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.

Gear
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.

Recall
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