Summertime is here, which means the opportunities to get out and play – with our canine companions – abound far and wide. And it doesn’t get much better than hiking with your dog. It’s a great opportunity to hit some new trails, revisit a wilderness area that may be an old favorite, newly green and sun-warmed after a winter buried under snow cover, and explore a nature that is very different from the “nature” that you typically see in daily dog walks around your neighborhood! However, good preparation and planning are key to a successful outdoor adventure with your dog. You can’t just show up at any trailhead and expect your dog to be welcome.
For example, most National Parks aren’t very dog-friendly. Canines are usually limited to car campsites and pavement – which means you can’t enjoy a good hike with your dog through the wilds of Yosemite, Rocky Mountain National Park, or Yellowstone. And you wouldn’t want to ruin everyone’s day out by realizing all too late that the park or hiking trail you’ve scouted out doesn’t allow dogs. It would be cruel and even pose a life-threatening health hazard in the form of dehydration and heatstroke to your dog if you left him in the car as you scamper off down the trail, so don’t even entertain this possibility. Follow these tips for a happy experience on the trail:
- Make sure you do your research and choose a trail that is dog-friendly.
- Also, make sure you understand your state’s or park’s leash laws. Most trails require dogs to be on-leash; so as to prevent dogs from running off into the woods in pursuit of wildlife, or crashing down the trail, potentially frightening other hikers.
- Know your dog’s fitness capacity and tolerance for exercise and distance. If the trail is 5 miles to the lake, remember you still have 5 miles left to get back to the car, and it won’t do anyone any good if your dog is exhausted and refuses to budge after a certain point! No one wants any extra baggage to carry, least of all a hot, hairy dog!
- Most National Forests and State parks and recreation areas allow dogs, while National Parks do not. Websites like hikewithyourdog.com, petfriendlytravel.com and www.fidofactor.com are great to help you plan your next vacation with your four-legged friend while leaving the pet-sitter home!
- Be considerate of others (and your dog) by planning carefully, educating yourself about local regulations, and keeping your dog controlled at all times.
- To make the most out of your hiking experience, keep in mind the following trail-etiquette tips (from The Appalachian Trail Conservancy):
- Do not allow your pet to chase wildlife.
- Leash your dog around water sources and in sensitive alpine areas.
- Do not allow your dog to stand in springs or other sources of drinking water.
- Be mindful of the rights of other hikers not to be bothered by even a friendly dog.
- Bury your pet’s waste as you would your own.
- Take special measures at shelters. Leash your dog in the shelter area, and ask permission of other hikers before allowing your dog in a shelter. Be prepared to “tent out” when a shelter is crowded, and on rainy days.
And, don’t forget the dog-specific hiking supplies! Just like you should never leave the car without the “Ten Essentials” in your pack, you shouldn’t neglect your dog’s survival supplies either!
Make sure you bring along:
- Travel dog bowls and clean water: Don’t let your dog drink out of freshwater streams and rivers. The same Giardia parasite you’re avoiding by not drinking out of streams and rivers could also infect your dog, along with a whole other host of worms and parasitic nastiness that you really don’t want to get involved with! Collapsible or foldable dog bowls are easy to find now, and are quick and simple to pack along on any trip, from your daily neighborhood walk (critical in the summer heat) to car rides to longer hikes and travels.
- Food: Depending on how long you’ll be hiking, your dog will need to replenish his energy stores, just as you do!
- Travel Wipes: For muddy trails, river crossings, and whatever other kinds of wilderness “gunk” your dog gets into, it will make the car ride home (or, especially, when camping the night spent in a tent’s close quarters) a much more pleasant experience if you clean off your dog’s muddy paws with earthbath travel wipes, made just for situations like these!
- Dog Cooling Bandannas or Wraps: If it’s very hot, or if you plan to backpack for many miles, make sure your dog doesn’t get overheated by either cooling him down frequently with dips in the lake or stream, or else, for a safer and more reliable approach, you can use one of the specially formulated wraps or bandannas that are designed to work by slowly allowing cool water to evaporate through the layers as airflow moves over it, to create a cooling effect.
- Flea, tick and mosquito protection: If you’re heading out into the great outdoors, you’ll want to be sure and protect your pet from fleas, ticks, mosquitos, flies, and other biting insects. Check with your vet for the best product(s) for your pet’s special needs.
- Sunscreen: If you have a very short-haired, or shaved dog, he probably would benefit from sunscreen. In addition, the tip of the nose, especially if it’s pale or white, is prone to sun-induced tumors, as are the tips of the ears (or any area which is sparsely covered in hair and the skin is thin). There are specific sunscreens designed for pets, but sensitive skin or baby sunscreens can be used as well. However, be careful with the sunscreen you use on your dog, because some ingredients can be toxic if they are licked off. Zinc oxide should never be used because dogs can become dangerously anemic if it is ingested.
- Dog Pack or Saddle Bag: If your dog is going to be hiking along with you, he might as well carry his own weight! A travel bag specially made to be worn comfortably by your dog makes hiking and especially, backpacking, much easier on you, if he can carry his own food, water, treats, medications, dog bowls, wipes, and anything else he (or you) might need.
Finally, for a very thorough and well-written article about hiking with dogs, read: “Hiking With Fido,” a downloadable PDF, written by veterinarian Tom Grenell, an experienced long-distance hiker who has logged several thousand trail miles with his dogs.
Happy Trails this summer!