Hiking with Dogs – Tips & Etiquette for the Trail

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Tips for Taking Your Dog on The Trail


Dogs make great hiking partners! ©iStockphoto.com/abbywilcox

Hiking with dogs can be a fun and exciting time for both you and your dog. It allows the two of you to get out together, bond and enjoy nature. Hiking gives your dog a new place to explore, sniff new smells and get some fresh air. Plus, it is great exercise for everyone. Not only is it lots of fun, it also is a time to ensure your dog is safe and comfortable. Part of that is understanding your dog and knowing their boundaries. Odi and I have been hitting the trails since he was little, which has helped to compile the following tips.

Know Your Dog’s Fitness Level & Abilities

Most dogs, regardless of their size, make great hiking partners. However, there are a few things that you need to know about your dog before hitting the trail. What is their fitness level? What kind of exercise are they used to on a daily basis? What is their overall health? What is their age? What is their size and breed type? I know that you are probably thinking that is a lot of questions that need answered for hiking with dogs. Really, you just want to go for a hike, but knowing the answers will make it a more enjoyable time and prevent a sore, unhappy pup.

Know your dog’s physical abilities.

Hiking with dogs can be much more strenuous than taking a walk around the neighborhood. Depending on where you choose to hike, the terrain will be more uneven, rough and uphill. A dog must not just be thrown from the couch to a 10-mile hike, but must be physically ready. Get your dog prepared by starting off with short walks to longer walks. Then start hitting some easy trails as you work your way up to trekking a challenging trail. Easing your dog into hiking not only gets them in shape, it also toughens up their paws so that they can withstand the rough terrain without ripped, cut up pads. Believe me- it happens and is not fun. In fact, even with experienced hiker dogs, we still recommend dog boots to keep paws protected, especially in rough conditions.

Know your dog’s health, age and size. Choose an appropriate hiking trail.

You need to choose an appropriate trail when hiking with dogs. Senior dogs may tire out more quickly than their younger counterparts. The same holds true for small breeds, where their little legs just have trouble keeping up for long distances. Small breeds may also have more trouble on harder trails where they would have to jump up or down a rock or over logs than a large dog. On the same notion, puppies should not be pushed too hard. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go hiking with your puppy, small dog or senior dog or keep them off the trail. it just means you need to ensure you pick a trail that matches their abilities. You may want to find a short, easy hiking trail. Or you may find that you want to take them along with you in a backpack carrier so that they can still be with you, but you are not limited to the types and lengths of trails.

Trail Etiquette When Hiking With Dogs

While hiking is a time to be free and away from the normal everyday rules, there are still a few guidelines you should use when hiking with your dog.

1. Check on the trail regulations about hiking with dogs.

Before hitting a trail, always check on the regulations for hiking with dogs. Some trails require a dog to be on-leash at all times. Some trails are very busy with people, mountain bikes and even horse riders. Keeping your dog on the leash is for safety and consideration for all. Other trails do not require leashes, which allows for a great place for your dog to run off leash and explore. Odi and I love to find these types of trails! When your dog is off leash, make sure they are still in your sight and within range of your commands.

2. Be considerate of others.

While you and I love our dogs indefinitely, not everyone does. In fact, some people are deathly afraid of dogs. When hiking with dogs, you should teach your dog trail manners. When your dog is off-leash, ensure that you call him or her to your side and put the leash on when you are passing others on the trail. Be considerate, even when you know your dog is just super friendly and wants to be love-able to others, their children and their dogs. You don’t know how they will react and it is better to be on the safe side and have Fido on the leash by your side.

3. Ensure your dog is obedient to commands.

When hiking with dogs, ensure they know basic commands and are obedient to you. This etiquette tip goes along with the first two. As we mentioned, it is wonderful to let your dog off leash. However, they need to know the command “Come” or “Here” so that when called they come right to your side, even when there are fun distractions around, such as other people, dogs or wild animals. This will keep them safe and prevent them from running after an animal and getting lost out in the woods.

4. Clean up after your dog.

This one should be common sense, but we thought we would throw it in there. One of the best parts of hiking with dogs is that they often go to the bathroom in the middle of the woods. However, be prepared and take dog poop bags with you. If your dog goes on or along the trail, be respectful and clean up after your dog. There is nothing worse than stepping on a pile of dog poo with your hiking boots or sneakers. Yuck! Follow the “Leave No Trace” principal with the poop bag as well.

Keep You & Your Dog Hydrated


Even when hiking with dogs on cooler days, it is vital to be drinking plenty of water. Many dogs will drink out of a lake, stream or other body of water if available along the trail. However, they may contain algae or parasites that may make your dog sick. Plus, you never know if that small creek along the trail has dried up. It is always advisable to take water along, and plenty of it. Use a travel water dog bowl or a handi drink water dispenser for convenience. Travel water bowls are easy to clip onto your backpack or fold into a pocket and are very handy to give your dog a drink.

Take the Appropriate Dog Gear for Hiking

The amount of gear that your dog needs when hiking depends on a lot of factors, such as the weather, how long or hard the hike will be, the type of terrain, etc. We have mentioned a few things in this article that are handy when hiking with dogs, such as travel dog bowls or backpack carriers, but there are many other pieces of gear that are helpful. As such, we thought it best to write a follow-up post on the essential gear for hiking with dogs. Check back soon to read.

Enjoy Your Hike & Check Your Dog Afterwards

Most importantly, enjoy the hike with your dog. Enjoy each other’s companionship and enjoy the great outdoors! Ok, one more quick tip. After your hike, just be sure to check your dog for any cuts, scrapes, briars, ticks or anything else on them, especially if they are off leash and running through brush. Odi usually has a few briers that I need to pull off after a hike. Ok, maybe one more… And for the last tip- when hiking with dogs, make sure you are using a flea & tick medicine. I know, at least for our area, ticks are very prevalent. If you find any ticks on your dog, just remove them. Ticks are gross, but don’t let them stop you from hiking with dogs.

So in conclusion, take these tips and have fun hiking with dogs!

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