind that there may be changes in elevation and terrain along the way.

It is important to stop frequently and offer your dog water throughout your hike. Don’t feed your dog a large meal before a hike; instead, feed a portion of his/her meal and supplement treats throughout the hike.

Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day and keep walks to a reasonable pace and distance. Know your dog's tolerance for heat and exertion. Watch for signs of overexertion, such as excessive panting, drooling, weakness or bright red gums. Also look out for hypothermia, frost-nip, injury to paw pads, lameness and exhaustion. If your dog's body temperature reaches 109 degrees fahrenheit, it's susceptible to heat stroke. Look for your dog's tongue hanging from the side of their mouth and whether it's rounded at the end; this may be a sign they are overheated. Rapid or heavy panting is another important indicator. If this happens, place your dog in the shade immediately and wet the armpits and chest area.

Note that many dog owners wait until their dog is at least a year old before taking her on a strenuous hike to give the puppy’s growing muscles, bones and joints time to mature. Also, avoid strenuous hikes with small or old dogs.

4. While on the trail, keep your dog under your control at all times. Most trails require your dog to be on leash. If you’re hiking a trail that allows dogs to be off leash, make sure your dog is always within distance of voice command. If he’s not trained well enough to return upon your calling, then it’s best to keep him on leash. Keep a very close eye on an unleashed dog to be sure he stays on the trail and away from dangerous areas such as cliffs, thorny weeds, etc.

Avoid poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. Look for leaves of three, or do a quick internet search ahead of time to know what these plants look like. It is a good idea to teach your dog a good "Leave it" command ahead of time and use it when necessary during your hike.

5. Always be respectful of other people, dogs, horses, bicycllists and wildlife. If excessive barking is a problem you might need to work with your dog before bringing him on the trail. Loud noises can spook small children, other dogs and horses. The last of which can be dangerous for all parties involved, including you and your pet.

Be aware that not all other dogs on the trail are social. Like people, pups’ personalities vary widely. Some love making new canine friends. Others are more wary. The person who’d be able to advice you best is the owner. Even if your dog is friendly, ask before approaching to make sure the encounter doesn’t escalate to aggression.

Always pick up after your dog. Bag it or bury it away from the trail and water sources.

After the hike be sure to check your pet for fleas, ticks, burs, wounds or cuts on paw pads, etc. A bath or hose down is a good idea, especially if they've been in water.

With a little planning and preparation, both you and your pet can enjoy the great outdoors together.