Preparing Yourself and Your Dog for Hiking Season

If you are active and have an outdoorsy dog, chances are you want to get out together and put in some miles on the trails this summer. But just like humans, dogs need to build up their endurance after a long winter, and there are some safety tips to keep in mind, too. With a little preparation, your dog can enjoy the great outdoors as much as you do, if not more!

Figure out your goals
The first thing you need to do is decide your hiking goals. Are you looking to summit a 14-er or go on a weekend backpacking trip? Once you decide on a goal, plan to start getting in shape 6-8 weeks in advance (a.k.a. now for the summer hiking season). Once you choose a trail, make sure dogs are allowed on the trail, and find out about any leash regulations that might apply.

Get in shape
When you have figured out where you plan to go, it’s time to get moving with your dog. If you and your dog having been sharing a seat on the couch all winter, starting with walking or a walk/run program with your dog will help build up that cardio and endurance for you both. Go in the morning or evening when it will be cooler, and be sure you both get plenty of water during and/or after your cardio.

On the other hand, if you and your dog have already been walking on flatter trails, step it up a notch by throwing in a trail with some hills, or walking/hiking easier trails at elevation. Now is a great time to get new trail or hiking shoes, whether you are just getting started, or need to retire that old pair.

If you are planning a longer hike, start carrying a backpack with a small load on your shorter hikes, increasing the weight as you get stronger. Your dog can carry a small backpack, too, with his or her own food, water, bowl, and poo bags. Just be sure you start out light with your dog, and that at most the backpack doesn’t weigh more than 15-25% of your dog’s body weight. Properly adjust your pup’s pack so that it is up near the shoulders, not down on his/her hips, and can be tightened enough that it doesn’t slip but your dog can still breathe comfortably.

Besides the backpack, be sure to bring plenty of water or some water and a water filter, regardless of what distance you are hiking. I usually plan trips near lakes or streams to minimize the water I have to bring for my dogs, but I still bring a bottle for them just in case fresh water isn’t available.

First Aid
Just as first aid is important for humans when in the middle of nowhere, it is important to have a basic first aid kid for your dog, too. You can reduce your risk by being sure your dog is healthy enough for the adventure you are about to embark on, and make sure your dog’s nails are clipped or you have dog boots for rougher terrain to protect his or her paws. Pet Tech offers CPR and Pet First Aid classes throughout the United States, which will greatly increase your knowledge of what to do in the event of a minor or major emergency.

Besides getting in shape and bringing the necessary supplies, there is also one other factor to hiking with your dog that is really important, and that’s training your dog. Even the most well trained dogs can “forget” training commands in sight of wildlife or a really interesting smell. Training your dog with a very reliable recall/come could possibly save his or her life, and with a little practice, your dog will be running to you when you call in no time! Here is a great article in the Whole Dog Journal about teaching a reliable recall to get you started. If your dog is crazy on a leash, practice leash skills at home before you go out on the highly distracting trail, where your dog is going to have a harder time focusing. It can also be helpful to teach your dog stay, leave it, and drop it.

Other tips before going hiking with your dog:
Make sure your dog’s collar has a tag with your most up-to-date contact information on it.

Bring a dog jacket if you will be out at night in cooler temperatures.

Attach a glowstick or LED light to your dogs’ collar to make him or her more visible at night.

Make sure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations, and flea/tick prevention.

Bring extra food for both of you if you are going on a long hike or overnight adventure.

If your dog has thin fur or light skin, get sunscreen (no, I’m not kidding—dogs can get sunburned, too)!

Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.

Don’t have a dog yet, but are looking for your next hiking partner? Check out this list of top 7 dog breeds for hiking.  

by Abbie Mood