Now that the colder weather is subsiding and spring is in the air, many people are ready to get out of the house and start enjoying the outdoors again. One great way to do this with your furry companion is hiking!
Hiking with your dog allows for extended one on one time and is a fun way to exercise and explore the outdoors together, which has loads of benefits for them and you! Because the terrain is varied, a hike can expend more energy than just walking around a flat neighborhood. Also, it allows for mental stimulation – new sights, smells, and sounds for you both. This combination of physical and mental activity can help tire your pup out, which any dog owner knows is a good thing!
But before you venture out, there’s a few important things to keep in mind.
Proper equipment is a must
As with any excursion, it’s important to have the right gear! Thankfully, hiking can be a very minimalist activity. At the minimum, you want to make sure your dog has a secure, well-fitting collar and/or harness with identification, and a standard 6-foot leash (leave the retractable leashes at home for this activity). You will also need to have a way to offer your dog water. Collapsible bowls are easy to carry and don’t take up much room. If you have a bigger dog who needs more water and you want them to pull their weight, you may want to get them their own backpack. Alternatively, if you’re unsure whether your small- or medium-sized dog is ready for a longer hike, you can opt for a backpack to carry them, if needed! Additional items for consideration are booties to protect your dog’s pads (especially if they aren’t used to off-roading), as well as a dog-specific first aid kit.
Prepare & Plan
Before you head out the door, you should have a plan for your adventure. If your dog is new to hiking, plan a route that isn’t too long for them. Aim for a distance that is similar in length to your average neighborhood walk, keeping in mind that the new terrain may be more difficult for them. Over time, you can gradually increase the length of future hikes. If you are hiking on a designated trail, make sure that dogs are allowed! Thankfully, most trails are dog friendly, as long as the dog is on-leash, but to protect wildlife, dogs are not permitted on every trail.
Although being outside is awesome, there are inherent risks for your dog. Know the risks in your area! This could include snakes and other wild animals, problematic insects such as ticks and mosquitos, bacteria, and dangerous flora (poisonous wild plants, foxtails, and burrs). You’ll need to be aware of your surroundings while hiking, and keep your dog on leash. Make sure they stay out of heavy brush, and do not let them drink from any puddles or streams.
It’s also very important to check the weather forecast! Since dogs can’t sweat, they cool off by panting. If they are also exercising more strenuously than usual, the heat can be even harder to deal with (this is especially true for brachycephalic or “smush-faced” dogs). If it’s supposed to be a warmer day, be sure to start early in the morning and bring plenty of water for you and them. If temperatures are expected to be over 75 degrees, it’s probably best to reschedule your hike.
Enjoy your outing
Once you embark on your excursion, it’s time to make the most of the experience! Instead of rushing, let your dog stop and sniff all the new smells. Keep your eyes open for wildflowers, birds, and other critters. Pay close attention to your pup’s body language to see how they are adjusting to this new activity. If they are a little overwhelmed by everything around them, be sure to take it slow. If you notice them panting heavily, take a water break and let them relax. And definitely don’t overlook any photo opportunities – now is the time to get that perfect picture of your dog sniffing a flower for their Instagram account!
Once you’ve made it back home, be sure to help your pupper get the recovery they’ll need. Even though you gave them water on the trail, they may be extra thirsty, especially if it was a warmer day. Don’t let them drink too much at once, though, or they could throw up. Because they used a lot of energy, they may be hungrier than normal. Consider giving them just a little more food than usual (such as ½ cup for a medium sized dog).
It’s also a good idea, now that they are tired, to check them over for ticks, burrs, or foxtails and possibly give them a quick brushing. Due to the extra energy expended, your canine companion may (hopefully!) be pretty tired. Don’t be alarmed if they take a really long nap, but do watch them for any signs of soreness such as limping or licking paw pads. Most dogs will be ready for their normal activities again by the following morning.
With the right plan, hiking can be a fun activity for you and your canine companion to enjoy together. We hope that you can head out for your dog’s first hike (or first hike of the season) with a few more tips and tricks in mind.
Let us know in the comments where you like to hike with your pup!