Love your pet and don’t want to leave him while you trek? Most pets wouldn’t appreciate it, or could be downright dangerous for the local wildlife, so it’s better to park them at home or give them their own holiday elsewhere.
Dogs, though, they’re a different matter. Taking a dog on a hike takes walking your dog to a whole new level. There are many wilderness areas where dogs are not allowed for good reason. Dogs can damage fragile environments, endanger local wildlife or introduce disease. It’s a big world out there though, and there are still many places to take a dog hiking. The trick is to know your dog and be prepared.
Consider your dog
If it’s a dachshund, don’t to it. Like 4-wheel drives, dogs need ground clearance. If it’s a small breed, you may need to carry it, and many dogs wouldn’t appreciate it. Small hunting dogs, such as Jack Russells, are likely to get themselves in trouble with the local wildlife, so it’s best to leave them at home.
Retrievers and larger dogs bred for farm work are often great on hikes, but it does depend on individual temperaments. Long haired dogs are likely to pick up a good collection of local seeds and burrs. Consider clipping them before a decent hike, making sure though they have enough to keep them warm when needed.
The dog also needs to be reasonably fit and healthy. Like people, it’s no good slouching around on your mat all day then going for a challenging multi-day walk. If they are new to the game, build up to it.
If the dog is likely to be aggressive, leave it at home. Wilderness is not the place to deal with it. Likewise with barkers.
The dog should reliably stick with you and not wander off. If it is likely to go its own merry way, it needs to be on a lead, or tied up for its own safety and the safety of the local wildlife.
Make sure you can keep the dog under control. “Come” or “Here”, “Drop it”/”Leave it” and “stop” are essential commands the hiking dog should obey without question. “Down” or “sit” is also useful. Their life can depend on obedience and wilderness areas are not a dog training camp.
It’s useful to have a small light attached to their collar when it’s twilight or dark, preferably a flashing one. You can better track where they are, especially if they decide to become temporarily deaf to your commands.
Take food and plenty of water, remembering they’re likely to need more to eat after an active day. If there are no reliable water sources, you’ll need to carry it and a suitable drinking dish with you. While dogs can drink water we wouldn’t touch, sometimes water sources have chemicals or are so bad they just shouldn’t.
There are backpacks for dogs so they can help carry their own food. If using one, make sure they are used to it and the weight before heading out on a major trek. Dogs can carry up to 25% of their body weight, but they need to be healthy and train up to it.
If you’re camping and it’s cold at night, some dogs might need a blanket. Unless they’re a husky, they need a mat on shelter if there is snow. Consider a dog coat, or booties during the cold days.
The most comment injuries are thorns, prickles or cuts on their paws. Bandages and most antiseptics for humans are fine, but steer clear of any human painkillers for humans. They can be dangerous for dogs.
Local wildlife such as snakes, prickly critters and aggressive ones can also be a danger. Be aware of what’s in the area. Keep your dog in sight and under control and be confident they will obey commands when needed. Some specifically train their dogs to avoid snakes and other dangerous wildlife.
Check for ticks every day when in an area with ticks, before they burrow in too deeply. Remove them as you would remove one on a human. Pull them straight out with tweezers then kill it either in alcohol or by throwing it in the fire. Apply antibiotic to the wound and try to stop the dog from licking it.
Aside from sore paws, hyperthermia or heat exhaustion are the biggest issues for dogs on hikes. Watch out for signs of over-heating – coughing or panting, leathery and not keeping up, lying in the shade whenever they can. Stop and let them have plenty of water.
Other people you meet might not like dogs, might be afraid of them or just not appreciate them in that area. Make sure your dog is close by and under control at all times. It’s ok for a dog to go ahead a little on a hike if there is no-one around. If there are others around, keep them close. If you’re camping and your dog is a barker, be sure to pitch tent as far away from others as possible. Make sure not to leave any dog poop on or near paths. Bury it as you would human waste.