How to Hike With Your Dog Safely

April Saylor
By April Saylor. Reviewed by Barri J. Morrison, DVM on Aug. 9, 2023
A dog drinks on a hike with his pet parent.

In This Article

Before Your Hike

With a little preparation, hiking with your dog can be a super fun activity for both you and your furry friend. Those long walks give the two of you a chance to bond, explore the great outdoors, and get some much-needed mental and physical stimulation.

But before you and your pet hit the trail, make sure you have everything you’ll need for a dog-friendly hike. Safety is the most important part of any activity, and that includes knowing what to bring and how to stay safe when the two of you head out for a hike. These tips for hiking with dogs will help you make sure you and your pup will be safe the next time you lace up your hiking boots.

Key Takeaways

  • Make sure you have all the right hiking supplies before hitting the trail.
  • Consider your dog’s breed, age, and overall health before embarking on a hike.
  • Always research your hiking trail before going to ensure its safe for your pup.

Before Your Hike

Before heading out for a hike with your dog, there are a few preparatory measures you must take to keep them safe. First, make sure your dog is microchipped and wearing ID tags with your contact information. In the unfortunate event that they get lost, having proper identification greatly increases the chances of a safe return. Additionally, ensure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations and their heartworm and flea and tick prevention. Check with your vet to ensure your pet is protected against other common outdoor risks, like leptospirosis and Lyme disease.

What To Bring for Your Dog Hike

Aside from your own sturdy footwear, water, and snacks, hiking with your dog means adding a few other essentials to your packing list. Make sure you have the following items that can help ensure your dog’s comfort and safety on the trail:

Water and Water Bowl

Be sure to bring a collapsible water bowl and enough fresh water to keep your dog hydrated throughout the hike. Longer distances will require more water, so plan accordingly.

Leash and Harness

A sturdy leash and harness will keep your pup from wandering—especially if their nose catches a scent and leads them off-trail.

Treats, Poop Bags, and First Aid Kit

If you’re heading out for a long hike or plan to camp overnight, portion out enough dog food and bring that along, too. You’ll need to pack poop bags to properly dispose of waste. You may also want to bring treats to encourage them to pay attention and stay close, as well as a basic first aid kit in case of any minor injuries.

If you’re heading out for a long hike or plan to camp overnight, portion out enough dog food and bring that along, too.

Doggy Backpack

A dog backpack can help you lighten the load, though you may need to get your pup accustomed to wearing it before you head out.

Do you have everything you need for a dog-friendly hike? Check the packing list before you leave the house:

  • Collapsible water bowl and enough water
  • Poop bags
  • Sturdy leash and harness
  • Treats
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Dog backpack
  • Enough food for longer hikes

Tips for Hiking With Dogs

While hiking gear for your dog is important, there are a few additional things to keep in mind before you take them hiking. The following tips will help keep your pooch safe on the trail.

Know What Your Dog Can Handle

Consider your dog’s breed, age, and overall health before embarking on a hike. Some dogs are natural athletes and can handle longer and more challenging trails, while others may be more suited for shorter, low-impact hikes.

While hiking, keep an eye on your pooch for signs of overexertion or exhaustion. These include excessive panting, struggling to keep up, and lack of interest in continuing the hike. If your dog shows any of these signs, it’s time to take a break or turn back.

Do Your Research

Research the trail beforehand and note if there are any parts that will be dangerous for your dog. Study the trail map and read recent reviews that may indicate whether a trail is safe for your pet.

Watch out for parts of the path that may be unsafe, like extended afternoon sun exposure during hot summer months, or steep rock scrambles that could be slippery after a rain. An app like AllTrails can help you plan for a hike that fits your dog’s abilities.

Be Cautious of the Heat

Hiking during hot weather can pose a significant risk to your dog’s health. Be extremely cautious on hot days not to overexert your pup, and plan your activities during the cooler parts of the day or opt for shaded trails if you’ll be outdoors during the midday heat. Dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke than humans, so if you’re hot, they’re very hot. Your dog’s breed, activity level, and age are also risk factors for heatstroke. Older dogs or brachycephalic breeds like Boxers, Bulldogs, and Pugs are at a higher risk of overheating.

To help prevent dehydration and overheating, regular rest breaks are a must, and be sure to provide ample shade and water. 

Be extremely cautious on hot days not to overexert your pup, and plan your activities during the cooler parts of the day or opt for shaded trails if you’ll be outdoors during the midday heat.

If your dog enjoys water, swimming or wading in shallow, safe water can be an excellent way for them to cool down. Always check the water safety of public swimming holes before bringing your dog.

Look out for signs of heat exhaustion in dogs. If your dog starts to experience any of the following, move them to a cool or shaded area, dampen a towel with cool water and place it on your dog’s body, or mist them with water to help them cool down, and call your vet ASAP.

  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea, with or without blood
  • Redness in their gums
  • Fast heart rate
  • Weakness
  • Collapse

Other gear that can help keep your dog cool on a hike include cooling vests or bandanas specifically designed for dogs. These products help lower their body temperature during outdoor activities.

Keep Your Dog on a Leash

While your dog may love the freedom to explore off-leash, keep them tethered during hikes. This ensures their safety and is also a requirement on most public hiking trails. Wildlife encounters or unexpected hazards like cliffs or steep edges can quickly escalate into dangerous situations for an off-leash dog. Keeping your dog leashed allows you to have better control and prevents them from getting lost or injured.

Protect Your Dog’s Paws

Your dog’s paws can be susceptible to injuries from rough terrain, sharp objects, or extreme temperatures and other irritants. Some pet parents opt to protect their pup’s paws with dog booties or paw wax. These create a barrier against hot surfaces, sharp rocks, and potential irritants. Just be sure to introduce your dog to them at home before the hike so they can get used to them ahead of time.

Know Your Dog’s Behavior and Limitations

Each dog is different, so be aware of your dog’s behavior and limitations. Some dogs may be uncomfortable with heights or water crossings, or even other dogs or animals you may encounter on the trail. Approach such situations carefully and help your dog feel safe.

After Your Hike

Whether you and your buddy walked one mile in the woods or 20, your post-hike recovery includes some important steps. Ensure your pooch has plenty of fresh water to rehydrate, and check their skin and fur for any parasites like fleas or ticks.

  • Hydrate
  • Check for ticks
  • Wipe their paws and remove any seeds or burrs
  • Rest up!

Hiking with your dog is an incredibly rewarding experience that creates lasting memories. However, while the vistas can be great, your pup’s safety should always be your top priority. Before heading out for a hike, check with your vet, especially if your pooch is overweight, elderly, or has any health conditions. They may have specific advice for your dog, based on their health history.

Featured Image:

April Saylor


April Saylor

Freelance Writer

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