How to make your dog your best hiking companion

By Marion Fernandez
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How to make your dog your best hiking companion

Marion Fernandez
 
 
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Those of us who are both outdoorsy and dog lovers experience pure joy when the two passions can be combined. But if you haven’t taken your dog hiking with you before, it is natural to have some concerns as to whether it is a good idea. Concerns about disposition, breed, and how your dog will behave on the trail all become cause for concern if you’ve yet to take your dog with you on a hiking adventure, no matter how experienced a hiker you are or how many dogs you have previously owned. However, with a little planning, you can make your dog your best hiking buddy.

Get in shape

Making your dog a true hiking companion instead of a burden. By allowing the dog to get used to carrying its own provisions, you effectively make a true hiking buddy.
Making your dog a true hiking companion instead of a burden. By allowing the dog to get used to carrying its own provisions, you effectively make a true hiking buddy.

If you haven’t taken your dog out yet, the time to get started is now. Not only should you prepare yourself for any longer workout by building yourself up in strength and endurance, but you will also need to prepare your dog. A dog that is not accustomed to walking a great deal or any kind of strenuous exercise will not last long on a serious hiking trail. So, break in your pup with good and steady exercise. Granted your dog will not require as much as a human does, but you should still play with your dog and keep it healthy.

Practice with gear

Just like you gradually add weight to your backpack to increase your strength, you should be training your dog to do the same. Your pack will carry your provisions so your dog should be able to carry its provisions as well. Your dog can carry its own food, bowls, water, and stool bags, keeping everything that your dog would need right on hand and easy to find when you need it. It will have to get used to carrying the pack around so you do not wind up with resistance when you actually are ready to get out on the trail.

Understand your dog’s needs

Understanding your dog’s health is the difference between a bad hike and a good hike
Understanding your dog’s health is the difference between a bad hike and a good hike

Dogs are our best friends, but they do not have the same makeup as us. A dog can usually push on at a rapid pace at first, but it may not be able to go as long as you can. Your dog also pants when hot and cannot sweat. You will need to give your pooch plenty of breaks and carry enough water for both you and your dog.

You should also make sure your dog is in good health before you set out as well. If the vet has given your dog the all-clear, you should clip your dog’s nails to prevent them getting caught. If you are on a particularly rocky trail, you can get boots to protect the pads of its feet. You can also read up on standard pet first aid or get some advice from your vet to ensure your dog stays healthy.

Determine whether off leash is a good idea

The leash debate will rage on for a long time. Most long-distance hikers will prefer to have their dogs off leash, but there are pros and cons for both. Having a dog on a leash on the trail will ensure your dog stays with you, will not approach other people or animals, and is a quick lifeline if your dog happens to slip. Off leash, your dog can explore more freely and is not latched onto you. The cons for being on a leash is that dogs are more defensive because they feel trapped or confined. The cons for going off leash is that dogs could approach strangers or run off after a smell and put themselves in danger as well as getting lost.

There is no right answer because it depends entirely on whether your dog can handle being off leash. Your dog would have to be adequately trained to respond to your commands, whether it is with a voice, whistle, or clicker. Your dog would also have to have a calm manner with other dogs and other people, removing the fear that it would lash out unexpectedly. If your dog is not trustworthy, it is not safe to have it off leash.

Keep your dog’s information current

You should have proper ID for your dog in case s/he gets lost
You should have proper ID for your dog in case s/he gets lost

You should have updated tags securely attached to your dog, having your phone number and name easily listed in case your dog does get separated from you. If your dog is not microchipped, it would be a good idea to have this done as well before you go out on an adventure. A microchip would allow any shelter or veterinarian to scan your dog and bring up your information, linking your dog back to you. This is good in case the collar falls off or is ripped off, ensuring your dog’s identity stays easily connected to you.

Make sure your dog is visible

There is always the possibility that your dog will be confused by wildlife. Depending on size and coloring, your dog runs the risk of being taken for something else, meaning a hunter or bystander could inadvertently harm your dog. Keeping a bright color on your dog, like safety orange and green, will ensure it is not mistaken for something else. You should also have something reflective on your dog to make it easy to see in the dark when a light shines on it. This will not only ensure that others know it is a dog, but it will also make your dog easier to spot for you if you are shining a flashlight.

Be a good owner

Be considerate of others and pick up after your dog.
Be considerate of others and pick up after your dog.

Don’t ruin other hikers’ experiences by not being a responsible pet owner. This means cleaning up after your dog and hauling any stool out with you for proper disposal. You also need to know any quirks your dog has and prepare accordingly. Does your dog jump on other dogs? Is your dog afraid of other people? If so then your dog is not good for being off leash and may not be a good companion for long hikes. You should also follow signs that say where you can go and avoid where you are not supposed to go. Being a responsible owner will make hikes better for not just you and your dog, but for other dog owners who love hiking as well.

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