Thinking about hiking with your dog? Here’s a few things to keep in mind to ensure that you and your pup have a safe and fun time:
Respect the environment:
Being a responsible hiker means leaving nature in at least as good condition as you found it. Leaving waste and garbage on trails, allowing your dog to stray off the trail and disturb the local ecosystem, and otherwise leaving our mark on the environment means that it won’t be there for us to enjoy in the future. Clean up your dog’s waste (the carrying pouch accessory on the So Fetch harness is great for carrying out poop bags) and carry out all of your garbage rather than littering on trails.
Be mindful of the weather and don’t overdo it:
Heatstroke and frostbite are real risks for hiking with your dog in more extreme weather, but even moderately hot weather can pose heatstroke risk with poor preparation and/or predisposing risks in your pup. Bring plenty of water, rest often, and choose a hike of appropriate length and intensity for the weather and your dog’s health. Be mindful of the terrain and don’t overdo it on your dog’s paws, especially if they’re not acclimated to hiking on rough terrain. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian what level of activity they think your dog is able to safely handle.
Signs of heatstroke in dogs: Excessive panting, lethargy, hypersalivation (drooling), red/muddy colored gums, vomiting, tremors, collapse
Risk factors for heatstroke in dogs: Brachycephalic (short nose), puppies and elderly dogs, obese dogs, long-haired dogs (especially arctic/northern breeds), or underlying health issues
Time is of the essence in addressing heatstroke. Outcomes are great when heatstroke is recognized and addressed quickly but it can be deadly if left unnoticed. It is important to get an overheated dog somewhere cool immediately and on their way to a veterinarian.
Plan ahead and bring the right supplies:
Knowing is half the battle. Research the trail before hiking so that you know the intensity and length of the trail ahead of time. Check to make sure that the trail is dog friendly and doesn’t have any obstacles or scrambles that your dog isn’t prepared for. Bring plenty of water, extra poop bags, a collar with identification, a sturdy leash and harness (the So Fetch Harness is a great option!), and proper/safe car restraint for the trip to and from the trail. Make sure that your dog is up to date on their preventative care through their veterinarian including flea/tick/heartworm prevention and vaccines. Always check yourself and your dog for ticks after a hike!
Have an emergency plan:
A little planning can save a lot of trouble. Make sure that you’ve got a cell phone with you and ideally stick to well traveled trails so that you’re able to get emergency aid if you need it. Bringing a first aid kit for you and your dog is a good idea (your dog’s emergency kit can be easily stashed in the carrying pouch accessory for the So Fetch harness). If you’re going to be on a poorly traveled trail outside of cell service, consider a satellite phone or other form of emergency contact. Research where the closest emergency vet hospital is prior to your hike and have their contact information stored in your phone.
Leashes are a safety tool, and often the law:
If keeping your dog on-leash is the law for a trail, follow it. Those laws exist not only to protect your dog from risks off of the trail like snakes and hazards, but also to protect other dogs and the local ecosystem. Just because your dog is not reactive to other dogs does not mean that is the case for every dog that your dog will encounter on the trail. Being able to control your dog and ask permission before greeting another dog or person is good manners and good safety. Even for trails where having your dog off-leash is legal, it is advised to keep your dog on-leash unless they have advanced recall training. Away from home and on a trail is not the environment to be figuring out whether your dog is truly recall trained. Many dogs have basic recall but will fail to return when faced with a very high value reward like a small furry creature to chase or another dog on the trail. If you’re interested in off-leash hiking with your dog, work with a professional dog trainer on recall training first. When in doubt, always use a leash.