Hiking with your dog can be a rewarding experience that creates a unique bond between humans and their 4-legged furry friend. I regularly take both of my pups on hikes of all difficulty levels and distances, and keep their safety in mind for every outdoor adventure. As a pet-parent, my dogs’ safety and health is always a top priority for me.
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Hiking can be strenuous work! Our dogs love us, want to be with us, and certainly want to please us. They will push themselves to keep up and they will probably not complain if they are hurt or not feeling 100%. It’s our job to make sure they are in good enough physical condition for the hike we choose.
Schedule a canine check-up at your veterinarian’s office. It should be no surprise, but a physical exam by your neighborhood vet is the first step to see if your pet is healthy enough for hiking. Your vet should do a full physical exam, a range of motion check for all joints, and possibly even bloodwork if you have a senior dog.
No matter how active your pet is, it is always a good idea to ease into new activities. Just like people, dogs need to be conditioned for new exercise routines. Start with short hikes to get your pet’s feet and muscles up to the challenge of longer hikes.
Your Dog’s Age
My daughter’s oldest hiking dog, Lattie, is 10. As a Border Collie, he always ready to hop in the car to go when the backpacks come out. But, he no longer goes on super lengthy hikes. A short couple of miles is the perfect hike for him!
Your dog’s age should be a consideration when deciding on a trail. A large breed dog is considered a senior dog at the age of seven. At this point, you may want to consider less strenuous hikes for them in general.
Also, switching to a senior dog food with fewer calories and adding joint supplements is something to consider. Senior bloodwork might be a good idea before embarking on any kind of strenuous hiking or training program. This will assess your dog’s organ function, thyroid function, blood counts, etc., and clue you and your vet in to potential problems that could exclude your senior dog from hiking with you.
Like people, individual dog breeds have unique frames and carry weight differently. A Labrador Retriever with perfect body conditioning will look different than a perfect Whippet. There are a few common characteristics you should look for when assessing if your dog is too heavy.
When looking at your dog from the side, you should see a nice indentation near his waist area. When you look from the top, you should see an actual waist. Some dogs have more than others, but a waist should be there no matter what breed or combination of breeds your dog has.
If you aren’t sure if your dog is a healthy weight, be sure to check with your vet before embarking on strenuous physical activity.
Choose Hikes For Your Dog
Terrain is another consideration that should be addressed before heading out on any hike. Very steep or rocky trails may not be ideal. Lacerations on paw pads is a very real concern and can take a long time to heal. Broken nails are also a possibility. To avoid this, make sure your pet’s nails are trimmed regularly. Conditioning your pet’s feet by training for a hike will help since their pads will get tougher and more calloused with training.
There are paw conditioning creams and balms that can be used to help. I used a balm called Mushers Secret on Murray when he was a pup and in training for long-distance hiking. Other paw products can be found here.
Avoid hikes with a lot of scrambling or rock climbing as your pets may not be able to keep up or may freak out if have to carry them, which can be dangerous for both of you.
To Leash or Not To Leash?
Most states and parks have strict leash laws (six feet or less). Some places, like national forest land, may allow pets off leash but they still must remain under strict voice control. Research your planned hiking area and know the law.
If you live in Georgia, check out this post that outlines six hikes that may be perfect for you and your pooch! For other areas, such as national parks, US Forest Service land, or Bureau of Land Management areas, check out this post for dog-friendly hiking options.
Also, understand your pet. If they don’t usually come when called or if you have a breed with a strong prey drive, then off leash hiking may not be a great idea. Even if your pet is friendly, they may run up to an unfriendly dog that is on a leash and problems may arise from the interaction.
Murray and Munson like hands free leashes and they work well for us on our hikes.
Avoid Heat and Bring Water
Did you know that dogs don’t sweat? Instead, they cool off by panting and dogs are less efficient at cooling than humans. It’s best to avoid hiking with your dog during the hottest part of the day if you can.
No matter the weather though, be sure to bring a lot of water and a collapsible water bowl for your pooch on every hike. Murray has no problem drinking directly from a water bottle, which is helpful, but Lattie will have no part of that. Be sure to stop frequently and offer water to your dog if you aren’t hiking on a trail with a stream or creek alongside.
Before heading out, increase your dog’s calories for the day. Hiking burns energy, so bring high-quality snacks that your dog is used to with you. Offer them small amounts of food frequently and try not to introduce new or rich snacks for the first time on the trial as this can lead to GI upset. My dogs love Nudges Grillers, made with 100% USA beef.
If you see signs of heat stress in your dog, with symptoms such as excessive rapid panting, trying to stop or lay down, moving slowly, or acting confused or lethargic, it’s time to seek shade and if possible, a water source to cool your pet. If your pet wants to stop hiking, please listen to them and do not force them to go on.
During the summer, I try to only do hikes that have streams, ponds, or lakes so my pups can cool down easily when they need to.
Flea and Tick Control
Ticks are everywhere! They carry diseases that can affect both you and your dog. Lyme disease, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Canine Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and a few others, all of which can cause serious illness.
The best line of defense is a high-quality flea and tick preventative. There are many products on the market, but some are better than others. Murray and Munson wear the Seresto flea and tick collar and I have been very happy with it. Talk to your veterinarian and find out what works for your pet. Other preventative options include topical and oral flea and tick products.
Check your pet after each hike for ticks, even when using flea and tick preventatives. Getting ticks off quickly is one of the best things you can do to prevent the spread of disease. Make sure to check in their ears and between their toes.
There is also a Lyme vaccine available, and both of my pups have been vaccinated without any issues. Talk to your veterinarian to see if this is an option for your pet.
Have A Plan
Just like when you’re hiking at any time, either with or without your pet, let people know where you’re going in case you or your pet get into trouble. Hiking with dogs is great for you and your furry-friend, but it can be unpredictable. Preparation is always key!
Do you hike with your dogs or have other useful tips? Let me know in a comment below.
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