As the days get warmer and you’re itching to get outside, don’t forget about your loyal furry friend who enjoys the outside too! Adventuring with your canine counterpart is not only entertaining for you but also great enrichment for them too. Hiking is a super easy way to spend time together, something our four legged pals can’t seem to get enough of. If you do plan on taking your dog with you, please take a moment to consider what all that means first. If you do, you’ll never want to go adventuring without them, and they probably wouldn’t let you once they find out how fun it is!
There’s a reason you picked your furry friend, whether they’re adorably cute, have super unique markings, have a naturally bubbly personality, etc. Everyone knows the outdoors brings out the best in features so why not capture your dog in beautiful settings and be able to annoy all your friends with how cool or pretty your dog is?? Plus, they’ll love the attention and give you a laugh or two when trying to work with them. Sometimes the best photos are the unexpected ones when they try and “help”.
Typically, and this is a big generalization, dogs are most observant than we are. They notice the snake starting across the path before you will and prevent you from stepping on it and having a really bad rest of the day. Their hearing can also pick up on other hikers that rocks or a turn might keep hidden from you. This will give you time to find a place to step to the side and let them pass or catch hold of your dog’s collar so not to surprise fellow adventures with a furry and wet hello.
As a person who enjoys hiking to get away from everything, I tend to go by myself. Just simple day trips up and back, some people might have issues with this decision – cough, mom, cough – but it’s a great way to disconnect and be with yourself. A dog fills that companion slot really well for people like me. You look a little less crazy to other hikers talking to your dog and discussing life dilemmas than you would being alone. The child-like happiness and curiosity is also a welcome addition to my hiking goals. I find having a dog with you makes you look up from your feet pounding the trail and take in the little things that you may have missed but they didn’t.
Packing for Two
Now that your furry friend is coming along, they’re going to need water and snacks too. Depending on the length and difficulty of the hike this could be quite a bit extra weight. Your camelback might seem like its big enough to provide water for both you and them, but you should really bring their own set. It might be more than enough for you, but they might get really thirsty and drink more than you planned, then there’s not enough water for either of you. There are some really great hydration products out there, some as simple and light as collapsible water and food bowls.
A protein bar or trail mix is an essential to an all day hike to refuel. Same goes for your friend. A sandwich bag of dog food is pretty light and easy to pack around other things. They’ll appreciate it at the top, and you’ll appreciate them not trying to eat your chocolate. If you’re unsure on how much food to bring for them, check in with your vet. When in doubt, ask the experts! They’ll be more than happy to help keep your dog healthy and safe, it makes their job easier too!
Luckily, they make packs so dogs can carry their own supplies, but you need to get them used to the extra weight of it. Experts say young healthy dogs can carry around 25% of their weight, some more or less depending on the breed and individual dog. When introducing a pack, start off with just the harness around the house, then lightly packed bags on walks around the neighborhood. When they’re accustomed to the feel, test out actually packing the bags and watch your dog on neighborhood walks. Do they get tired faster, the pack might be too heavy. Are they trying to fidget with the straps, check to see if they’re too tight and making it hard to breathe. If they seem pretty comfortable and confident with their packs, start planning that first hike! There are so many packs out there that I would do some research on what size and type of pack would be best for you. They span from reflective running packs to super padded backpacking trip packs. Some are waterproof, others have cooling pad pockets for those hot summer hikes. Some are for training purposes and don’t hold much.
That exuberance you love about your dog that makes hiking with them fun, might not be so great to other hikers. Keep a hold of you dog as hikers pass you and keep them under control on the trails if hiking with a group. Make sure your dog is always in close eye sight and responds quickly when called if off leash. If they jump up at people to greet them, maybe heavily travelled trails are off the list. Hiking requires manner training as much as physical training. Good leash behavior is always a must, there are some leashes that attach to a belt or your pack if you don’t like the requirement of always holding onto it. Leashes should be long enough to not trip over them, but short enough to keep them close to you. Experts recommend around 6 feet in length maximum.
Some things to consider about behavior before hiking with your dog are verbalization and socialization. If your dog typically barks at new things or to greet others, they may not be a good hiking companion. Remember most people hike to enjoy nature and quite possibly the quietness of it. A barking dog will quickly make other hikers annoyed with you. Make sure your dog is also completely socialized with people as well as other dogs. Over-protective behavior on narrow trails could result in struggling to hike or even injury with aggression. Make sure your dog has a hiker’s personality before taking them on the trails.
My favorite hikes are ones that follow creeks with little waterfalls along the way. The sound of flowing water is always a welcome one. Hikes that end in lakes or bodies of water are great and totally worth the hike. Dogs will love the water too. Like us, dogs are susceptible to water borne bacteria. Try and keep them from drinking from the streams, which I realize is nearly impossible for certain dogs. If they do drink from stagnant lakes or algae ponds, try and guide them to clear, running water to reduce the risks. Always carry clean water for them and never rely on nature to give them a drink. If they go swimming, try and rise off their face when done and plan on a bath when you get home to get rid of anything they may have picked up.
Other Things to Consider:
Just like us, dogs have different levels of fitness. If you want to bring your pet with, make sure the hike you have chosen is one they can actually do. Some little dogs can easily join you on quick mile hikes with well groomed trails while bigger more out of shape dogs would wear out easily. Just like us, get your furry friend used to the exercise with smaller, easier hikes. Keep an eye on them and see if you can step it up to the next level of hikes. Typically trails with bouldering, while a lot of fun for us to scramble over, might pose an issue for the four-legged hiker.
I am guilty of this sometimes, but I forget that dogs don’t pack extra layers. Winter hikes might seem fine when you have your really nice jackets on, but those paws and short haired coats get cold really quickly. Those hot summer days can also pose a problem for the thick coated dogs and the rocks underneath heat up pretty fast and could injure the soft toe pads of their feet. Make sure your pup is ready for the weather and just like us, are ready for sudden rain storms or cold breezes.
Adding a human friend to your hike is always a great thing, another person is always welcome for social dog hikers. Sometimes these friends come with dogs too, cool! Remember other hikers want to enjoy the space too, and try to keep the human:canine ratio even. I would recommend capping the dog participate to a maximum of 3. Hiking and coming upon a pack of dogs can be very intimidating to other hikers and could cause damage to the environment.
Overall, be smart, be considerate, and have fun!! Hiking with man’s best friend is one of the greater joys in life and we should all be able to enjoy it without any issues. It’s nearly May, Wanderers, get yourself outside!!