Dog Hiking and Backpacking Safety Guide

We all enjoy the outdoors, especially with our dogs. Some of the best bonding is actually done outdoors, if you ask me.

But simply being outdoors with your dog increases the chances of running into a bad experience. Not being properly prepared can ruin possibilities of planning your next outdoor activity any time soon.

Being properly prepared for a hike involves a little bit of research and preparation. It’s the kind of groundwork that will help you and your dog love and appreciate the outdoors for a lifetime.

Research & Preparation

Location Information

If you’re hiking a national park or forest, or any well known location with rangers, it’s important to have their contact information. You can always find the appropriate phone number by visiting the destinations’ website. If you are ever in danger or need to report an incident, calling them is your best bet. Rangers know the area accordingly and can act fast should you ever need their help. Of course, you can always dial 911 in areas with no reception (all phones have this function).

Be sure to visit the US Forest Service website for news and announcements for national grasslands and forests.

Wildlife

Once you’ve got a destination in mind, it’s wise to get to know the wildlife. You can get an idea of what wild animals call your future hiking spot home by talking to someone in the recreation and wilderness office of your choice.

Knowing what animals you can expect to run into and how you should react is important. Especially if dog is around.

Limitations

When planning a hike of any scale it’s important to understand your dog’s physical limitations; yours as well. Sure, some dogs are built like Olympic athletes with genetics that make them excel in the outdoors–humans have them too–but most of us are in no shape or form capable of running a marathon. Just because you have a working, herding or sporting type dog, respect the fact that they are individuals. Your dog will only be capable of what they’ve been conditioned to do.

With respects to that, start slow. Overtime, you and your dog will be able to go farther and longer into an adventure.

During your hike you want to do a few things:

  • Always pay close attention to your dog’s movement. Often times, dogs will show you signs of discomfort or tiredness through their movement. Remember, dogs communicate through body language, so it’s important to monitor their well being during your hike for anything that might be bothering them.
  • Pay close attention to your dog’s breathing and willingness to push forward during a hike. Never drag or force your dog to continue if they decide to lay down. They aren’t being silly, this is how dogs talk to us. In this case it’s, “I need a breather!”
  • When you take your breathers, reward your dog by petting and telling them how good of a job they are doing. During this time make it a habit of inspecting their feet. Make sure their pads are not wearing down, and inspect for any prickly debris they might have picked up along the way. Keep their spirits high, basically.

Dog Gear

Equipping your dog with the proper dog gear on a hike is critical. Weather, scale of hike, and terrain play the biggest roles in determining exactly what kind of gear will come handy.

  • Weather – It’s important to be prepared for the harshest of elements. Like humans, dogs are warm blooded, so weather greatly influences production on a physical level. A cooling vest for a warm summer hike, or an extra layer of fur like a dog coat to protect from cold will greatly increase the comfort level and production of your dog.
  • Scale of hike – The size of your adventure is significant. Is it a 30 minute hike? A few hours? A couple days? No matter the duration, having enough supplies for you and your dog is fundamental. Dog packs are great choices for any size adventure; pack them with extra water, snacks/food, and first aid for your dog.
  • Terrain – The ground you and your dog will be trekking through plays the biggest role, mainly for the dog. Hard rock and other abrasive surfaces can become extremely hot during the warmer seasons. Not only can they get scorching hot, abrasive surfaces and dog pads do not mix! Your dog’s pads can wear down to the point where raw skin is exposed. Protective dog shoes will give your dog the ability to enjoy any terrain alongside you.

If you decide not to use dog shoes, be sure to keep them on softer and cooler temperature surfaces–sandy trails in the summer can become very hot as well. Be thoughtful and apply Mushers Secret to the bottom of your dog’s pads. Inspect their feet every once in a while to make sure their pads are not being worn down aggressively.

Dog Packs

ruffwear-palisades-dogpack

Dog packs come in many shapes and sizes. There are dog packs designed to hold a small volume like water and snacks, and those big enough to pack for a couple days in the backcountry.

Fitting your dog so they are comfortable is key for these kind of jobs. Not fitting a dog pack properly, or overloading a dog pack is the easiest way to drown motivation in a dog. Never load your dog’s pack with more than 25% of their own body weight. But be sure to take breed of dog and age into consideration.

A well conditioned, mature, Alaskan Malamute for example, can easily carry 30% of it’s body weight. A young dog, under 12 months of age should never carry it’s full potential carrying-weight until they are fully developed–nor a senior dog who’s past their prime. Pay close attention to the anatomy of a dog; tall dogs, ~22+ inches at the shoulder who weigh a healthy ~40 lbs should only carry 10-15% of their body weight. The same goes for small to medium size dogs who lack the bone and muscle structure to do so.

Remember, the job of carrying a load with a dog pack needs to be fun. If you make it an excruciating and stressful experience, dog won’t be looking so forward to next time.

Dog Shoes

Lots of research and development has gone into the construction of dog shoes; similar to that of human running shoes in recent years, they help dogs get the most out of outdoors. Specialty dog shoes are pliable, comfortable, and most importantly, help protect a dog’s pads from abrasive terrain.

Fitting your dog properly requires you follow the manufacturers’ instructions for sizing to a T. Keeping your dog’s nailed trimmed helps as well. Not doing either of the two properly will make you crazier than the idea of dogs wearing shoes.

Clothing

Boosting the comfort level of your dog in harsh weather can be done with protective coats and jackets. These forms of clothing can be insulated layers that help dogs operate at much comfortable temperatures. There are even dog coats and jackets which help bat snow or rain!

For warm weather, the Swamp Cooler Dog Vest will help dogs regulate and keep internal body temperatures at moderate levels.

Hydration

Staying hydrated during a hike is essential if you want an enjoyable experience.

Some questions that arise are:

  • How much water should one bring?

The H204K9 stainless steel dog water bottle is perfect for small to light hikes. They are available in 9.5 oz. and 25 oz. sizes. They are you answer to all water bottle problems; tough, toxin-free, and a lid designed for a dog’s drinking anatomy make this the perfect water bottle in the market.

If you decide to bring your own water supply, you’ll need a serving bowl so your dog can drink efficiently. Don’t waste water by allowing your dog to drink from a “human” drinking tip–water goes straight to the ground and not into your dog’s mouth.

For bigger adventures, the Palisades Dog Pack does the trick. This innovative dog pack features 2 water bladders, each with 1.0L carrying capacity.

If you are hiking alongside a water source–stream or lake–be sure the water is safe to drink. Again, you can get this information by calling the recreation and wilderness office of your choice.

  • How much water should my dog(s) be allowed to drink?

There are many factors that play into how much water a dog should drink at any given time during physical activity.

The main ones are:

  1. Breed of dog – If your dog is deep chested, or a breed of dog that is prone to bloat, you’ll need to monitor their breathing before you allow them to drink water. Their breathing should be at a normal rate to avoid the risk of bloat.
  2. Physical exertion – Allow small breaks for difficult hikes. A couple laps of water is good to keep the mouth and gums moist (don’t allow them to indulge in too much water). For longer breaks, or when a hike is complete, allow your dog to cool down completely before allowing them drink a good amount of water. Allowing a hard panting dog to drink too much water, quickly, allows for air to fill up their stomach. The combination of hard panting dog and drinking too quickly can result in vomiting, gagging, and or bloat.

Thick white saliva on the tongue is a sign your dog is getting a good work out. But allowing your dog to go too long with a dry tongue causes a dog’s body temperature to skyrocket. A cool, moist, panting tongue is the only way a dog can regulate their body temperature, so be sure it’s moist.

Keeping Clean

Keeping clean in the outdoors, especially if planning a multiday hike, is mandatory.

Some dogs love rolling in the nastiest, most eerie earth available. My dogs, for example, won’t hesitate to roll in poop of the “grass” variety.

If your dog loves rolling around and getting funky, pack large anti-bacterial wet wipes to disinfect and deodorize your dog after the hike.

Safety Tips & Accessories

Mother Nature is beautiful with the sights she allows us to see and mountains she allows us to trek, but the moment you think she is only that is when she’ll get ya’!

A few items that should be carried are:

  • Cell phone – If the technology exists to call for help and just so happens to be light weight and pocket-size, why not carry one?!
  • Extra water and snacks – Extra water and snacks never hurt to have in case your hike turns out to be harder and longer than you planned.
  • First aid - A small first aid kit for you and your dog should always be carried. Cleaning a cut or scrape on a long hike will help prevent infections. Avoid infections by properly cleaning and covering the wound from the elements.
  • Leash – Keeping your dog tethered, especially if you have no control over your dog is highly recommended. Use a hands-free leash system to keep hands readily available for the trail ahead.
  • Harness – Use specialty harnesses for technical climbs and trails. The Web Master Dog Harness by Ruffwear is my favorite.

Some safety measures to put in place.

  1. Hiking with a partner (aside from your dog) is always recommended. For safety reasons, a hiking partner can assist you and or dog in case of injury.
  2. Always let someone know where you and the dog are going to be. Post it on Facebook, call a friend, mention it to your neighbor on your way out. Find a way.
  3. Leave a piece of paper on the fridge or table of your home with the information and research you’ve already put together on the adventure. On this piece of paper leave information like the time you left the house and time you plan on returning. If you’re taking a hiking buddy or two, list their names along with their phone numbers. List the trails you plan to hike (for beginners stick to popular trails with lots of foot traffic).

For good measure, carry a small can of pepper spray. Pepper spray is a great form of self defense against wild animals and people. You never know what you may encounter in the backcountry.

Lighting

If you’re out on a serious backcountry excursion, or simply love hiking into the night, you’re obviously going to need some source of self-powered lighting. There are many glowing dog collars that help keep visual track of your dog in low-light conditions.

Self-powered glowing dog collars like the LED GlowDoggie are some of the most popular. They run for hundreds of hours and are 100% water-proof.

A light beacon can also be attached to your dog’s collar, harness, and pack.

Be sure to pack yourself a headlamp, too.

Outdoor Etiquette

Though it can sometimes feel  like we’re all alone outdoors, it’s important to be respectful when enjoying the great outdoors.

Never sick your dog on wildlife because your dog will only catch a few sprains, broken bones, and plant spines.

Keep your dog tethered if you have trouble keeping them under control.

Respect wildlife, plants, and most importantly, other hikers and dogs sharing the same trail.

Cleaning up after your dog

For hikes or backpacking adventures that will only take a few hours:

It’s our responsibility as dog owners to respect wildlife by picking up our dog’s waste to dispose of it later.

I’ve witnessed hikers toss poop bags to the side of the trail–even a few feet from camp–I’ve confronted all of them, and their only excuse was they didn’t want their hand to smell like poop at the end of the hike.

Leaving your dog’s waste, or plastic bags for the matter, in the wild is disrespectful and tasteless. There are companies that manufacture quality poop bags to avoid things like this (poop residual through bag). You can actually avoid this all together (the carrying of poop bags) by buying a portable carry-along container you can store dog poo in.

For multi-day backpacking adventures:

If you’re on a serious backcountry excursion, meaning you’ll be out and about for a couple days and no where near a disposal, it’s important you bury your dog’s waste, just as you would your own–at least 200 feet away from trails, campsites, and water.

Your main goal is to minimize the chance of water pollution, disease, and aesthetic impact; all while maximizing the decomposition rate of the waste.

Punching Out

When your outdoor trip is over, it’s important to inspect the overall well-being of your dog. Observe their movement–their gait should be non-constrictive. Also, ensure they are applying pressure on all fours at a stand-still.

Run your hand through their coat, look inside and around the ears, between toes and pads for any obvious signs of damage. Look for cuts, ticks, or other unwanted guests hanging around.

Always end your dog’s trip with a natural based, medicated shampoo bath to help with soothing and eliminating any bug bites or plant toxins they might have come across on the hike.

And last but not least, plan your next hike.

  • Brandy Rae De Batte

    Hi,

    I was wondering, how often I can take my dog hiking? There is a trail that I go to daily. It’s 1.5 miles straight up, then 1.5 miles straight down. For us (my dog and me) it’s fairly difficult as we have just started to workout together. (She usually goes to the dog park.) I would like to go hike the trail Mon-Fri, but I am not sure if I should bring her with me each time.

    What would you suggest?

    Thank you!!!

    • http://www.doggeekz.com/ Samuel Nieves

      Hello Brandy,

      What breed of dog do you own? 1.5 miles isn’t so bad, but depending on the incline it can of course impact just about anyone who isn’t equipped. Dogs can hike everyday to build endurance, but since all dogs are individuals, it’s important to pay close attention to their willingness and breathing on a hike.

      When you wake up in the morning, observe her gait and movement. If she appears lame or tired, give her the day off for rest. My dogs really push the limits on a daily basis, sometimes us dog owners need to improvise and force our dogs to take a day off–or two! With time, you will pick up on the cues that your dog displays as “ready” or “not”

      Have fun and be safe out there!