Dogs have zesty attitudes with an unrivaled sense of adventure. They’re wonderful hiking and backpacking companions, but dogs are also a tad bit oblivious to consequences which means you need to be prepared. To ensure that you have the best adventure possible, Wyatt has put together some paw tips for your next hike.
Hiking and backpacking with your dog creates quite the responsibility for the dog owner. You are responsible for the well-being of your pooch when you encounter dangerous terrain, climate, animals, reptiles, rivers, poisonous plants, contaminated water and much more! Wyatt recommends always keeping your dog on a leash. Regardless of how much training you’ve done, your dog is simply bred to chase, track and capture. While being off-leash provides the owner with a sense of freedom, it is in the best interest of your dogs health to keep them on a leash. I find my retractable dog leash maintains a perfect balance of freedom with control.
Does your dog follow commands at home? If not, you need to start training now as the excessive stimuli in the outdoors will not translate from home. The commands you need to master are: Come, Stop, Leave It, Stay, Heel and Drop It. Aside from other commands, you need an emergency recall. An emergency recall should be a unique word, something that doesn’t come up in general conversation and won’t be confused with other commands. Wyatt is currently learning “Kowabunga”, which also deserves a special treat (hot dog) outside of the norm so he understands the impact of this command. Start using this command twice a day with little distraction, then gradually move outdoors with increased stimuli. Never use this command in non-emergent situations.
The second paw tip is successful planning. Know what is an appropriate hike for your dog based on their level of conditioning. You will need to assess the terrain, calculate your water needs and plan for food. How steep is the trail? Is the terrain rocky? What dangers exist (i.e. Rattlesnakes, Javelina, Ticks, Giardia, Bear, Cougars). What is the weather forecast? Dogs don’t have many sweat glands and perspire through their nose, tongue and pads. Be sure to look for signs of fatigue and heat exhaustion though excessive panting, slowing down, dry mouth, lack of urinary output during marking and head hanging. Wyatt recommends periodic breaks of 15 minutes that allow for appropriate hydration and energizing snacks!
Keep in mind many National and State Parks require all dogs to be on a leash. If your dog has a tendency to be aggressive, then Wyatt recommends only choosing areas that require a leash. A wandering off-leash dog that approaches your dog could become a stressful situation so be sure to also assess the trail traffic. Can your dog deal with trail traffic? What about mountain bikers? Horses? If your dog isn’t social and is easily spooked, you may want to look for a trail with less traffic.
Is your dog physically fit? As with running, Wyatt recommends that you start short and slow. Then, gradually increase the length and difficulty of your hikes overtime. If you plan on training your dog to carry a pack, be sure that it is one that fits properly. Once your dog is accustomed to a particular hike, add an empty pack then later add a water bottle to each side for increased endurance. It’s important to distribute the weight appropriately while on your hike. Over time, increase the length, difficulty and loads as you both become more fit. Wyatts rule: no pack should exceed 10% of your dogs body weight!
Once you hit the trail, be sure to have everything you need. No matter how long the hike, you need to bring plenty of food and water. Products like Gulpy, Kibble Carrier and Collapse A Bowl work great to keep your dog hydrated and energized. Stop frequently and be sure to observe your dog for signs of heat exhaustion and fatigue. Wyatt advises that you force him to avoid standing water in the outdoors as the water may be contaminated. Dogs can get infections and parasites just like us! While the literature on trail bells is debatable, my philosophy is that they can’t hurt. A bear has a very keen sense of smell and recognizes your presence from miles away, but it may alert other animals that otherwise may cause stress to you and your dog.
Hiking isn’t the most dangerous activity, but there are inherent risks. Stumbling upon other animals can become a dangerous situation. If your dog does get into a scuffle with another animal, remember to be extremely careful when interfering with a fighting dog. The best technique is to be at a distance either with a large branch, spraying water or other distant methods. Getting your hands into the scuffle will cause you to get bit, trust me! Afterwards, examine your dog closely for any open wounds and be sure to irrigate them out as best as you can. If the wound edges separate and subcutaneous tissue is visible, your dog will most likely require sutures. Dress the wound with topical antibiotic and seek medical attention. If the wounds are bleeding, you can tie it’s fur over the top of the wound margins to allow for coagulation. Lastly, your vet may recommend a rabies series if the other animal is unable to be observed or brain biopsy is unattainable.
While your dogs paw pads are fairly resilient, they do tear and can suffer puncture wounds (darn cactus!). Dog boots can prevent further injury, but many dogs don’t always seem to take to these products. Be sure to try several pairs as they are not all created equal, it may take some trials to find the right pair so be patient. Wyatt is a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, so he does quite well without them.
Even though dogs have beautiful fur coats, they can still suffer from sunburn. You might notice that the skin starts to turn pinkish and the dog may wince when you touch him. Wrapping a wet white t-shirt around the dog or providing some pet-friendly sunscreen will help.
Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.