It’s fair to assume that dog owners like a walk. The average dog will need two 20 minute walks per day, and should have access to a garden so they can go to the toilet if needed. Getting outside with your dog is a great way to boost serotonin, get some fresh air and enough exercise to stay active and healthy.
If you’d like to walk more, consider taking your dog hiking. These longer trips are a lot of fun and can help strengthen your bond – plus, dogs don’t tend to initiate conversations when you’re out of breath, walking up a hill.
So, if you’re looking to take your dog for a hike, you’ll need to do some preparation. We’ve put together a useful guide to help you and your dog have a great time.
Step 1: The 'right' kind of dog
Chihuahuas are pretty cute. They’re also tiny and have almost no fur, resilience, or stamina, so if you try to take one on a 20+ mile hike, you’re going to end up carrying it.
Which shouldn’t be a huge problem, because they aren’t exactly bulky. However, there are some dogs that are better suited to hiking which might be the right choice.
If you’re looking for a dog to go hiking with, labradors, Australian shepherds, border collies, huskies, boxers (provided you have one who can breathe well) and poodles are all great breeds that will be able to go for longer walks without running into any issues.
It’s a good idea to take into account the climate where you live to make sure that your dog won’t get too cold or overheat when you’re out, and to think about the breed’s other attributes before committing and getting that kind of dog.
You should also think about your dog’s age, and if they have any kind of underlying health issues that might cause problems.
Puppies will probably bounce along very happily for half an hour and then need a nap, and older dogs (especially labradors) might get stiff joints and struggle after a while.
If you have any concerns, ask a vet to check over your dog before you start hiking. You might want to start off with some smaller hikes first to increase their fitness.
Finally, you’ll need to be honest about how well trained your dog is. All animals can be unpredictable, especially in new environments, and the last thing you want is your dog bolting in a remote and unfamiliar area.
It’s dangerous for them and if you go to find them and get lost, it could be dangerous for you. You should also think about any wildlife you’re likely to encounter and how your dog might react. If in doubt, keep them on the lead.
Step 2: Getting your dog ready
So, you’ve decided you would like to take your dog hiking. There are a couple of things you’ll need to check up on before you go…
1. Does your dog have all their vaccinations? They’ll need different ones depending on which area you live in, but it’s important that the vaccine program is complete before you get going.
2. Are there any other medical risks associated with the area you’re going to? If you’re going to travel a long way for your hike, check and see if there are any local threats that you should be cautious of.
3. Is your dog definitely fit enough? If your dog usually goes for two 20 minute walks per day, they won’t be able to do a 15-mile hike straight away. Start with something smaller and work your way up. Take a look at different trail routes to see what will be shorter and what has convenient points to stop and have a rest so they can take a break.
4. Make sure you’ve done all your research. Most national parks and hiking trails will have information on their websites about where it’s safe to take dogs if they have to stay on their leads, where there are poo bins and if there’s any livestock you need to be aware of and careful around. You’ll need to check this before leaving to avoid any issues.
Step 3: The dog pack & shopping list
Let’s be honest: there are few things funnier than dressing your dog up. They’re not always the biggest fans, but I honestly believe that everyone should put their dog in a pumpkin costume for five minutes every Halloween.
One piece of clothing your dog will need to get used to is a dog pack. This fits over their body like a life jacket and has saddlebags where you can store anything they need for the trip. Tip – don’t put food in it, because they’ll just spend all their time trying to eat it.
Take a look at different dog packs and find the one that’s best for your dog. It’s also worth getting them used to it slowly, so start off with an empty pack and then add things gradually.
The most a dog should carry is approximately 25% of its body weight. When your dog is comfortable wearing the dog pack, you can add a lead (if you’re not using it) a dog first aid kit, and any bags, water bottles, or booties that they might need.
Other things you’ll need:
1. A coat
2. A cooling collar
3. Safety light
4. A towel
A dog pack isn’t a necessity, but it’s natural for larger working dogs to carry loads on their backs – think of huskies pulling sleighs and people over snow. It’s just one way to improve the fitness of your dog.
Step 4: Snack time!
Hikes and long walks are a lot of fun, but they also mean that you’re using a lot more
energy than usual.
You’ll need additional food and drinks, and so will your dog! The amount they’ll need will depend on the type of dog and the temperature, duration, and terrain, so it’s best to speak to your vet to work out what is appropriate.
And make sure that water is regularly available because otherwise, they’re much more likely to drink from lakes and streams, which has the potential to make them unwell.
Step 5: Overnight trips
As we’ve said before, longer or overnight trips are something you should work towards and don’t do this as your first hike.
But, when you’re both feeling safe and confident, grab a tent and take your dog camping. It’s a good idea to ‘practice’ in your garden first, so your dog doesn’t find the whole experience too stressful.
You’ll need to use a larger tent than usual – assume that your dog is one person in terms of tent size. This should give them room and have space left over for their stuff.
Step 6: Staying safe
Hiking is a little bit more risky than trotting around your local park, so you should know how to manage additional dangers and keep your dog safe. Here are some things you’ll need to watch out for.
We don’t honestly think your dog is going to get into a fight with the Loch Ness Monster, but if you’re in an area with moose or bears, you need to be vigilant – for your own sake, too!
The best thing to do is to keep your dog on a lead and be careful about where and when you go. Obviously, large wild animals aren’t the only danger: dogs can easily pick up ticks in the grass and these can give your dog Lyme disease.
Make sure you know how to safely remove ticks and check your dog regularly.
You’ll know your dog, and what they do when they get tired.
I once had a golden retriever who would just lie down and refuse to move when she didn’t want to walk anymore, and it was actually a pretty good way to ensure that we took regular breaks and understood her limits.
You should also check for limping, excessive panting, and faster than usual heart rate.
Hiking on summery days is lovely, but when the heat gets too much, you’ll need to take more shady breaks and get your dog some water.
A cooling collar can also be helpful to keep your dog safe and comfortable
You’ll probably come across it at some point, and on a hot day, you might be tempted to join your dog for a little paddle to cool down.
That’s fine, but make sure your dog stays safe and far away from any fast-flowing water that could sweep them away.
They should also be discouraged from drinking any water that you don’t provide, as this could have some nasty pathogens in it.
Are you even a dog owner if you haven’t come home one day to find the bin lid stuck to your dog’s head whilst they sit there, innocent as can be, with no idea of what happened?
Dogs will occasionally eat things they’re not supposed to, and it’s usually not a huge deal. However, if they’re in a new area they might try something that’s dangerous or even poisonous.
You should familiarize yourself with any plants you might come across and find out what to do if your dog does interact with them.
Step 7: Be courteous
Most people hike across publicly owned land, which means that you’ll come across fellow hikers whilst you’re out.
You’ve got to remember that people have the right of way, not dogs, and don’t let them bother anyone else who’s out.
You should also be aware of people who are scared of dogs and don’t allow your dog to snap or bark at anyone else.
You also need to clean up after your dog. Dog poop is absolutely full of nasty and dangerous bacteria, and leaving it lying around is extremely rude and gross. Check for bins before you leave, so you don’t have to carry the poop for too long.
If you’re hiking over byways or tracks that are used by cyclists, runners or horses make sure that you keep your dog on a lead. It’s easy for them to get confused and mixed up with other groups, and this could end really badly.
Step 8: Have fun!
We know that this is a lot of preparation and things to be cautious and aware of. The only thing we can say is that it’s really, really worth it.
Hiking is loads of fun, and your dog will enjoy it too. You don’t need to worry about talking all the time, or about coordinating weekends like you do with your friends – you can, after you’ve done your first few hikes, just go on a whim.
We hope this information is helpful and you and your dog have a fun, exciting trip, make some good memories and (in your dog’s case) smell some fascinating new scents.