Most dogs love exploring the outdoors with their humans, but an intensive hike is a lot more demanding than a walk around the neighborhood or a visit to the dog park. If you’re planning a long-distance hike with your dog, know how to keep his safety and comfort in mind.
A long intensive hike is exhilarating, and it’s even more fun when your dog is by your side. Taking your canine companion hiking is a great way to get exercise and build a stronger bond between you. But it requires dedicated preparation to ensure the experience is safe and enjoyable for your dog.
The right hiking companion
Some dogs make better hiking companions than others, depending on their breeds (or breed mixes). The American Kennel Club offers a list of the best breeds for outdoor hiking based on energy levels, agility and genetics. The top five are:
- Siberian husky
- Australian shepherd
- German shorthaired pointer
- Australian cattle dog
Keep in mind, however, that you can enjoy an intensive hike with many other breeds or mixes as long as you prepare them for the trek, and take their overall health and level of training into consideration. At the same time, some dogs are not good candidates for long hikes, particularly brachycephalic breeds such as pugs and bulldogs. Be sure to have your dog checked over by the veterinarian before taking him on a long-distance hike, to be sure he’s healthy and fit enough to enjoy it safely.
Preparing for a long hike
Choosing a destination
The first step is to check all the rules and regulations for dogs at the parks or wilderness trails you’re interested in. Some places may not allow dogs, or will require them to be leashed. Also familiarize yourself with the type of terrain you may encounter, and how long the trails are.
On-leash or off
There’s lot of debate around hiking on-leash versus off-leash. For many hikers, it depends on the terrain and popularity of the trail. Some people choose to keep their canines on-leash, both for the dogs’ protection and that of other trail users. However, more intense hikers have found that keeping a dog on-leash can actually be a hazard over rougher terrains because it limits mobility for both dog and person. Whether or not you leash your dog will depend on your destination and its regulations, the risk of wildlife encounters, your hiking experience, and how well your dog responds to your direction.
It is important to have a strong bond with your dog to ensure his safety during a long hike in the wilderness. A solid bond means your dog is more likely to respond appropriately and promptly to your commands. Attend obedience training classes until your dog becomes deeply attentive to your instructions. Agility training is also a good way to prepare him for a long hike. Your dog should to come, sit and stay on command, regardless of any surrounding distractions. Some experienced hikers also recommend training with a clicker or whistle.
If you’re planning an overnight hiking trip, prepare yourself and your dog by getting lots of exercise leading up to the hike. It’s also a good idea to have your dog sleep with you in a tent before your trip so he becomes accustomed to it.
Packing for the journey
Deciding what to pack for a long-distance hike is a vital part of the preparation process. One of the most important things to bring along is water. It is a good idea to include a collapsible bowl, which is easy to pack. If you’re planning a longer trip, be sure to prepare for all scenarios by bringing emergency items such as bear spray and extra food. Being ready for anything is critical for the safety of you and your dog. See sidebar at right for a checklist on what to pack.
Safety on the trail
Once you’re on the hike, remain conscious of health signals from your dog. During warm weather, for example, veterinarian Dr. Molly Jette recommends watching for signs such as excessive panting, lethargy or changes in gum color. If you notice your dog is suffering from these symptoms, it’s time to call a halt. “Stop immediately, as your dog is probably overheated,” says Dr. Jette. “Find a shaded area and help him cool off by running cold water over his paws.”
If you encounter a wild animal on the trail, it’s important not to panic. If the animal has noticed you, move away swiftly but calmly, if possible. If your dog is off-leash and has approached the animal while barking, don’t position yourself between the two. Call your dog to come and put him on his leash, then calmly put some distance between you and the wild animal (this is one reason why solid training is so important). Bear spray can also be used to prevent an attack.
When you’re properly prepared, taking your dog on a long-distance hike can be a great adventure and bonding experience for both of you.
Kelsie Chartier is a dog owner, outdoor enthusiast and a University of Central Florida graduate. She has a range of experience working with dogs, including volunteering at humane societies, conducting research projects, and many years of dog ownership. Her passion is advocating for animal adoption and enjoying outdoor activities.