How To Prepare For A Hike With Your Dog

November 4, 2016 | We Learn | Tips from Max Willner

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” The words of John Muir ring true for many of us – the crisp, cool air, the overwhelming panoramic views, and the sense of adventure continue to grip us and pull us away from our homes and into the embrace of the great outdoors. It is truly an awesome thing to get out there and get away from our jobs, our cell phones, and our problems. Whether it’s your favorite hike or a brand-new trail – it’s always an adventure. Have you considered taking your four-legged friend?

The first thing you need to check is whether or not the national park / hiking area you’ll be visiting will allow dogs on their trails. I live close to the Smoky Mountains and love hiking there, but they have a strict no-dogs policy due to the high number of black bears. That being said, I could take my dog River to Big South Fork or the Linville Gorge Wilderness or any number of other places. It’s good to check the rules so you can avoid a potentially hefty fine.

You also need to make sure your pup can handle the hike. How long is the hike? Will it be steep? Will it be hot or cold? I usually go on backpacking trips with River when it’s cool outside – she just can’t handle being in the heat for too long, unless there’s an abundance of fresh bodies of water where you can cool off. If it’s too cold, consider purchasing a dog coat to help keep your buddy’s warmth up.

“If it’s too cold, consider purchasing a dog coat to help keep your buddy’s warmth up.”

Speaking of water, two other things I’d like to touch base on: drinking the water and being in the water. I never, EVER drink water straight from the source. You should always either cook the water to a rolling boil for a couple of minutes or filter it before drinking. That’s a mistake I will only make once, and never again. As for stream crossings, I’d highly recommend a dog pack or harness with a handle on top. As tall bipeds with hiking poles, we’re pretty good at stabilizing ourselves. A dog might have a tougher time, and grabbing that handle and walking them across might be the best course of action. In my opinion, the best dog packs are made by Ruffwear. They have pockets on either side, so your dog can carry their own food, a small first-aid kit, food/water bowls, and a toy.

It’s a good idea to bring a small trowel for when your dog goes to the bathroom. The rule of thumb is to bury feces no less than 200 feet from the trail, as it may attract other animals.

If it’s colder outside, you may also want to consider bringing along a small sleeping bag for your dog to curl up in, along with some booties if there’s going to be snow. Booties are also a great idea if your pup has sensitive foot pads. And if he/she does, you can bring along some cream to help alleviate their discomfort.

And that’s about it! True, you’ll be carrying a bit of extra weight, but the experience you’re giving your dog is priceless. You and your dog are a pack, and you’re the one your dog looks up to. When you go out together on an adventure into the woods and mountains, you’re in for a great time. I couldn’t think of a better way for a human and their dog to bond.

River in Max Patch, N.C.

If you enjoyed this post, you should read “How To Build A First-Aid Dog Kit” here.

Have a favorite dog-friendly hiking spot? Share below!

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