NutriSource Blogs

Happy trails, happy tails: Tips for safe hiking with your dog

June 05, 2020

What’s better than a hike with your best friend? That ultra fresh air, feeling healthy, maybe shedding a few pounds while taking in stunning views and spending time together spark joy for humans and canines alike. Before you head out, use this guide to ensure a safe and enjoyable day in the great outdoors for everyone.

Plan ahead and know the rules of the trail

It happens to just about every canine-human hiking duo at some point: You drive 30 miles, get out of the car and at the trailhead, there’s the dreaded sign: Dogs not permitted on trails. Though you may be seeing red, these rules are meant to protect sensitive habitat, wildlife as well as the well-being of other hikers. Coyotes, for example, stay away from humans, but they have attacked dogs.

If you do show up and find that dogs aren’t allowed, never, ever leave your dog in a closed vehicle while you hike. Even if the weather seems cool, sun and glass can create a greenhouse effect and heat up the car’s interior to a dangerous temperature quickly. When dogs overheat, it can lead to heat exhaustion and even death.

Before you leave, do a little research and confirm that dogs are allowed on the trail. Check the website, and just to be safe, look at social media accounts for up-to-date information so you can plan. Aside from dog rules, here are some other things to check before you go:

  • The availability of bathrooms and running water
  • Whether the rules mandate leashed pets or if off-leash is permitted.
  • Charges and fees, and how payment is accepted.
  • Weather forecast for the area you’re hiking in. Pay attention to the heat index, so you can ensure safe hiking conditions for you and your pet.

Remember, these are wild areas. Some may designate safe hiking times to protect hikers against wildlife that become active at nightfall, as well as weather patterns. Late-afternoon storms, for example, tend to hit high-altitude areas, so you’ll want to plan for an early start.

Pack provisions: Extra water, food and treats

Because your hiking pal will be working harder, especially if she’s carrying a pack, she’ll need extra provisions to refuel.

Bring fresh water. Dogs have zero qualms about drinking from rivers, creeks, ponds and puddles. But untreated, unfiltered water can contain harmful microorganisms that can cause illness in both dogs and people. Play it safe and bring a couple of water bottles.

Pack extra kibble and a handful of treats. Don’t forget to bring something for yourself. After working hard, nothing tastes better than a delicious snack.

Consider your dog’s fitness level

If this is your first time hitting the trail with your dog, make sure you understand your dog’s physical limits. If your activities are limited to walks around the neighborhood, think about sticking to a shorter hike for your first outing and see how they do. You don’t want to push your pet to exhaustion. Signs of an over-exercised pet include labored breathing, panting to excess, drooling, and, of course, struggling to keep up with the pack. If you’re walking a “there and back” trail versus a loop, plan so everyone has enough energy to make the return hike. (Tip: Set a timer for 30 minutes and do a check-in on your dog’s energy levels. If your pup is pooped, take a break in the shade before heading back to the trailhead.)

Gear up with a pup-pack

Some pet parents of active dogs prefer to boost the canine fitness factor and have their pets carry their own gear. Of course, it will depend on the size of your dog, but backpacks designed for canines can hold a small water dish, a few water bottles, food, treats and doggy bags. Before you choose a canine pack, make sure the doggy pack is a good fit. Use tailors tape to get your dog’s measurements. Bring your dog to your local pet retailer. A sales associate can help you find a pack that’s right for your dog’s size and shape, and help you determine which carrying weight is safe for your dog.

Keep your dog under control at all times

To leash or off-leash. That is the question. For any pet parent, there’s a certain joy in watching your dog have some freedom, trotting happily in front of his beloved pack. On the hiking trail and in wild areas, keeping your dog under control at all times is critical, even if you’re hiking someplace with no leash rules.

Go leashless if, and only if, your dog is well trained in voice control, especially when temptations appear on the trail. If there’s a chance your dog will ignore your commands and go bounding off after a rabbit or splash off into that cool lake, don’t risk it. Bring the leash.

Then, there are other hikers to consider. The sight of a dog can be unnerving to some of your fellow hikers, especially children. Even if your dog is the gentlest of beings, try to understand their perspective: A large animal with sharp teeth that’s running in their direction or even jumping up on them can be terrifying.

If you do go leashless with your well-mannered pet, do it only if you’re alone on the trail, and you can maintain a line of sight to watch for approaching hikers. But keep a leash handy, so if new people appear on the path and look uncertain about your dog, call her back and clip it on until they’re out of sight.

Leave no trace (Or pack out the poop!)

Picking up after your dog is the ironclad rule of the trail. Even though some may consider pet waste “natural,” no one wants to see it (or accidentally step in it)! Bring plenty of bags to pick up and transport pet waste, and be diligent about collecting all of it. Don’t kick leaves to conceal it. And don’t leave bagged waste on the trail with the intention of picking it up on the way back. You could forget, so plan on carrying it for the duration of the hike.

Now that you know what to do to plan a safe and happy hike on the trails, start planning and have fun on your outing!

Before you head out for the hike, fuel up with a good meal. NutriSource’s nutrient dense recipes for dogs pack 40% more Kcal per cup compared to most grocery store brands. Shop local, and purchase NutriSource at your local independent pet retailer.