Essential Guide to Hiking with Your Dog

Jocelyn Bishop
June 10, 2015

Pet Parenting, Pet Safety

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The sun is shining, the wind blowing through your puppy’s hair.

It’s time to go on another exciting adventure!

For many outdoor-loving pet parents, hiking with your dog opens up a whole new world of fun for you and your pup. Luckily for all parties, our dogs make excellent companions in the wilderness!

While getting outdoors and exploring nature with your dog sounds great, you shouldn’t grab a leash and hit the trails too spontaneously. Hiking can be a fun, but a strenuous adventure for you and your pup. If you forget to pack essential safety items, your fun adventure may end with a trip to the vet. Proper planning is the easiest way to make sure you and your dog both have an excellent experience!

Maria Shultz,  Professional Dog Trainer and avid adventurer,  is skilled in many outdoor sports, including skiing, mountain biking, stand up paddleboarding (SUP), scuba diving, rock climbing, and hiking! 

“My dogs and I have hiked all over the East Coast, but our favorite trails are close to home.” Maria Shultz shares. “White Oak Canyon and Mary’s Rock are two of our favorite hiking trails.”

We asked Maria to help us create the ultimate guide to hiking with your dog!

What should you do before hiking with your dog?

Before attempting a hike with your dog, it’s essential to plan accordingly.

“Consider the age and condition of your dog, and the type of hike you plan to do,” Maria recommends. “Puppies and older dogs might not be able to handle a lot of mileage, so introduce hiking gradually and add distance over time.”

Map Out Your Adventure

First, make sure the trail you’re planning to visit is safe and dog-friendly.

Then, map out your hike, planning the distance you aim to cover. Don’t divert off this path when traveling with your dog.  

Pack Snacks and Fresh Water

When packing fresh water and snacks for a hike, pet parents should lean towards high protein treats and food. High-protein treats help replace their calories lost during exercise. Rewarding your dog on your hike encourages them to continue good walking behavior, and small treats make for great training tools.

“I always carry treats with me on every hike so I can continually mark and reward good behavior,” Maria says. “Most of the time I keep small training treats like Redbarn Protein Puffs in my pants pocket or the hip pocket of my backpack for easy access.”

Confirm Vaccinations

Vaccinations are a personal choice for every pet parent, but make sure your dog is current on the vaccines on those you choose to give your dog. To protect your pet from contagious viruses and diseases, it’s essential to keep vaccines current. Vaccinating your pet can go a long way toward protecting them from potentially fatal illnesses.

What should you do during a hike with your dog?

Watch their paws!

Your dog’s paws are incredibly delicate. If you plan on hiking over rocks or snow, or in 70+ degree temperature, it might be wise to invest in a pair of booties to protect their paws from cuts and scrapes.

No boots at home? Periodically check your dog over for any sores, pain, bruises, or rocks between the toes. If your dog is wearing a backpack or a harness, make sure it’s not rubbing or causing discomfort. You may want to consider a pair of boots like the Ruffwear Grip Trex, for additional support.

If you see any cuts on their pads, take them to a vet after the hike to prevent any infections. If your dog ever shows signs of pain or slowing down on the trail, stop and help them.

Have your dog carry a pack!

Between your sunscreen, your dog’s food and a camera to capture all the scenic vistas, your backpack is probably full! Getting a pack for your dog to carry will help alleviate what you have to carry, and most packs do not bother dogs at all. 

What should you do after a hike with your dog?

Leave No Trace and the Center for Outdoor Ethics have seven well-established principles hikers should follow. Principle Number Three is to Dispose of Waste Properly.

Hm, I wonder what they could be referring to!

Pick up their poop!

While you might be tempted to leave your dog’s poop ‘out in the wild,’ some poop bags and a Ziplock bag (for your nose!) will earn you lots of trail karma points. Dog poop contains diseases that could contaminate water sources, so it’s always wise to bag it and trash it. The Center for Outdoor Ethics encourages outdoor enthusiasts to consider the impact they leave behind, which will undoubtedly affect other people, water, and wildlife.

Re-hydrate!

It’s important to hydrate after a hike. “I always keep a Hydro Flask of cool water in my car for the end of a hike.” Maria points out. “When we get back to my vehicle I offer my dogs a bowl of cool water.”

Check for ticks and poison ivy!

Your dog’s health is priority number one. Stopping to check the trail ahead of time for Poison Ivy and poisonous plants will help your dog stay safe and injury-free. Make sure to check for ticks both during and after the hike. “After I’ve made sure my dogs are well hydrated, I remove their gear, towel them off, and check them over for any sores, ticks, and bites before we head home,” Maria says.

Hiking Essentials Checklist

What You Need to Know Before Going On a Hike with Your Dog

  • Research Dog-Friendly Trails Check on the dog rules for the trail. Are dogs welcome? Are they allowed off leash? How long is the trail? Knowing the trail regulations and etiquette is one of the most critical dog hiking tips. Following regulations allow you and your dog to maintain friendly relationships with other hikers.
  • Grab a Pet First Aid Kit. Knowing the ABC’s of pet first aid isn’t just good pet parenting, it can spare your dog a serious infection or injury if they get injured on the trail. You can find a kit at many outdoor retailers or specialty pet shops, making them pretty easy to find!
  • Confirm Vet Records and Vaccines are current. Having your current paperwork will make it much easier if there is an emergency visit to the animal hospital closest to your hiking destination.
  • Pack LOTS of fresh water. Overestimate how much water you will need. Water and a water bowl are two of the most important things you can pack. Many companies now make tough, silicone collapsible bowls so they’re easier to pack.
  • Bring Healthy Food and Treats. Your dog will get hungry on the trail, so it’s always helpful to pack some food or treats. While the amount will vary depending on the length of your hike, there are easy dog treats to pack that will help your dog stay fueled during their next adventure!
  • Bring Your Collar and Leash. Don’t forget the leash! While seeing your dog run free without a leash is a great sight as a pet parent, don’t forget to pack your leash. Even if trail regulations permit off-leash time, it’s courteous to keep your pet on a leash on busy trails. In addition, if you’re out in the wilderness, you never know what animal (or plant!) is just around the corner. Most hiking trail guides recommend looking into a harness if you have an active pet, or bringing two leashes in different lengths for best maneuverability.
  • Safety Light. Yes, dogs can get sunburned! Safety lights work great for keeping track of your dog in low light situations or alerting people of your dog’s presence when walking at night.
  • Sunscreen. Depending on where you live, sun safety can be a year-round concern for pet owners. Just as sunscreen helps protect us, it can help reduce the risk of burns and skin cancer for dogs. A fur coat isn’t always enough protection from the sun’s harmful rays. The best way to find a safe sunscreen for your dog is to ask your veterinarian— they can make individual recommendations for your specific dog this article might not be able to. Your vet will have more experience and be able to provide you with more detailed information. You should never use sunscreen designed for use by human adults, especially on areas your dog can lick or chew.
  • Extra Supplements and Medication. If your pet takes any supplements or medications, be sure to bring extra along your hike.
  • Flea and Tick Protection.  Protect your dog from fleas and ticks with preventative medications. For more information on how to protect you and your pet from ticks while hiking, check out these tips by Clever Hiker.

Do you love to hike with your dog? What’s your favorite outdoor trail?

Let us know in the comments below!


All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.

Redbarn.com makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.

All information is provided on an as-is basis. Please note that each situation is different, and you should always consult your veterinarian should you have any questions about your pet’s health.

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