Hiking with your four-legged friend can be one of the most memorable experiences either one of you might have. In fact, witnessing their energy and unfiltered enjoyment can motivate you to go farther while appreciating the breathtaking scenery—leading to a truly spectacular time in the outdoors.
However, it’s important to remember that your dog, while a part of the family, is still an animal, and there are precautions and safety measures you need to take to ensure you, your pet and other trail visitors have a safe time.
Here are nine tips to keep your furry friend safe out on the trail:
1. Obey All Leash Laws
We all like to think our dogs bring joy to anyone we meet on the trail—but, unfortunately, that’s not true.
Many people are frightened of dogs, or they have a dog on a leash that might get aggressive toward yours. There are a multitude of reasons why letting your dog off-leash on most trails just isn’t a good idea.
Do your research beforehand to make sure you aren’t unintentionally breaking the rules. Dogs are not allowed in most U.S. National Parks, for example, and most dog-friendly trails require you keep your dog on a leash six feet or less in length. Not following these rules can result in stiff fines and ruin what would have otherwise been a fun-filled day for you and your pet.
Many trails have off-leash designated areas, which are perfect for dogs that respond to voice commands. With that said, you must be honest about your dog’s training. If your dog responds to your voice only 50 percent of the time—he’s not under voice command. And if the second you let him off-leash he scurries out of sight, he could be harming sensitive habitat, getting in the way of a mountain biker or running into some unwelcome wildlife.
2. Pick Up After Your Pet
While keeping your dog’s feces in tow is far from pleasant, its benefits go beyond keeping other people’s shoes clean. Dog excrement contains harmful levels of bacteria that can harm and disrupt local wildlife, native habitats and groundwater supplies.
While many trails have dog stool bag stations, not all of them do, and you can’t guarantee the stations won’t be out of bags when you arrive. Always be prepared and keep bags with you anytime you head out on the trail. You can purchase portable doggie bags and doggie bag containers for around $10 that attach directly to your leash.
When it comes to disposing of your dog’s waste, be respectful of the environment and place doggie bags in a trashcan (preferably one with a lid). And, if camping, we advise you leave any pet waste at least 200 feet from a campsite.
3. Bring Enough Water and Food for Two
Anytime you head out on a long hike that requires you pack food and water, remember you have two mouths to feed.
Because dogs cannot sweat like humans and have fur coats, they are at a higher risk of overheating. While you might not need water for Fido on a walk around the block, anytime you head out on the trail, it’s a good idea to bring along plenty of liquids for the both of you. Just remember to bring a collapsible dish to pour some for him.
If it’s really hot, you can even supplement your dog’s water with some light electrolyte fluid (such as Pedialyte). It’s also important to keep your dog from slurping standing puddles of water or ingesting heavy amounts of saltwater. Standing water can contain a number of bacteria, parasites or algae that can make your pooch very sick, and saltwater can cause diarrhea and dehydration.
Bring along some dog treats for your pet to help keep their energy levels up on a long hike. If you took your pet on a very strenuous hike, give them a little bit more dinner to help them recover and prevent sickness and injury. Just like you need calories to stay energized, so do they.
You might also consider purchasing a dog pack so they can carry their own supplies. A fit and healthy dog can carry up to 25 percent of their bodyweight (depending on the breed).