Chances are your dog will like hiking just as much—but probably more—than you. Hiking with your dog takes a little more care and attention than going with your usual bipedal hiking partners, though. Here are a few things to think about to make you, your dog, and other nature-goers happy on-trail.
Find a dog-friendly hiking location
Make sure the area that you want to visit allows dogs—it seems simple, but taking a few minutes to check the website of the local state park or trail system you’re planning to go to is always a good first move. For us in Vermont, the green mountains are completely dog-friendly, so those after-work hikes or peak-bagging mornings are always ready for some four-legged stoke!
Have realistic expectations
When you first got into hiking, you started with smaller mountains, right? Casual hikes with mellow elevation are a good way to build Fido’s endurance, too. Not only will it get your legs in shape, but your dog will thank you when it comes time for those big-mile days—they’ll be right at your side instead of panting heavily at the bottom of that last switchback.
What about Leash Laws?
Generally, more popular recreational areas require dogs to be on-leash. But when you’re bushwacking or out in true wilderness, it’s likely that your dog can roam free—just be sure you check the leash laws of the area anyway. That being said, my dog Moisie and I generally love leash hiking—I can set the pace and react to things at a similar time as him, lessening our chance of surprises.
If you are in a leash-free zone, make sure your dog is up for it. Commands and non-reactivity are key! Not only should your dog have amazing recall, they should also have a strong understanding of leaving things alone, waiting in place, and whatever else keeps you in control of the situation, not them.
Leave no poop, leave no trace! I like to double-bag my poop so ripping and smells are a non-issue, then I store the poop bags in a separate bag in my pack or in the dog’s pack. Cleaning up after your dog is key to respecting others in our shared outdoor spaces—there’s nothing worse than hiking through a minefield of abandoned bags full of dookie.
If you want to go fully waste-free, consider replicating your backcountry bathroom time by burying your dog’s poop too! Make sure that the area you’re adventuring in allows this first, of course. If it’s allowed, burying your your dog’s poop in a Nalgene-sized hole at least 200 feet from the trail and water sources is a good rule of thumb.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to good Leave No Trace practices is to keep your dog on the trail—a lot of trails are skinny for a reason, and having constant trampling from sniff point to sniff point isn’t great for ecosystems. I’m lucky that Moisie likes to stay on the path naturally: he’s a rule-follower. Remember, when the ability to stay on-trail is there, color in the lines!
Right of way on the trail
When humans go hiking, the person climbing uphill generally has the right of way. When you have your dog with you, everyone else has the right of way—up or down. When I encounter people on-trail, I scooch off to a safe area, we wait, and after the group has passed, we carry on. I also generally like to play it safe and make sure Moisie isn’t sniffing or going up to people as they pass. Every person’s comfort zone with dogs is different, and you shouldn’t assume everyone loves your dog—even though we all know your pet is the best. If your dog is off-leash, make sure that he or she will come and sit calmly by your side. Good treats come to those who wait!
You’re working hard, and so is your dog. You’ve got granola bars and Gu, and your dog needs some, too. According to some studies, for every 20 lbs of dog weight, you should add one extra cup of kibble per day of hiking. Good dogs deserve treats too, so don’t be afraid to load up a bit. As far as water goes, more activity means more water, so make sure you’ve brought extra for the pooch too. Refrain from letting your dog drink from lakes and streams—they can get giardia just as easily as you can. Instead, treat your dog’s water the same way you’re treating yours.
If you really want to pack light, check out the YAFF bar. It’s an energy bar you and your dog can share! Chances are, when you need a drink and some snacks, your pup does too. If they aren’t feeling it at that time, try again soon after.
Get Geared up from the Paws up
- First Aid: Slips, scratches, and sprains? Better safe than sorry. Make sure you’ve got a dog-specific first aid kit if things go wrong. The AMK Dog Medical Kit is an awesome choice.
- Dog Pack: Lighten your load. Dogs like to work for their owner and to please them, so put the pooch to work! He can carry his poops, bags, and his own food too. Some of these packs double as great harnesses as well. Check some options out HERE.
- Leash: A leash meant specifically for these types of activities is underrated. My go-tos are typically really beefy, can stand up to the outdoors, and have a length-changing feature to go from the parking lot to the trail and go around my waist with ease. Check out the Ruffwear ROAMER Leash—Moisie loves his.
- Collar: Get one that’s bright, stink-proof, and abrasion-resistant. Make sure your info on your dog’s tags is up to date if they get lost. Microchips are worth their weight in gold for tracking a dog that’s gone too far. Check out one of my favorite collars HERE.
- Dog Bowl: Simple. Collapsable and small. I like the Canine Hardware squishy bowl.
- Poop Trowel or Bags: Carry it out or bury it. Ultralight trowels like the Deuce of Spades are virtually weightless.
- Light/lantern: Whether we’re skiing at night, barbecuing at night, or on the trail (at night), I like Moisie to have something that helps me and other people see him. It’s also kind of adorable when we’re both wearing headlamps. I LOVE the NiteHowl from NiteIze. It’s a clear light-up ring that goes around his neck, is rechargeable, and even has a disco mode.
- Layers: You get cold, so will your dog. Having an extra layer for the colder hike down or for cold weather in general is a great way to keep the pooch warm. Check these options out.
Now that you have all this info, there’s only one thing left to say: GET OUT THERE! With some basic needs met and a little planning, the world is your dog park. Adding a canine companion to your time outdoors is one of the most enjoyable things on this planet. If you have questions, stories, or stoke, feel free to give us a call, stop by the shop, or hit us on social media. WOOF.