HIKING WITH DOGS

- Written by SmoresRAfoodgroup & guanancojockey  (MONTyBOCA recipe testers and dog owners)

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What could be better than enjoying the bounties of nature with your best friend? You know, the one who likes to get muddy digging holes, chase rabbits across the field, roll in dear-god-what was-that, and then snuggle up next to you on the couch at the end of the day? 

Luckily for you, taking your dog for a hike doesn’t need to be any more difficult than taking her/him for a walk around the block, and you can avoid most of the pitfalls with just a little effort. 

As with anything else in the backcountry, a little planning and preparation can make a big difference. Our Basset Hound, Daisy, has been hiking since she was a puppy. She’s now 12 and slowing down a bit, but she still enjoys a stroll in the woods. And believe me, if she can do it, with her short legs, mud collecting wrinkles, and ears that snag on brambles, your pooch can do it too. 

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Here are a few tips to help make sure it’s a fun and safe time for all.

PLANNING: 

Know before you go: 

First and most importantly, be sure dogs are allowed on the trails you want to hike. For the most part, dogs are not allowed on trails in National Parks. That’s a bummer, but most other federal and state lands are open to dogs. It’s always a good idea to check in advance to make sure you understand where your dog is allowed, and what the leash regulations are. There’s nothing worse than making a long drive to the trailhead and finding a NO DOGS ALLOWED sign. I highly recommend a series of regional guide books from The Mountaineers (link below) with specific recommendations for hikes with dogs by state and region. My “Western Washington” copy is worn and tattered from use. In addition to trail descriptions, these books cover gear, canine first aid, and lots of other useful tips for hitting the trail with your dog.

 

Start short and easy: 

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Think about the trip you want to take, and how that matches up with your dog’s skills and overall fitness level (and your own). Think about the distance you want to cover, and the terrain as well. If your dog is new to hiking, or spent the winter indoors, start with some shorter hikes at the beginning of the season to build up muscles before tackling a longer adventure. If your dog is young, be especially careful as excessive stress is not healthy for growing bones. Puppies are like children – take them to the park or on short walks so they get excited by the adventure, but not anything so long that they are exhausted. Most dogs will struggle with unstable footing such as rock scrambles or talus slopes (not that they’re easy for humans!). Especially when you’re getting started, look for gentler climbs that give your dog a chance to get used to hiking. 

Know what you need to bring:

For a short day hike, a few extra treats and some extra water might be enough. But for overnight trips, a little more planning is required. Dogs that are used to being indoors might not be as excited for a grand camping adventure as you are, but a comfortable, happy dog will keep you happy. 

Here are a few things that we like to take to keep our pup comfortable, happy and asleep instead of awake at 3AM wanting to go outside. 

Most of these items aren’t very heavy but it will take up some space. Your adult dog can help carry their own gear with a doggy backpack, though a good rule of thumb is to keep it under 20% of the dog’s weight. 

-A spare closed-cell foam pad and a vest or small blanket make sleeping in the tent a lot more.

-A small towel for wiping paws helps keep dirt and mud out of the tent or car.

-Extra food and a collapsible food/water bowl are essential (be sure those make it in to your bear bag or canister). 

-Some first aid supplies are a good idea, of course. 

-Even if your dog isn’t into wearing booties they are good to keep handy in case of a paw injury. 

-A favorite toy can help bring a little bit of home to the great outdoors. 

SLEEPING PAD - big dog

WATER BOTTLE

SLEEP PAD - small dog

TREATS

DOG DISH - collapsable

BACKPACK

DOG DISH - foldable

VEST

 

ON THE TRAIL:

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Know your dog. Since he/she can’t tell you if they’re thirsty, hungry, overheated, or injured, it’s important to pay close attention to your dog on a hike, particularly if it’s longer than your regular walk. Take frequent breaks and make sure there is regular access to water. Pay special attention if it’s dusty. If the dog prefers to walk behind you down the trail they’ll get a muzzle-full of dehydrating dust with each step. Extra treats (or even an extra meal during the day) can help keep your dog’s energy up.

It's safest to always keep your dog on a leash. There’s nothing scarier that turning a corner on the trail, coming face to face with a bear, and having to wonder where the dog is. That said, if you’re considering hiking with your dog off-leash, it’s important to know your dog’s temperament before you make the decision. 

Will she/he stay close by or wander away? 

Will she/he come back when called? 

How would she/he react when encountering hikers, other dogs, horses, wildlife, campfires, or potentially dangerous terrain like steep cliffs or fast-moving streams?  

It’s a good idea to keep a leash handy at all times in case any of those factors change and you need to get control of the dog quickly. Be sure your dog’s identification tags are up to date just in case.

Finally, be sure to leave no trace. At a minimum that means poo bags and/or a shovel. Packing out waste or digging a proper cat-hole is critical. Not only for the environment, but it will help keep the trails accessible for other dogs and their owners.

With a little simple planning, taking your four-legged friend out in the wilderness can be a safe and happy adventure for both of you. Before long, your dog will be wagging his/her tail with excitement when the boots and backpacks come out of the closet and you will be able to spend quality time with your best friend in the great outdoors. 

Get out there.  Eat well.  Share the tasty experience…with your pup!

Steve Corson