By: Amber Lounsbury
Be a Trail Dog Ambassador
Your dog should be a good trail dog ambassador. Dogs are already restricted and even prohibited from trails across the country, especially in our National Parks. The only way to help ensure that we can still adventure with our pups is to make sure they set a good example. They should be able to listen to you and be under your control to allow for a safe and happy hike for you, fellow hikers, other dogs, and wildlife. If your dog is nervous or anxious and might not enjoy the company of others on the trail consider less populated areas to hike or hiking early in the morning or later in the evening when the trails tend to be more empty.
Invest time in training
Training may be one of the most paramount factors for hiking with your dog. Your dog should have strong obedience and recall skills before you decide to venture out into the mountains. Having your dog under control is key to having a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. Training is also an amazing way to help you strengthen the bond you share together!
I always carry Zuke’s Mini Naturals in the hip pockets of my pack to reward Ariel on any walk or hike we take. It’s so important to remember that training never stops- it’s a lifetime of learning for you and your dog! I trained Ariel myself at home, but I’ve also joined group training classes to brush up on our skills and I honestly could not recommend them enough! If you’re just starting out hiking, or even have years of experience hiking with your dog, consider signing up for a class to see what you can learn and improve on.
In addition to obedience training, physical training is also key to happy hiking. Your dog should not just be a weekend warrior. Just as you and I, our dogs need to train for the mountains as well! Start with smaller hikes to build up endurance and make sure they get plenty of exercise in during the week.
With consistent training and adequate rest, Ariel has been able to accompany me on over 20 mile day hikes where she was still happy and energetic at the end! I recommend writing out an exercise protocol for you and your dog so that you have something to stick to.
Most importantly, always remember to listen to your dog and their signals because the last thing you want to do is push your dog too far or ask too much of them.
Be prepared for and research every hike
Do yourself and your dog a favor and study maps and trip reports before venturing out into the mountains. Many of the trails have obstacles that may pose difficult to you and your dog. It is common to encounter steep ladders and unforgiving cliffs. It is important to be aware of what you will be encountering so you can decide if you and your dog are comfortable facing these routes safely.
Along with route planning, checking the weather forecast is also a must so that you are not exposing your pup to any extremes that may make hiking unsafe or unenjoyable for them. Be aware of hot and humid days especially on trails with scarce water sources and freezing cold temperatures for dogs that do not handle the cold well or that have paws sensitive to ice and snow.
Have the proper dog gear
Besides looking adorable, dog gear is a great tool and should be incredibly functional. A harness with a handle such as the Ruffwear Webmaster is such an asset in assisting your dog with any difficult scrambles or giving them a boost when they need it. Boots are great to consider to help protect sensitive paws from the ice and cold as well as any rough terrain that may lead to sore or injured pads. A winter jacket helps keep their body temperature regulated on cold days and can certainly keep them more comfortable on brisk summits. A cooling vest can be used on warm days to discourage overheating. A light to attach to a harness for early morning or late night hiking will make your pup much more visible. A waist leash is a great tool to keep your hands free while hiking. Collapsible dishes are lightweight and easily portable to provide food or water to your dog.
Bring plenty of water
Dogs need to drink too! And a lot! Be prepared to carry extra water for your dog. It is so important to keep them hydrated, especially on warm days. Be sure to be aware of the available water sources on each hike but do not rely on them solely for your pup's water. I always bring at least 2 additional liters of water just for Ariel and often even more depending on the weather and the length of the hike.
Provide nourishing food and treats
Dogs need fuel! Don't feed them a huge meal all at once but instead provide small snacks throughout the duration of the hike. Treats are highly recommended not only for providing extra calories and energy but to also reward your dog for good trail manners.
Have a stocked doggie first aid kit
Your dog should have their own first aid kit. Hiking poses many risks for injury for our pups and a first aid kit can come in handy! After all we should be carrying one for ourselves so our dogs need one too. My first aid kit for Ariel includes bandage material (gauze, medical tape, cling wrap, non-adhesive pads, padding, and vet wrap), hydrogen peroxide and oral syringe (peroxide given orally induces vomiting in dogs in case they ever were to eat something dangerous), styptic powder to stop bleeding nails, Benadryl in case of an allergic reaction, an extra emergency space blanket, and Musher's Secret (helps prevent snowballs from forming on their pads during winter hiking). It is also important to familiarize yourself with basic bandage techniques and splints in case a situation were to arrive. Trekking poles can be used as a makeshift splint for your dog if ever needed. In addition to using a first aid kit, you should practice and be able to do the "fireman carry" in case of an emergency leading you to have to carry your dog out of the mountains. You need to be strong and able enough to lift your dog for extended periods of time.
We never know when an emergency is going to happen, but we can take the steps to be the best prepared that we can. Always research the closest emergency veterinarian in the area your are hiking and have their directions and contact information readily available.
Tick and mosquito preventatives
Ticks and mosquitoes can carry diseases that can have disastrous health effects on our dogs. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Anaplasma, and Ehrlichia and mosquitoes can transmit heartworm. Talk to your veterinarian to discuss the appropriate preventatives for your pup.
Follow rules and regulations
Be aware and cognizant of the rules in the areas that you hike in. Some summits have fragile alpine vegetation that your dog must be prevented from stepping on. Certain trails or parks may have restrictions where dogs are not allowed. If you have any questions regarding how dog friendly an area is, don’t hesitate to reach out to the nearest ranger station.
Make hiking an activity your dog loves
The most important consideration for bringing your dog hiking is to make sure it is something they love. You want to bring them hiking for the right reasons and not just because you want them there. Having Ariel by my side made my hiking journey unforgettable and I couldn't imagine having done it any other way, but Ariel is a special dog with immense natural talent for hiking. We both love and thrive off of the mountains. She is a Canine Good Citizen, Therapy Dog, and has dabbled in Rally obedience and agility training, all of which have helped her develop into an outstanding trail dog. We have also dedicated a large chunk of time to physical training as well. Hiking doesn’t have to be just summiting large mountains- there are so many wonderful trails, waterfalls, lakes, and smaller peaks that can be experienced with your pup as well!
You have to do what makes your dog happy and I guarantee your happiness will follow I too.