Dogs make awesome hiking companions, but similarly to humans preparing for hikes, dogs have many considerations to take into account too. This can include things like ability, preparedness, trail etiquette, and seasonal factors. While most of the following tips relate to day hiking (we’ll do another post soon on backpacking with your dog!), many will transfer over to backpacking, camping, and other overnights.
The points listed below are merely guidelines. Every dog will have different needs and gear requirements. We recommend checking with your vet to confirm if your dog’s physical condition is fit for hiking.
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We humans need to build our endurance to longer or multi-day hikes, and it’s no different for our dogs. Before setting off on a longer or more strenuous hike with your dog, determine if your dog is prepared or ready for this type of hike. This can include factors such as pet health, trail distance, elevation gain/loss, terrain, and trail difficulty. Some of our trails have metal or wooden ladders to help traverse the steeper elevations, many have rock scrambles, creek or stream crossings, and some have suspension bridges. Think about how your dog might handle those potential challenges, especially if they’ve never seen them before, and if it’s within their ability range. If possible, we recommend building up their endurance for bigger hikes with smaller ones, continually increasing in difficulty and length depending on your goal hike. If you have questions or concerns about your dog’s ability, check with your veterinarian.
When on busy trails, Fido will need to have a solid skillset for their safety and yours. Before heading out on major hikes, or for something to work on during shorter outings, work with your dog on their recall skills and general manners such as sit, wait, and stay. Work with your dog on staying on trail as well, as trail damage and erosion can happen from pets as well as humans.
While out enjoying the trails, it’s very likely you’ll meet other dogs, hikers, and maybe even wildlife. Please observe all posted signage about dogs at the trailheads; note some areas such as the alpine zone will require your dog to be on a leash while other areas may not allow dogs, and some trails in Vermont may be open to equestrian or bike traffic where different yield rules are in place. Make sure you have a leash on hand for when in the alpine zone, on busy trails, or near roads. Even if your dog is under voice control, be prepared to leash your dog at the request of other hikers or around potential wildlife encounter areas.
Hiker Right of Way
As a best practice, people hiking with dogs should yield to whoever is on the trail. If possible, step off to the side with your dog and wait for hikers to pass. It’s a great time to practice ‘sit,’ ‘wait,’ or ‘stay’, and use those treats you brought along for an impromptu training/reinforcement session!
Just as humans need to relieve themselves, so will your dog. Please follow Leave No Trace Principles for humans and for dogs and either bag the poop and pack it out or dig a Nalgene-sized hole and bury the waste. Do not leave dog poop on the side of the trail, bagged or unbagged. Dog feces can carry diseases and cause harm to local wildlife, and no one wants to accidentally step in dog poo. As much as possible, make sure your dog does not urinate or defecate within 200 feet of a water source or in areas near shelters/tent sites.
Dog Hiking Gear
Humans hike with the ten essentials, and dogs also have their own hiking gear needs! Every dog, like every hiker, will have different needs and wants on the trail, but this list is a good starting point:
- Water bottle and water dish – If planning to refill water from the trail, bring along a water filtration system. Fido can contract giardia too!
- Dog food (for longer and multi-day hikes) and snacks
- Leash – While many areas allow your dog to be off leash if under voice control, some areas will require your dog to be on a leash such as above tree line in the alpine zone. It’s also important to have in the event of a wildlife encounter or a hiker’s request for your dog to be leashed.
- Harness or backpack. If using a backpack your dog can wear, remember to keep the pack’s weight to about 10% of their body weight. For example, if your dog weighs 50 pounds, their pack should only weigh about 5 pounds.
- Poop bags, always bring extras too!
- ID tags
- Cooling vest (for warmer weather)
- Jacket (for cooler weather)
- First aid kit
- Rescue equipment
- Towel (for the car, in case your dog gets muddy on wet while on the trail)
When choosing your trail, make sure it is dog friendly. Research the length of the trail, the terrain, any leash rules, popularity, and more. Look at trail maps and have alternative routes in mind in case you or your pet’s (or the weather’s) condition changes mid-hike and you need to get off trail. Keep in mind your dog’s ability and skill level when choosing a hike.
Do you know pet first aid, or have first aid supplies for your dog in your pack? Injuries can happen even to the most seasoned hiker, and our dogs are no exceptions. Before heading out on your hike, brush up on pet first aid and CPR through the Pet First Aid app produced by the American Red Cross. While many aspects between animal and human first aid/CPR overlap, there are slight differences. In addition to your first aid kit, it may be a good idea to bring along some sort of paw balm or wax to help protect their paw pads, especially if the terrain is rougher than they are used to or if you are hiking in cold weather. You may also want to consider bringing along some dog booties as well; in the event your dog injures their paw, after bandaging a bootie can go on overtop of the bandage and protect the paw from further injury. They’re also great for winter, where snow and ice can compact between the dog’s toes and cause discomfort.
Another thing to consider is how to evacuate your pet should they sustain a serious injury. Will you be able to carry your dog, or will you need to have something else to help you get your dog off the trail? While we hope it does not happen, it is something to consider while exploring the trails. If you plan to take your dog on long or multi-day hikes, it is helpful to practice both basic first aid techniques and potential carryout methods if your dog gets seriously injured on trail. In the event of an emergency, it’s always helpful to have you and your dog used to them. Have information for local emergency vets and be prepared to self-rescue your dog if needed.
Are you and your dog prepared for the weather? If hiking with your pup in winter and it’s cold, will they need boots or a jacket? How long are they comfortable in the cold? If it’s during hunting season in the fall, do you have blaze orange for both you and your dog while in the woods? If it’s summer and a road walk is involved, how hot is the pavement? Will your dog overheat on a longer hike? Can you tell the signs of canine dehydration? If you have a short haired dog, will they get sunburned? Whatever the season, pack the appropriate gear your dog will need to hike happily and comfortably.
Contact Information and Microchips
While we always hope our dogs will not get lost on the trail, in the event you and your dog get separated please make sure they are wearing either up to date identification/contact information tags, a collar with a QR code to scan its information, a tracking tag, or are microchipped and the microchip information is up to date so you and your best friend can be reunited as quickly as possible.
During the warm summer months and into the fall, ticks are crawling everywhere. Be sure to check your dog for ticks after each hike. Check their bellies, legs, ears, face, and between their toes. Remove any ticks you see, and if your dog has been bitten by a tick you may want to consult your veterinarian to confirm if your dog has contracted Lyme disease.
When your hike is finished and you’re celebrating your successful adventure, take a minute to assess how the hike went. How did your dog do on the trail? Was their ability level up to the task? Are there areas of training you’ll need to expand on? Are there things you wish you’d brought along but didn’t have? Take note of these things for your next hike, and enjoy planning the next one!
We hope you have fun getting out and hiking with your dogs this summer! What are some of your favorite dog-friendly hikes, or pieces of gear you take on every hike with your pup?