Important Tips for Hiking Safely with Your Dog

The birds are chirping, the insects are buzzing, and the sun is shining so bright it’s almost smiling — what you’ve got here are the perfect ingredients for a lovely spring hike.

But if you and your pup are typically pros at pounding pavement, there’s a whole lot more you need to consider before embarking on a journey outdoors. We asked Nora Kogelschatz, manager of training and behavior for Bideawee — one of America’s first no-kill animal rescues — for her best tips for heading out on a hike with your canine companion. You’ll find there’s a lot to bear in mind and bring.

If you’ve never hiked with your dog before, now is not the time to tackle the Grand Canyon.

“Start small,” she advises. “Take your dog on short walks and slowly increase the distance. Once your dog has a high enough endurance, start to increase the intensity of the walks. Have him jump up on small rocks and fallen tree trunks and slowly add more height to the objects.”

Read on for more important tips for hiking right.

Pack smart. If you’re going to be gone all day, pack like it! Make sure to stay hydrated and fueled with food. “You should carry water and snacks (for both humans and 4-legged friends), enough to last a whole day,” says Kogelschatz. “A K9 backpack is also a good item to bring, but make sure it does not weigh too much and the weight is evenly distributed.”

Choose a dog-friendly trail. Don’t just walk out the door and head for the hills — do your research. “When considering the trail, you want to make sure it is dog-friendly,” she says. “Some terrain may be too intense or dangerous for your 4-legged friend, or dogs simply may not be permitted.”

Consider your dog’s age and activity level. If your dog is more ‘couch hopper’ than ‘hiker,’ think about keeping things light. “Young and old dogs can’t handle the same trails as some other dogs,” she explains. “Your once-young and agile pooch may now be older and stiffer. You should always have your dog checked out at the vet before you take him on a hike and please remember to respect his limitations.”

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Loved my evening hike up Horsetooth rock last night!

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Check the weather and check in with a friend. You don’t want to get caught in a weather event, so make sure a monsoon isn’t headed your way. “If it’s going to be rainy, cold, hot, humid etc., you may want to consider rescheduling the hike for a more weather appropriate day,” she says, adding that, it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you’re going. “It is always better to be safe than sorry, especially since often, there is no cell phone service on the trails.”

Bring a first aid kit. It’s wise to expect the unexpected by keeping a small first aid kit on hand for any issues that arise. “This will help you fix up any injuries you or your pup might get. If your dog is hurt, you should always consult your vet,” she says. “If you notice your dog lying down, walking slower, panting, or any other signs that he may be in distress, you should stop [hiking] and let him rest or possibly turnaround, depending on the severity of his behavior.”

A leash is always a good idea. Especially if your dog tends to run off. “There might be other animals around (wild or owned), poisonous insects or plant life, or cliffs,” she explains. “An alternative to letting your pooch off leash is to get a long line. These are very long nylon leashes, usually around 25 feet. They will allow your dog to explore while also minimizing the risks of him running away or getting into danger.”

Practice good trail etiquette. A leash also comes in handy if you meet another dog along the way. “This will decrease the risks of any type of scuffle to break out,” Kogelschatz says. “Normally you would want to avoid other people and dogs on the trail, if you see them approaching, politely move yourself and your companion to the side and out of the way. If a greet was to occur, do not allow either dog to be cornered or backed up into an object. Allow them to sniff without their leashes becoming tangled and then continue your hike.”

Always check your pup after hiking. They often can’t tell you how they are feeling, so it’s up to you to check your dog thoroughly after time spent outdoors. “Check your dog’s body, ears, and under his paws for ticks, cuts, or any other injury,” she advises. “If you find anything, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. You don’t know the origin of the injury and it’s always better to be over cautious in situations like these.”

To learn more about Bideawee, visit their website. 

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Amy Jamieson

A former senior editor for People.com, Amy launched People Pets for People magazine in 2008. Now she writes about pets, lifestyle and more from her bucolic saltbox in Collinsville, Connecticut, usually with a cat in her lap and a dog at her feet.

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