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Your Go-To Guide to Hiking With Your Dog

Dog Hiking

When warm weather is on the horizon, many of us start looking forward to heading outdoors with our canine companions.

Not only do dogs make excellent outdoor activity partners, but hiking with your dog is also a great way to burn off excess energy, engage and stimulate their minds in new environments, and even socialize with other dogs and pet parents.

As with most outings, you'll both get the most from the experience if you're properly prepared. To help you make the most of it, we teamed up with Backcountry to get the most benefits out of your hike.

According to Jani H., a Backcountry Gearhead, "Hiking with a dog is great because you both get to explore a new place, plus moving in the same direction as a group triggers pack drive and builds your relationship."

Ready to hit the trails? Check out what you need to know before your hike with you canine companion. 

Preparing for hiking with your dog

1. Choosing the right length and time

The first time you hike with your dog shouldn't be an epic, all-day trek. Plan on spending a pleasant hour or so on the trail, and if you live in an area where daytime temperatures tend to be warm, schedule your adventure for a time of day when temperatures are more likely to be mild. Remember that you'll both need reflective gear if you'll be hiking when it's dark.

Keeping it short on your first few hikes will help you get a feel for your pet's endurance level, even if their breed is known for outdoor activity. Puppies whose bones have not yet developed should stick to short, easy hikes for the timebeing. Instead of focusing on distance, you can work on socialization, mental stimulation and mastering skills like walking nicely by your side on a leash.

2. Choosing the right hiking trail

No matter where you go, check the rules before you head out—although some National Parks are pet-friendly, many do not allow dogs on their trails for their own protection as well as that of local wildlife. Many national forests and state parks, on the other hand, allow furry friends as long as they are kept on leashes. Leash length rules may vary, so check the rules before you pack.

Jani H. recommends looking into the weather conditions and researching the natural wildlife before picking a trail. "Dogs are fairly resilient, but look out for changing weather conditions. They are susceptible to heatstroke and hypothermia. Also, storms can make dogs with normally predictable recall spook, so consider leashing up. Check for wildlife dangers—are you in rattlesnake territory? Moose? Know what to look out for," she says. 

3. Training your dog for the hike

If your dog's an inexperienced hiker, start their training by taking increasingly long walks around the neighborhood to build up endurance. Look for opportunities to walk on different types of terrain. As an added benefit, this also helps toughen up the skin on the bottom of your pet's feet, which is helpful even if you do choose to protect your pup with walking booties.

As Jani H. suggests, "Consider their conditioning - don’t suddenly take a sedentary dog on a strenuous hike. Also, paw conditioning - if they haven’t spent much time on the type of terrain you’ll be on, start with small distances or consider booties to protect their paw pads."

Packing dog hiking essentials

Taking the right supplies along on a hike can make the difference between having a wonderful time and potentially endangering your pet. Being caught unprepared may mean that you'll have to cut the fun short, so be sure to know what you should be packing and why.

Must haves

Your dog will need plenty of fresh, clean water to drink throughout your hike. Fill a water bottle with an ample amount of water to cover the needs of both you and your furry friend, and pack a collapsible dog bowl that you can tuck into your day pack when not in use.

Don't rely on natural water sources to quench your pet's thirst while on hikes. The parasites and algae that are often found there can be harmful to pets and people.

Be prepared with plenty of dog waste bags and an airtight container to shore and carry them when they're full. Some trails have waste disposal receptacles at intervals along the path or in the parking area, while others don't have them at all.

Minor cuts, scrapes and insect bites can take all the fun out of a hike, so be prepared to save the day with a canine first-aid kit. It should include basic supplies such as hydrogen peroxide for disinfecting minor wounds, nonstick bandages, cotton balls, a roll of gauze, an antiseptic spray or ointment, tweezers, scissors, and a microfiber dog towel. It's also a good idea to carry along any prescription medication your dog is taking just in case you get delayed.

Even if your dog has been microchipped, physical ID tags are essential because they add a layer of protection if you and your dog get separated. People often first look for ID tags when they find a lost pet. Make sure your dog's tags are readable, include your current phone number and are securely attached to the collar. This is also a good time to check that the contact information on your dog's microchip is up-to-date.

Don't forget to pack some nutritious and tasty treats for your dog to enjoy during rest breaks or to positively reinforce good hiking etiquette.

Pest prevention should already be part of your dog’s health and wellness regimen. If it isn’t, now’s the time to get started. You might opt for monthly topicals or chews or a long-lasting collar. A range of over-the-counter solutions are available, while others will require a prescription. Ask your vet to help you choose the best option for your dog.

Petco Love Lost was created to help reunite lost pets with the pet parents who are missing them. Go to their site to add your dog’s photo to their database and learn what steps you can take if you and your canine best friend are ever separated.

Nice to have

Although your dog's footpads are tough and designed to navigate all types of terrain, foot injuries on the trail can happen. Bits of gravel and sand may become lodged in the crevices surrounding your pet's footpads, and sharp or jagged rocks, stickers, burrs, wood splinters and cactus needles can cause all cause injuries if your pet isn't wearing paw protection.

As a bonus, some booties are designed to give your canine hiking partner added traction, making it easier for them to navigate uneven terrain.

Although it may be tempting to let your dog off-leash on a hike, their safety, as well as good trail etiquette, dictates that all canine hikers remain on a leash. The use of a hands-free leash allows you to more easily take photos and retrieve items from your backpack, not to mention rewarding your dog for good behavior with lots of pats and even a treat or two.

Plus, good trail etiquette dictates that all canine hikers remain on a leash—even if letting dogs off-leash seems to be the norm in your chosen hiking spot. Some hikers are uncomfortable around dogs, and off-leash dogs can get caught up in following a scent and become separated from their pet parents to the point where they can't be found.

A dog backpack provides added convenience and comfort as your furry companion can carry their own supplies. Before embarking on your adventure, have your pet wear their backpack around the house and on walks so they get used to wearing it. Make sure their pack fits them correctly and is light enough to carry comfortably. Don't overload them.

Keep in mind that your dog will likely require some post-walk grooming. Make sure you’re all stocked up on essentials, including:

  • Shampoo
  • Quick-dry towels
  • Nail clippers
  • Paw balm
  • Brush, comb or grooming mitt
  • Flea comb and needle-nose tweezers or a tick hook for pest removal
  • Ear and eye wipes
  • Sanitizing wipes for dirty paws

Depending on the scope of your adventures, your at-home supplies might not be enough. That’s when it’s time to book an appointment at your local Petco Grooming Salon.

Backcountry dog hiking favorites exclusively at Petco

You and your dog are now ready to get out there and have a great time. Check out our other blog posts about getting the most from sharing your home, heart and life with a canine companion.

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