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Hiking with Dogs Tips

Safety Tips for Hiking with Your Dog

Tips for Hiking With Your Dog

Meghan Murphy-Gill 

Dogs love a good trek outside. All of nature’s intriguing sights, sounds, and smells–and plenty of exercise–make for a good day in your dog’s life. And the companionship these pets provide can make hikes extra memorable for you and your family. 

While your dog may seem resilient and able to conquer almost any terrain, it’s important to take special precautions before, during, and after your hike. Here are a vet-approved tips and recommendations for dog hiking gear to keep your pup safe and healthy as you explore the great outdoors together. 

Before the Hike
Choose Your Hiking Trail Wisely
Dr. Marcella Ridgway, a board-certified internal medicine specialist and professor of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says length, type of terrain, and weather are all important factors for determining if your dog is ready for the hike. In other words, if you live in a flat area, don’t head for the mountains without first conditioning your dog for steep climbs. 

Use a resource such as Trail Finder, which can help you discover trails based on location,  difficulty level, and length, and you can filter for trails that are dog-friendly. 

Pack Smart: First Aid for Hiking Dogs
Prepare a first-aid kit. Marcella, who is active in the search-and-rescue community and enjoys hiking with her own dogs, says the kit doesn’t have to be elaborate. Bring bandaging materials such as trauma pads and gauze, adhesive tape, a spray or ointment to promote clotting, zip ties that can be used to fashion a make-shift splint with tree branches, and an inexpensive pair of wire cutters to cut vines or wire should they become wrapped around your dog. Marcella is able to pack these essentials into the pocket of a pair of cargo pants. She says it’s also a good idea to bring a small jacket or two that can function as a gurney if you need to carry your dog out of the woods. 

Keep in mind that if you have to treat a wound, your dog may react to the pain by biting, so ask your vet to show you how to make a temporary muzzle out of a leash or gauze that prevents biting but also allows your dog to pant. 

Day-Of Safety Prep
Before you and your dog set out for the day, note where the closest vet or emergency facility is.
Also, while your dog may be on a routine preventative regimen for ticks and fleas, it’s a good idea to take some additional precautions before hikes. “In the woods, I will spruce up with a spray or tick collars for extra protection,” Marcella says. 

During the Hike
Prioritize Hydration
Don’t assume your dog can drink from rivers or streams; carry water for them to prevent disease. The amount of water each dog needs for a hike will vary. Know your dogs and train them to take water while walking using a dog thermos or collapsible bowl. Marcella says you can even add flavoring to the water to make it tastier and more enticing. 

To Leash or Not to Leash?
“A lot of people like to hike with their dogs off leash,” Marcella says, “but that comes with its own risks. Unknown territory, exciting things like squirrels, sudden noises, and shifting terrain can offer real challenges.” Even in parks and on trails, vehicles on access roads pose a threat to your dog. 

Likewise, other dog-lovers are likely to be on the trails with their pets as well. Before letting your dog off leash, consider whether you know how to break up a dog fight should a friendly and curious encounter take a turn. 

Stay Alert
“Heat stress and heat stroke can happen quickly,” Marcella says. Know your dog and be aware if they are working hard to breathe or acting especially tired. Heat stroke can happen even in temperate weather, especially in the woods where the air tends to be more humid. Dogs don’t eliminate heat through sweating like humans, but by panting, and higher humidity makes it harder for them to cool off. 

If your dog shows signs of distress, soak them with water, get out of the sun, and place them on a cool surface. Get the air around them moving by fanning the dog. And most important: Get them to a vet as soon as possible. “It’s best to err on the side of caution,” Marcella says. Heat stroke can be fatal. 

After the Hike
Inspect Your Dog
Check for signs of ticks or injuries. If you spot a tick, Marcella recommends using a tick-removing tool that keeps you from touching the parasite yourself. 

Dogs that have a short-hair coat, have hair loss, or light pigmentation can experience sun injury, so be aware of that as well. And if your pup took a dip in a river or stream or is covered in mud or dirt, wash them off. 

Monitor Your Pup for Signs of Stomach Bugs
Keep an eye on your dog in the hours and days after your hike. Short-term mild, gastrointestinal (GI) upset likely won’t require medical care. But a GI infection from Leptospira bacteria (often caused by drinking contaminated water) can be serious. If your dog isn’t eating, or has runny stool that becomes persistent diarrhea, consult your vet and be sure to tell them where you’ve been hiking. Your vet will better be able to assess the condition of the dog the more they know.