Man’s best friend – ok, got that expression out of the way. Do you bring your dog hiking with you? Depending on your hiking style, and where you like to hike, bringing a dog could potentially be the best thing you ever did for your overall hiking experience.
An Overview on Dogs and Their Hiking Abilities
I will spare you the details on breeds of canines. If you are a dog person, there is nothing I could teach you and if you’re not, then listing breeds would be extraneous information. This article is purely about hiking, when to bring a dog, how best to prepare and execute a trip with your friend.
Is Your Dog a Hiker?
This is the first question you need to be asking before bringing a pet along on any hike. Size really doesn’t matter when it comes to strong hiking dogs. I have seen what I would consider a lapdog complete the Appalachian Trail and other larger breeds, not be able to do a 5 mile hike because of their bad hips.
Know your pet and their limits. Would you take your grandmother on a backcountry trek? Probably not. Think about your dog in anthropological terms, identify characteristics that would make them strong hikers.
- If your dog is energetic, there is a good chance it might be a good hiker. Ultimately, your animal needs to have the stamina to keep up with you on the trail. If the dog you have at home would rather sit on the couch and watch TV, they could be problematic in the backcountry. Having to carry out your dog seems funny at first but after carrying them for a few miles, you will regret the decision to bring them.
- Old dogs who can’t walk around the block are not fit for hiking. Don’t put your pet in a distressing situation if they are not healthy. Be sure your dog is eating regularly and is not sick. There is nothing worse than a dog dispelling fluids in the car ride to the trail.
- Well behaved. Is your dog well trained? How does it act around other people? The chances of running into other hikers is extremely high while on a hike. If your dog is not friendly and potentially aggressive, it is not a good idea to bring it hiking. The same goes for its reaction to other animals.
When it sees a squirrel, does it lose all control and chase it? This is potentially funny in the suburbs but in the woods, you will come across dozens of squirrels. Unless you want to lose your dog as it chases vermin, it had better be well trained.
In public parks and some open space, using a leash is a potential mandate. I am willing to bet that your dog is comfortable with a leash and you are an expert at walking them with one. Have you tried going for walks without one? On long hikes and overnight camping trips, you will quickly find that keeping a dog on a leash is extremely difficult. It will become entangled in branches and sticks. Trying to focus on your pack and the dog will quickly irritate you. Allowing your dog to walk along side you on the trail is the best option and the most fun. If your dog is untrained and runs away when the leash is off, then you are in for a bad hike. Be sure your dog can handle the freedom that comes along with hiking.
This opinion has more to do with longer thru-hikes than it does with weekend romps. But your animal’s intelligence is an important trait to take into consideration. And when I make this claim, I am talking about general survival instincts. Does your dog understand how to act in the wilderness? What will it do if a bear enters camp, what about a porcupine?
Porcupines attacks can be commonplace, especially in places like Vermont. If you think your dog is going to chase down a porcupine in the woods when you’re not looking, you could be looking at a veterinary visit and the end of your camping trip.
The same goes for bears and other large animals. If I am bringing a dog, I want it to wake me up if a bear comes into camp and even scare it off. But if my dog became suicidal, or worse yet, did nothing, then it’s not very smart. The best way to train your dog on the outdoors is to take it hiking. If you are planning a trip into the deep wilderness, chances are you have done practice hikes before. Bring your dog on these hikes and let it learn just as you did.
How to Hike With Your dog
Usually, the trailhead will be more crowded and more people will be present. At this time in the hike, try keeping your dog on a leash. The distractions can be overwhelming, especially if there are other dogs around. By keeping it on a leash, it will help you get your hike underway without the need of too much discipline.
This is also a great opportunity to start training your dog for longer day hikes. Get them used to walking next to other people and dogs in an outdoors setting. If your dog is nervous or new to hiking, short day hikes make for perfect lessons. Eventually, your dog will be ready to be completely off leash.
Pack it in Pack it out
On day hikes, this rule still applies, even for your dog. Treat a hike just as you would a walk around the block, bring a poop bag. Most likely, your dog will not be the only pooch on the hike. Having a few dozen canine friends leave presents on a hiking trail can quickly ruin any wilderness experience.
Carry plastic bags, or better yet, biodegradable ones. This does mean that you will have to carry that poop in your backpack. Ensure there is a place where it won’t leak or contaminate your other gear.
Bugs and Ticks
Similar to your own concerns, keeping a watchful eye for ticks and other biting bugs is good practice. Unlike you, your dog doesn’t have arms to swat the bugs off.
- Use bug spray. Spraying your poochie down with some insect repellent is a good option for warding off bugs. But using chemicals around your pet has inherent risks. Test the repellent in the safety of your home and see if any allergic reactions occur.
- Avoid swampy areas. During a hike, it could be impossible to avoid but when finding a camping spot or taking a break, do so away from low lying, swampy areas. These wet spaces are breeding grounds for mosquitos. Even if your bug net and repellent is working, your dog could be eaten alive waiting for you to begin hiking again.
- Avoid tall grasses. Ticks are incredibly abundant in tall grasses and dense undergrowth. Unfortunately, this type of vegetation is common near trailheads and around the edges of forests. Both locations are awfully tempting to run through when you are a dog. If you come upon these zones, keep your dog close and on the trail. Use a leash if necessary to keep them out of tick zones.
- Always check for ticks. After hiking, not only should you shower and check yourself for ticks but the same should be done for your dog. Rub them down, feeling for the small insects. Bathing your dog is a great method for removing the unwanted pest.
Backpacking With Dogs
If you have determined your dog is a hiker, why not take it to the next level with an overnight hike. It is time to take your precious pet on a backpacking trip with you. This is an opportunity for the two of you to connect on a more evolutionary basis. After all, we domesticated dogs to protect us in situations much like a backpacking experience. According to Wikipedia, dogs were domesticated during human’s hunter and gatherer phase. Whether or not we domesticated them or they followed hunting tribes, slowly domesticating themselves by feeding on scraps, only a time machine can tell. But what it does prove is that our furry friends are genetically built to be our ultimate trekking partner.
What better way to re-awaken your animal’s genetic make-up than to take it backpacking?
How to Pack for Your dog
Packing for your dog is a necessity if you want them to have an enjoyable time. Luckily, a well conditioned dog won’t need much.
- Food. When hiking, it is important you bring enough food for fido. Just like you, they will be burning through more calories than usual. Be sure to plan ahead and bring plenty of calories for your dog. This also means that you need to pack their food alongside your own. Make sure your pack has enough room for the extra weight.
- Leash and collar. Maybe you keep the leash in the car and use paracord instead. Or you can bring it with you, depending on your animal’s temperament. But having a good idea about identification and control is important to packing for any trip.
- First aid kit. Most likely, your dog will get itself into some trouble. Either chasing an animal or getting stung by a bee. Bring benadryl and any other medicine you would routinely use on your pet. Carrying a well supplied first aid kit to treat basic injuries is always a good idea.
- Dog pack. Maybe carrying dog food in your pack just doesn’t seem like your kind of thing. Why not make the dog carry it? There are plenty of doggy backpacks on the market to fit every shape and size. According to Caesarway, a dog can carry 10-12% of their body weight.
When deciding on using a doggy backpack, slowly work your animal into carrying a fully packed bag. Start by hiking with an empty pack, just to see how they like it. Use plenty of treats and make the experience a positive one overall. Your eventual goal is to have your little guy carry its own food so you don’t have to.
- Booties? I have never used shoes for my dog. But, if your pet is not used to hiking on rocks and through the woods, a torn pad can ruin a trip. Do your research and make the best decision for your dog when it comes to paw protection. Before going on a long distance hike, test the booties on your pet. Check to see if they are rubbing the wrong way or preventing the dog from walking normally.
Setting up a Dog Friendly Camp
After your dog is comfortable with the hiking aspect of backpacking, you can then start to acclimate to the camping portion. If you are used to backpacking solo, a dog will change your normal routine.
- Find a place to set up shelter. Whether you are using a hammock, tent, or tarp, finding a place that is large enough for both you and your dog is imperative. Your dog is now part of your pack and you are the leader. It will naturally want to sleep close to you and having enough space will allow for it to do so. Look for flat areas and possibly some sheltered zones for your dog to sleep under.
- Will your dog sleep inside the tent? This decision is a very personal one and there are no right answers. My personal opinion is that dogs should sleep outside, if it’s raining, under the vestibule should suffice. I have even seen dogs comfortable under an overturned log. Depending on the personality, some absolutely love sleeping outside
That being said, I am aware that many people love sleeping with their dogs. If this is the case, there are necessary precautions to take
- Clean the dog’s paws. After hiking all day, a dog’s paws have the potential to bring in a large amount of dirt. It is always a good idea to wipe them down before allowing entry to the tent.
- Lay down a pad. Laying down a pad lets your dog sleep more comfortably on the hard ground. This prevents them from moving too much at night. It also gives them a place to walk and prevents their nails from tearing holes in the floor of your shelter.
- Have enough room. When deciding on letting your dog sleep inside the tent, make sure you have enough room. It would be silly to leave your backpack and gear outside, and risk having them be chewed on by animals or rained on. When packing your shelter, test it with your dog before embarking. Being too cramped can prevent both of you from having a good night’s rest.
- Bury the poop. You knew this was coming, right? Just like human poop, your dog’s poop should be buried. If you are only going for a couple days, chances are, the campgrounds are fairly popular. It’s kind of gross to find dog poop in a camping spot. You can treat it just like you would your own waste. Dig a cat hole and bury it deep.
More Than One?
Perhaps you have more than one dog. Maybe, bringing a pack of dogs makes you feel safer in bear country. Whatever the reasons are, having more than one complicates any hiking situation.
The biggest trick to bringing multiple dogs is keeping them relatively close to you while hiking. As long as they are well trained, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Multiple dogs also presents an opportunity to train puppies on proper hiking etiquette. Using an older dog who already knows proper behavior can rub off on your newest addition.
Bringing dogs on your hike can be beneficial to the overall experience. Different from people, the benefits they produce on the trail can be comforting.
- Mental support. Whether you are hiking solo or with a group, it’s always nice to have some mental support on a hike. It’s easy to become tired and at times want to quit. Having your dog offer unflinching loyalty throughout the entire hike can always keep your happiness levels high. Dogs love hiking and they love you, taking your pet on your next camping trip is a win-win.
- If a raccoon, bear, or even a human wanders into your camp, having a dog is your first alarm. Better at smelling than we are, their nose will be put to the test guarding you while asleep. I always sleep more soundly in bear country when a dog is nearby. I can rely on them to alert me to trouble if it comes.
- Playing fetch by a glacial lake is an experience you will always cherish. Talking to your dog is an excellent way to break up the monotony of hiking all day. Watch your dog run through the woods or chase squirrels. That energy is highly contagious and bringing a dog can make any hike fun and exciting.
Your Best Friend in the Wilderness
On your next hike, if don’t already, bring your dog. Reconnect with your pet on an evolutionary level. Hiking, backpacking, and camping with a dog guarantees a different and unique experience.