If your dog could describe her dream day, it might include endless sniffing opportunities and varied terrain over which to roam. Enjoying the great outdoors with your dog is one of the best ways you can bond. Hiking through the wilderness together improves your health, brightens your mood, and brings you closer together. We talked to Kurgo’s consulting Veterinarian, Dr. Susan O’Dell, DVM, and she gave us some great tips for hiking with dogs.
Select Your Trail
The first step in having a successful hike is selecting where you will go. Are you in search of a rigorous hike to a picture-perfect vista or just looking for a moderate trek through the woods? Other resources to consider are the Hiking with Dogs books for your region, All Trails or Trails.com.
Some things to consider no matter where you are located:
Rules, Regulations & Laws – Are dogs allowed off-leash? Are dogs allowed at all? Make sure before you get to the trail and get hit with a fine. Most National Parks in the US do not allow dogs on hiking trails, but most State Parks do. See our list of National Parks that are Dog Friendly.
Terrain – How steep is the trail? How rocky? A one-mile hike can feel a lot longer if it’s all uphill. Before you head in, know how long the trail is and if you and your pup can handle the effort.
Traffic – Who else is using the trail? If there are a lot of hikers with dogs, will your dog behave properly? Will you and your dog still have fun, or will you be fighting him/her off other dogs? What about if there are mountain bikers flying by? Make sure your dog will be able to handle the traffic on the trail.
Preparing for Your Hike
Whether you are going for a short walk, day hike, or overnight backpack trip, you need to prepare your dog for the hike as much as you do for yourself.
Make sure your dog is physically ready – “Just as with running, gradually increase the length and difficulty of your hikes with your dog” says Dr. Susan O’Dell, DVM. “If your dog is only used to walking a mile or two for bathroom, take breaks first before you start him off walking longer distances, then try easy hikes with some elevation gain.”
Train Your Dog on the Basics – Does your dog know his sit, stay, and heel? Will he come when called without fail? If you have an untrained dog, hiking in the wilderness with the distractions of birds, new smells, and giant bears can lead to a lot of heartache. Practice the basic commands and make sure she has them down pat.
Take Food and Water – No matter how long the hike, make sure you bring plenty of food and water as well as a lightweight dog travel bowl. “For a day trip, you should bring enough to water and feed your pup for 24 hours in case you get lost,” according to Dr. O’Dell. “Stop frequently for water breaks and be sure to use clean water from home or filter water along the way. Dogs can get infections and parasites from contaminated water, just like us,” she says.
Always Bring a Leash – Most hiking trails have leash rules, so always carry a leash. Even if it is an off-leash trail, you may need to restrain your dog from other dogs, wildlife, or dangerous terrain. There are many hands-free dog leashes that enable you to wrap the leash around your waist so you can use your hands to maneuver over rocks.
Use a Harness – “Consider using a dog harness specifically designed for hiking or running, such as the Journey Air Harness or the Go-Tech Adventure Harness with a V-neck design,” recommends Dr. O’Dell. “These types of harnesses distribute force when the dog is pulling or you both are unsteady on uneven terrain. This harness also has a back handle which can help you lift your pup over a log or help him along a rocky scramble.”
Pack Gear Right – It’s your decision, but there are a lot of positive reasons for your pup to wear a dog backpack. “Dogs like having a job and a backpack gives them purpose,” says Dr. O’Dell. “It also is a good way to slow your dog down if they race ahead. Just be sure to never put more than one-quarter of his body weight in his pack.” See more Reasons Your Dog Needs a Backpack.
For more ideas on what to bring, check out or Dog Hiking Checklist
Hit the Trail: Safety & Etiquette
Keep Your Dog Leashed – Until your dog is an experienced hiker and you know they can handle wildlife, other people, and other dogs as well as she knows what to do when she encounters a cliff or fast-moving river, keep your dog leashed. Use an around-the-waist leash if you need your hands free.
Pick Up After Yourself – Just because it is the wilderness, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to leave your dog’s waste on the trail. Many trails get excessive human/dog use and if everyone left their waste, the area would be ruined. It can also interfere with natural plants and wildlife. Just pack it out!
Check Regularly for Fleas and Ticks – Fleas and ticks are rampant in the woods so make sure you have taken the proper preventative measures. Once you finish the hike, make sure you give yourself and your dog a thorough check for pests.
Protect Him from the Sun – “Even though they have those beautiful fur coats, your dog can still get sunburned. Make sure you hit them with some sunscreen, especially around the nose and other less-hairy areas,” warns Dr. O’Dell.
Rest and Hydrate Frequently – “Just like you, your dog needs to stay hydrated while hiking. Unlike you, they cannot tell you when they are overdoing it,” says Dr. O’Dell. “So, stop frequently for breaks and give your pup water. Check for signs of heatstroke, such as excessive drooling, reddened gums, rapid heart rate, or producing very small amounts of urine.” Carry a good water bottle and a portable bowl.
Have fun out there! Have you done a lot of hiking with your dog? What tips do you have to share?