Hiking and backpacking with your dog can be a rewarding way to spend time with your dog. But backpacking or hiking with your best friend can add a bit of responsibility on your end. While traipsing through the backcountry you may encounter many more dangers than you will at the local park or in your backyard.
Canine Friendly Trail?
First and foremost, before taking your dog out on the trail be sure that the trail allows dogs. There are quite a few National Parks that have restricted access for dogs. Many of our National Parks are trying to protect nature’s balance and have developed management plans with specific guidelines about where dogs are allowed. Generally you will find State Parks and National Forests to be more dog friendly, but beware that there may still be regulations and guidelines you will need to follow. You can search for dog friendly hikes and camping areas at hikewithyourdog.com. Don’t be discourage as there are some Dog Friendly National Parks you can visit, too.
You’re a seasoned backpacker that can handle any terrain that you encounter, but can your dog also do the same? Consider the landscapes and climate where you will be hiking and how your dog will handle that environment. Is there dangerous terrain, wildlife, plants or swift water to contend with? Are the temperatures going to be an issue for your dog? Be sure that the trail you choose is something that your dog can handle.
There is nothing worse than staying at a shelter or campsite where a dog is running loose and getting into your gear or worse, destroys or damages your gear. Although most of my experiences have been positive, there have been occasions where a misbehaving dog has muddied my sleeping bag/pad or tried to get at my food. How annoying and preventable!
Here are some considerations:
- Keep the human-to-dog ratio to 1:1. You risk losing control of multiple dogs much more easily than one dog.
- If you are hiking with a group, keep the number of dogs down to two. These are pack animals and others hikers can be weary and intimated when they encounter a large group of dogs.
- Your dog should be under control at all times. Don’t leave the dog alone or push your responsibility onto others. You’re the leader of the pack and your dog really wants to be with you.
- If you let your dog off leash be sure to keep the dog within your sight and within range to respond to vocal commands.
- You may encounter another dog running lose on the trail and if your dog is on leash you have better control of the situation.
- Just because you have a dog, doesn’t mean you get the right of way! If you meet others coming down the trail make sure your dog is on leash and you both step out of the way. And give dog-less hikers the right of way.
- As hikers approach, let them know that your dog is friendly and if they can or cannot pet your dog.
- Acclimate your dog to other people and dogs before heading out on the trail. Teach your dog that jumping up on another hiker is not acceptable.
- Begging! Oh the Begging. This is my food and I need the sustenance for me! Be sure that your dog has its own source of drinking water and food readily available.
- Hopefully you don’t leave piles of your feces for others to deal with, so why leave your dogs feces there for others to contend with? Take the time to properly dispose of fecal matter just as you would for yourself. This may include burying or carrying out the dog waste. Also make sure that if you bury the waste, that it is 200 or more feet from my water source. Thank You!
It is unfair and possibly hurtful physically to just jump up and take your dog on a 100 mile hike. Take your dog out to train for the physical demands that the dog will experience on the trail. If your dog is going to carry its own load you may want to start with short hikes with their pack, building up the mileage and weight over time. If your dog is older, consider not putting them through the stress of your journey.
You take care of your feet, right? Why not take care of your dog’s feet? Walking long miles each day will put stress on more than just the joints of a dog. Dog pads can begin to wear down or crack depending on the terrain. Some choose to train their dogs to wear booties, but this is really not practical for fair weather hiking. If your dog does begin to show wear, you may need to take some time off to let the pads heal. If your dog’s pads begin to crack there are dog paw balms that can help to heal them. Again, you will need to take some time off to let the dog’s pads heal. The best way to avoid paw issues is to make sure that your dog is conditioned and used to the rigors of trail walking.
If you are like me, then your dog is like your kid. Would you go out on a long hike with your kid without a first aid kit? Probably not, so make sure that you have a first aid kit specific to your dog’s needs. Have you considered taking a First Aid course for your pooch? There is a wealth of information on the internet and courses that you can take online to help prepare for an unexpected emergency.
Fit and Pack Load
Make sure that the pack is adjusted so that it is snug and won’t chafe. You probably already know what it feels like when you are chaffed, so think about how chaffing feels to your dog as a result of an ill-fitting pack. A properly adjusted pack will allow you to easily fit two fingers under the pack and straps. Understand that this pack should be loaded for the dog’s needs and not yours. Carefully load the pack with the dog’s food, treats, water/food bowls and make sure that the load is balanced. A general rule is that the pack should not weigh more than one third of the dog’s body weight.
Just like you, the type of caloric intake can have a big impact on your dog’s health and performance on the trail. Make sure that you provide a healthy trail diet for your dog. The Hiking Tree Blog has a nice piece about long distance hiking with your dog and food considerations.
Sleeping GearAfter a long day of hiking we all want to curl up and sleep comfortably, so why shouldn’t your dog get the same? Consider cutting down a closed cell foam pad that you can strap to the top of your dogs pack for them to sleep on at night. How about designing a small sleeping bag or buying a bag liner that your dog can curl up in on those cold evenings?
Are you going to be out in the cold for multiple nights? Your dog’s clothing selection should be based on the climate and weather that you can expect to have on your trip. Allgood’s K’9 Adventures has a great piece about taking your dog when it’s snowy out. Does your pup need a coat? Do you have a pack towel that you use to dry your dog off before they climb into your tent or a shelter?
The more you and your dog are prepared for the trail will determine how successful and enjoyable your trip will be in the end. The end goal is for you and your faithful companion to enjoy your time outdoors and continue to enhance the bond you have already developed.