Hiking With Dogs on Public Lands
Hiking with a dog is great fun. Dogs are energetic companions and they will notice many things you might otherwise have overlooked. They can protect you and keep you company and help signal for help. Dogs can also give you an early warning for approaching hikers, animals or other dangers. Pay attention and be alert and have fun with your dog.
But before you head for the trail head, be prepared for the situations a dog hike might present. Educate yourself and other hikers and you’ll protect you and your dog from the hazards of hiking.
Prior To a Hike with a Dog
Is your dog be properly trained? Not only for obedience but for fitness and endurance. Start out with small hikes and increase the distance as both you and your dog are conditioned. Use these ‘warm up’ walks to test new equipment like packs, water bowls and toys. Don’t find out 6 miles into a hike that your dog won’t drink from his new nylon bowl.
Make sure your pet has current identification tags. We use plastic tags to reduce the noise of metal tags clinking while walking. Keep the tags on the dogs harness or collar, they do no good packed away if your dog gets lots. The s-hook-style attachments on collars for tags often fail Instead, use a strong metal ring to hold tags on the collar. Or use a collar that allows tags to be fastened flat against the collar. Include your name, your city and state of residence, your phone number, the dog’s name and your vet’s phone number on the tag if possible.
You might consider a tag that says “I DON’T like Dogs, I DO like People” or “There is a tattoo in my left ear” to let people who might find your dog know about any special conditions for your pet.
Also consider having a data chip implanted in your dog; many veterinarians and animal shelters have scanners that will pick up this chip, which provides identification, license and vaccination information
Verify your pet is up to date on all vaccines. Make sure your pet is in shape. Check your pet for hip, back, and joint problems. Let your Vet know you hike with your dog. Make sure your dog has updated vaccinations, nails trimmed, drinks plenty of water and is in good health. Get a Rabies tag and attach it to the harness or collar. Your dog may have increased exposure to ticks and fleas. Diseases can be obtained from wild animals and insects. Consider a Lyme disease vaccine.
Get a book on dog first aid, and read it. Learn what you can deal with on the trail and what would require quick retreat to the Vet.
Make a first-aid kit that contains the basics for a dog, such as bandage material, scissors / razor, wound disinfectant, tweezers and your veterinarian’s phone number. Bring protection against fleas and ticks.
Carry plenty of water. We carry 2 litters of water per day for the dog. Bring along a bowl for water. Proper nutrition is also important for dogs with a high energy level. To avoid vomiting, do not feed your dog right before you exercise or hike. Feed them afterward when they are rested. Let your dog drink plenty of water this helps maintain their energy level and also keeps them from becoming dehydrated. Dogs can get overheated quickly especially if they have a dark or heavy coat.
Use a sturdy leash and harness or collar. A harness is most comfortable for the dog, and most attach the leash to their back which is better for pulling them up out of holes, water or whatever else they jump or fall into. Strong nylon is the way to go since it will not break if the dog suddenly lunges and will dry better than leather products.
A wide nylon strap with a heavy metal clasp is the best leash for controlling a dog on a trail.
If you plan on going for a long hike or a hike in snow or sharp rocks, you might consider buying some boots to protect your dog’s feet. Avoid walking your dog on tar, black asphalt and other hot surfaces as their pads can burn easily. Watch your dog they can’t always let you know they are at risk of injury. Learn what to watch for.
Know the rules where you plan to hike. Verify that dogs are permitted on the trails you wish to hike. Many national and state parks do not allow dogs. Call ahead to verify the rules and check for any special circumstances that might be an issue.
Buy a dog backpack. Even a small dog can carry a bowl and a first aid kit in their pack. A healthy well-conditioned dog can easily carry 25% to 33% of their body weight in water and equipment in a pack. Start out slowly and acclimate your pet to the pack prior to a long hike. Dogs like to carry weight, most dogs won’t take the packs off without a fight because they know when it’s on they are in for an adventure
During a Hike with a Dog
Avoid the Heat & Sun. Plan hiking and outdoor activities in the cooler parts of the day. Hike in the early morning or evening to avoid overheating. Hike near a lake so your dog can take a swim to cool down.
Only hike where dogs are allowed. And always pick up after your pet.
Stay on trails. Consider keeping your dog on a leash if it doesn’t listen to your commands. It is your responsibility to keep your dog under control at all times. Do not allow them to chase wildlife, other dogs, or other hikers. Closely supervise your dog around children, other hikers and other dogs.
Watch your dogs paws. Most injuries to dogs occur on the pads of their feet. Hot sand, burrs, ice and rocks can all cause injury. Watch for limping or walking slower. If you use a harness or collar check often to see no twigs or burs have gotten between them and your dog.
Watch what they drink & eat. Don’t allow your pet to drink lake, pond or river water. The water could make the dog sick or carry something to other dogs, cats or humans. Keep your dog out of poison ivy etc.
Watch for snakes. Snakebites are medical emergencies that you’ll want to leave the trail and go to a vet. If your pet gets bitten, you must get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. It can make the difference between life and death. It’s very expensive to treat a snakebite in a dog, the best thing is prevention.
Watch for signs of heat stroke. Dogs have no sweat glands and can only pant to disperse heat. This makes them susceptible to heat stroke, which can be fatal. Rapid panting, a bright red tongue or lagging behind are all signs of heat exhaustion. Learn how to check your dogs circulation by pressing the gums.
Bring a toy and a snack. Take breaks when the dog is tired, play catch or tug of war. Enjoy the hike, the sounds and the scenery. Have as much fun on the hike as your dog does. Bring a little food if staying out for an extended period of time. Everyone dog likes a nap after a day of walking and a meal.
Bring a towel to clean your dog. If you use a dog pack, let your dog carry it’s own towel. A wet towel around the neck can also help cool down your pet.
Clean up White grocery bags are ideal for clean up and disposal. They are free and the handles allow you to tie the bag closed. Bring a bunch of them, and let your dog pack the bags in and the waste out in it’s own dog pack.
After a Hike with a Dog
Check your dog thoroughly for foxtails. Foxtails are small yellow barbed seedpods from weeds that get stuck in long hair, between the toes, in the ears, eyes and even up the nose. They carry bacteria and can cause serious problems if not removed right away. They also must be a serious discomfort for a dog.
Check your dog for ticks. Some areas have water to wash your dog at the trail head. Don’t use chemicals in the wilderness, Consider natural alternatives.
Check the ears Look deep into the ear with a flashlight to make sure no barbs, twigs or bugs are there. These can cause serious issues if left unattended.
Check your dog’s pads Make sure there are no serious cuts or abrasions. Watch for licking of the feet on the trip home. Attend to any minor cuts and scrapes right away to aid healing.
Water your dog before heading home. Be sure to let the tired dog drink well before heading out on the trip home from the trail head. Stop along the way if it’s a long trip to let the dog ‘go’ and drink again. Keep fluid levels high in the dog to aid in recovery of the muscles
Hiking With Dogs on Federal Lands
National Forests are under the stewardship of the Department of Agriculture. Forests offer the best hiking opportunities for dog owners. Dogs are permitted on most national forest trails, although access can sometimes be difficult.
National lakes are good bets for canine hikes as dogs are allowed on most of these trails
As a general rule, dogs can hike along roadways and walk around parking lots. In most parks dogs can also go in picnic areas and stay in campgrounds. Occasionally dogs will be permitted on short trails around a Visitor Center or a campground.
National Historical Parks
These parks are hidden gems for canine hikers. There are few bans on dogs in national historical parks. In addition to learning a thing or two about American history, these parks often feature interesting hiking as well.
These are a mixed bag for active dog owners. Some allow dogs on trails while others ban canine hikers completely.