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The Beginner’s Guide to Hiking With Dogs

The Beginner’s Guide to Hiking With Dogs

Make Fido's next trip doggie heaven with our tips on finding pooch-friendly trails, loading a dog pack, and treating injuries.

Your dog loves hiking as much as you do. Probably more, actually. (Photo by Jon Roig/Flickr)

Find a trail appropriate for hiking with dogs

Look for places that are “easy on the paws,” advises Best Hikes with Dogs Inland Northwest author Craig Romano. Pick shady trails with soft, leaf- or needle-covered terrain; avoid paths littered with sharp rocks, off-trail routes with steep drops, or any surface that gets very hot. “Stay away from areas with heavy horse use and mountain bikes,” he adds. Search by state at

Fit & load his pack

Adjust the harness on your dog so it’s snug but won’t chafe (remove saddlebags first, if the pack allows). You should be able to fit two fingers under it. Load the bags with dog food, treats, water (some packs come with hydration bladders), bowls, and extra gear for you–this is the time for beer or another pillow! Make sure both sides are weighted equally; total load shouldn’t exceed one-third of your dog’s body weight.

Camp with fido

Amy Devine, founder of the 300-member NOVA Trail Dogs Hiking Club in Alexandria, Virginia, keeps her pooches happy–and out of trouble–on overnight trips with these five rules:

  1. Keep dogs leashed around other hikers, bikers, horses, and on steep or slippery terrain (so they don’t knock anyone over). Step aside and yield the trail to all others.
  2. Pack out poop on dayhikes (double-bag it!). On longer trips, follow LNT regs and bury away from the trail and water sources.
  3. Bring a camp towel and brush to clean and dry dogs thoroughly before letting them in the tent. Trim nails pretrip to prevent rips in the tent floor.
  4. Pack a foam pad for sleeping, and a wool or down blanket in cold weather.
  5. Keep track of dogs at night with LED lights or glowstick bracelets on collars.

Keep your pet healthy

Food Start with your regular brand and portion size, advises Michelle Richardson, vet at the Alpine Animal Clinic in Helena, Montana–increasing the amount by up to 50 percent based on his fitness, typical exercise, and the hike’s difficulty. (Rule of thumb: one cup of food per 20 pounds of dog per day.) Give him a small serving about an hour before hiking for extra energy.

Water Use your own thirst as a guide and offer water when you stop to drink–every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on trail difficulty and temperature. And yes, dogs can get Giardia. In high-risk areas–lots of cattle or campers–limit drinking from lakes and streams with a leash, voice commands, and a ready supply of treated water.

Training Build up to longer trips (with both adult dogs and puppies) with a series of shorter hikes to toughen paw pads and develop stamina. Richardson advises waiting until your puppy has received all his shots (about five months) before taking him on the trail, and keeping hikes shorter than one hour to start.

First aid Pack bandages and an antiseptic (such as iodine) for wounds, a liquid bandage (such as 3M Pet Care Spray-On Liquid Bandage; $9, for split or cut paw pads, and tweezers for tick removal (check your dog each night).

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