Hiking Safely with your Dog

If you love getting out and exploring the outdoors, hiking might be for you! And what’s better than hiking alone? The company of your furry best friend of course. There’s nothing better than enjoying nature while hiking with your dog, but there are a few things to think about before you hit the trails. If this is your first time taking your four-legged pal out for a hike there are a few things to think about before you go. Here are some tips you need for hiking safely with your dog.

Preparing to Hike:

  • Vaccinations and Preventatives. Be sure your dog is up to date on the necessary vaccinations. Using preventatives will also help protect your pal from the dangers from ticks and mosquitos.
  • Hiking with a puppy. A younger pup isn’t ready for the demands of the trail. It’s important to first consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate age to begin hiking with your puppy. Start slow and allow lots of time to build stamina and toughen the pads on the paws.
  • Consider your dog’s overall health. Adventuring out on the trails is not the same as walking through your neighborhood or strolling around the park. When hiking, the terrain can be hilly and challenging, and the footing can be rough. Don’t overestimate your dog’s abilities, he may not yet be up to the challenge.
  • Choosing the right trail. Find a hiking location that isn’t too challenging for you and your dog. Usually trail descriptions give you an idea of the level of difficulty. Of course you also need to be sure dogs are allowed on the trail. This one’s important since not all locations allow dogs.
  • Fido needs a collar with a tag! A tag with updated information will be very helpful if you and your dog become separated. Be sure the contact information is up to date too.

Irish Setter and Golden Retriever Shadow Dog Photography

Know the Rules:

  • Be sure dogs are allowed. I know I already said this, but it bears repeating.
  • Respect nature and its habitat. Remember, you and your pup are the visitors. You are both guests. Respect nature, wildlife, and its habitat.
  • LEAVE NO TRACE (LNT)! Leave the trail better than you found it. Pack it in and pack it out. And yes, that includes your dog’s poop! Take. It. Home. Don’t litter, and consider picking up any garbage you find along the way.

Hiking Etiquette:

  • Obey all park and trail rules. Be sure to check online before you go, or read the board if rules are posted at the trailhead.
  • Yield to other hikers and bikers. If someone is approaching, you and your pup should step off to the side and let others pass.
  • Announce your approach. Not everyone likes a surprise, and suddenly seeing a dog can be startling or even frightening. Other hikers may not hear you approach, so just politely let them know you’re behind them.
  • Keep your dog on leash. I know this may ruffle some feathers, but hear me out. First of all, many parks and trails require the use of a leash. And remember, not everyone loves dogs. Some people may even be terrified of them. Don’t be that person who ruins someone’s day by allowing your dog to run up to them. Sometimes people’s hiking buddies are reactive dogs. Just another reason to keep your dog on leash, since your loose dog may create a very dangerous situation. And yes, if your loose dog runs up to a leashed reactive dog, you are in the wrong. You are disrespecting someone else’s space. Okay, rant over, that’s my life with two reactive dogs. And finally, remember that you and your dog are the guests. You need to respect nature, and allowing your pup to run wild and disturb wildlife is NOT respectful.

German Shepherd Shadow Dog Photography

What to Bring When Hiking:

  • Water and a collapsable dish. Don’t forget your furry friend when you’re packing your gear. You’ll both need to drink, and remember the rule to drink before you’re feeling thirsty. This includes your pup. Offer water periodically, more often if it’s a warm day.
  • First Aid Kit. This is important and something you should always pack. Include things like guaze, self-sticking bandages, pet-friendly antiseptic, tweezers for tick or thorn removal, and a bottle of Tecnu for relief from poison ivy or poison oak. It doesn’t hurt to include duct tape and a small sock to protect an injured pad. You may also want to learn how to perform CPR on your dogFor some excellent overall first aid information be sure to read this article, First Aid for Dogs: Prepare for the Unexpected.
  • Snacks. Having a snack when you’re feeling low on energy applies to your dog too. For a longer hike (or any hike that may leave you both feeling a bit tired) be sure to pack a little something to perk you both up.
  • Poop Bags. Just a reminder, you need to pick it up and take it home.
  • Brush. Pack a slicker brush. If your dog ends the hike covered in burrs, this is the best way I’ve found to get them out. You can thank me later.

Black Lab Shadow Dog Photography

What are some dangers of hiking with my dog?

Hiking’s pretty straightforward, as long as you’re prepared and you respect nature. Here are some dangers to watch for so you can enjoy hiking safely with your dog:

  • Poisonous and prickly plants. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak don’t bother all dogs, but the plants’ oils may still rub onto your dog’s fur and then onto your hands. This may get uncomfortable which is why I recommend the Tecnu in your first aid kit. You also need to be aware of plants that are toxic to your dog. And as for prickly plants, nobody likes stepping on thistles, including your dog. One plant that’s both prickly and potentially fatal is Foxtail. The seed heads are extremely dangerous for your dog.
  • Pathogens in water. While it may be tempting to let your pup drink out of a stream or pond while you’re hiking, this may be a dangerous decision. There’s no telling what pathogens may be lurking in that water. To be safe just stick to your water and offer it to your pal frequently.
  • Heat can be dangerous. Remember, dogs can only pant and sweat through their paws. A dog that becomes overheated can go downhill fast. Heavy coated dogs or those with shorter muzzles are at an increased risk on warmer days. When the mercury rises you should leave your pup at home. If it’s not too hot in the morning, this may be the time to go for a quick hike. If you suspect heat exhaustion, you may want to soak a cloth or bandanna (or fill it with ice) and tie around your dog’s neck. You can also stand your pup in some cool water, and splash cold water between his hind legs.

Hiking Dog Shadow Dog Photography

After your hike:

  • Do a thorough tick check. This goes for you and your dog. If you find a tick be sure to remove it as soon as possible. Using your tweezers, get next to the skin, gently pinch the tick, and carefully pull back in the direction in went in. Be sure you have all parts of the tick. If anything is left under the skin be sure to seek medical attention.

Final thoughts:

Hiking is a great way to get you and your furry friend out into nature. There are so many amazing places to explore, I hope this inspires you to try a hike with your pal.  With a bit of knowledge and preparation, you can enjoy hiking safely with your dog. Remember to slow down and enjoy the journey. Smell the flowers, listen to the birds.

Happy trails!  ~Jan

Hi, I'm Jan

I help dog parents celebrate their best friends with adventurous portrait sessions and extraordinary artwork for their home. Tail wags and smiles guaranteed! Based in Whitewater, WI.


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