by Stephanie Gibeault., MSc, CPDT
Hiking is fantastic exercise and a perfect way to enjoy nature. So, it’s understandable that you would want your dog to join you on the trail. Dogs make great companions and watching them revel in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature is invigorating.
However, just as you wouldn’t head out for a hike in dress shoes, there are considerations to be made for your dog. Do you have all the necessary equipment your dog will need? Have you learned hiking etiquette? You might also want to brush up on some dog training skills. Before you hit the trail with your dog, make sure you’re well equipped to ensure a wonderful experience in the outdoors for both you and your pup.
First, don’t always assume your dog is welcome to hike everywhere you are. For example, you might wonder, “are dogs allowed in National Parks?” Thankfully, many National Parks do welcome dogs, but many have restrictions about dogs on the trails. Always check if your dog is allowed to accompany you before you set out on a hike. If not, you might find yourself encountering a stiff fine, not to mention the ire of fellow hikers. Banning dogs from parks may seem arbitrary, but keep in mind that your dog can have an impact on the environment by putting wild animals at risk and invading delicate ecosystems.
It’s your responsibility to learn about the rules of each place you take your dog before you hit the trail. When it comes to National Parks, there are general pet rules, but each park may have its own additional rules as well. Other wilderness areas, like State Parks and local forests, will also have their own regulations.
It pays to practice the National Parks B.A.R.K. rule wherever you hike with your dog. B.A.R.K. stands for:
- Bag your pet’s waste
- Always leash your pet
- Respect wildlife
- Know where you can go
The first B.A.R.K. rule – pick up after your dog – is important hiking etiquette. You might think your dog’s waste is a natural part of the cycle of life, especially in more remote locations. However, it can cause problems for local creatures and can even impact the water supply.
The second B.A.R.K. rule should apply in almost every hiking situation. Keeping your dog on a short leash is important for safety, courtesy, and control. Not every fellow hiker is comfortable with dogs, and there may be other dogs on the trail who aren’t as friendly as yours. Finally, an off-leash dog can disappear out of sight, and if you can’t see what your dog is doing, you can’t prevent them from getting into trouble, like encountering a skunk or eating something dangerous. If there are off-leash areas where you are hiking, only let your dog run free if you have verbal control of your dog, you can see your dog at all times, and you’ve worked on a reliable recall.
To protect plant and animal life, always keep your dog on the trail, except when encountering others. Then, step off the trail with your dog at your side to let people pass safely. Lastly, don’t forget to greet others on the trail, as a cheery hello may signal that your dog is friendly, and informs your dog that there is no need for concern.
Keeping your dog safe during a hike should always be a top priority, and the first step is making sure your dog is fit enough for the task. Check with your vet to learn what your dog can handle, as some dog breeds make better hiking partners than others. Be particularly cautious with young and old dogs, as they might not be able to keep up with you on long, challenging hikes, and the burden on growing bones may be too much for puppies. Hiking in overly hot weather should be avoided, as dogs are much more susceptible than humans to the dangers of excessive heat.
It’s also essential that you take water for your dog. Dogs don’t sweat the way humans do. Panting is their main method for keeping cool, putting them at a higher risk of overheating than you when on the trail. Plus, if you don’t bring water for your dog to drink, you risk your dog drinking from ponds, streams, or standing pools of water, which can carry a high risk. Unknown water could be contaminated with parasites, bacteria like Leptospirosis, or other pathogens that can make your dog very ill.
You and your dog may be venturing into flea and tick territory on your hikes. Consider using a vet-approved preventative and be sure to examine your entire dog carefully when you get off the trail. It also helpful to know how to remove a tick from your dog, as early removal helps reduce the chance of a secondary illness. A bath or grooming session post-hike will allow you to check for invaders as well as burrs, foxtails, and other debris caught in your dog’s fur.
Training Tips for Hiking
An important part of hiking safety and etiquette is having a well-behaved and properly socialized dog. Be sure your dog at least knows the basic obedience skills like “come”, “sit”, and “stay.” Walking politely on a leash is another key behavior. Your dog doesn’t need to heel along the trail, but the point of hiking isn’t to be dragged through the woods. In case you accidentally drop the leash or your dog’s collar breaks, you should be prepared with a reliable verbal recall. You can’t keep your dog safe if you can’t keep your dog in sight.
Some additional behaviors to work on include leave it and a “quiet” cue to curb barking. From poison ivy, to animal waste, to other hiker’s trash, there are many dangers on the trail that could seriously harm your dog. A strong “leave it” cue will ensure your dog doesn’t eat or mess with anything hazardous. And, stopping any excessive barking will help keep your patch of nature as peaceful as possible.
Finally, for a truly enjoyable hike, you should come prepared with appropriate dog hiking gear. Some suggested items to bring with you include:
- Poop bags
- A collar with ID tags and a sturdy 6-foot leash
- A water supply and a portable water bowl
- Dog food and/or snacks
- A pet first aid kit.
- Pet-safe insect repellent
- Dog booties for hiking in rough terrain