How to Hike with Your Dog · The Wildest

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How To Hike With Your Dog

How to get your gear — and your pup — ready to go.

by William Wayland
Updated August 4, 2023
Australian Shepherd on a hill during golden hour
William Wayland
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This time of year, your exercise options with your dog expand quite a bit: You can paddle around as you swim together, get some canoeing in out on the lake or pond (but please look out for dangerous, toxic blue-green algae if you bring your dog anywhere near fresh water).

Or you can take your dog for a hike on a local trail. If hiking with your dog sounds like the perfect summer day (it’s definitely perfect if you’re looking for a hiking buddy who doesn’t talk your ears off!), you’ll want to keep these tips in mind.

Can I go hiking with my dog?

Maybe you love the outdoors and have tons of great trails near your house, but an up-hill trail is definitely a level-up and a challenge. Know your fitness level and don’t feel like you have to attack the trail — go easy when you start out. As for clothing: Dress in layers. A backpack is a convenient place to stow a sweatshirt if you begin to overheat. Shoes are the most important thing to consider, though. A raincoat will keep you mostly dry, but hiking in soggy shoes is misery. I got in the habit of throwing three pairs of footwear in the car before I left: sneakers, hiking shoes, and rain boots. Conditions at the trailhead can be surprising, so give yourself the option to make a game-time decision.

What essential items should I bring for my dog on a hike?

There are a few hiking essentials for dogs you should always bring: The most important thing you can do for your dog is to protect them from ticks. Just like humans, dogs can get seriously ill from ticks, and trails are more tick-packed than a neighborhood sidewalk. NexGard, for example, is a chewable preventative that stops ticks from biting in the first place, and one dose lasts a whole month. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still periodically check your dog for ticks — you definitely should do that. My dog’s white fur makes them easier to spot, but his long hair helps them hide. (Remember, Ticks can be tiny, so you have to be thorough — you really don’t want to bring them home.

More dog hiking essentials: No matter the season, extra drinking water is a necessity. I always carry a collapsible dog bowl or water bottle made especially for dogs with a built-in dispenser. Either one fits conveniently into a backpack, and makes it easy to stop and admire the view while your pup hydrates. Another must? Poop bags. Some trails have dispensers at the trailhead, but don’t count on it.

How do I prepare my dog for a hike? 

When you’re taking your dog on a hike, there are a few tips that can make sure you’re both prepared:

1. Start with short, smooth trails

Before you head out on an intense hike, take your dog on easier trails first. And if your pup hasn’t had their annual check-up, make sure you see a vet before you head out.

2. Research dog-friendly hikes.

Look up the best dog-friendly trails in your area, and make sure dogs are allowed on the path you want to hike.

3. Pack a dog first aid kit.

Make sure you pack a few first aid items in case your dog cuts their paw, so you can keep them safe. Bring alcohol wipes, bandages, tweezers and alcohol wipes and Benadryl.

4. Prepare a small dog.

If you’re hiking with a small dog, be aware that they might not be able to go as far as large breeds. So, you may need to spend some time building up their strength and endurance before you head out on your hike.

How can we get to know the trail?

Do your homework when you’re researching the best hiking trails that are dog friendly: During which hours are dogs allowed? Do they need to be leashed? I prefer trails where dogs may be off-leash but must be under voice control, which means your dog will actually need to come when called. You could be sharing the trail with other hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, and, of course, wildlife. Make sure you’re not putting your dog, yourself, or others in danger.

Are there any hiking trails where dogs are not allowed?

There are hundreds of miles of spectacular trails where I live. Some take me to the ocean, while others go to the hills, and guessing which trails allow dogs isn’t always intuitive. A quick Google search in advance should sort you out — there may already be a list of the best dog-friendly hiking trails in your area. Local, state, and national parks all have different policies when it comes to dogs. A fun place to start is with a map of National Parks that allow pets.

Can I let my dog swim in lakes or streams during the hike?

If you want to take your dog in the water when you're hiking, here are a few pointers:

  • Larger lakes are generally safe for dogs, but avoid lakes with algae on the surface because it can be toxic to dogs. Never take your dog in a body of water that looks stagnant or dirty.

  • Small shallow streams are generally safe for dog swimming — just look out for any sharp objects that could injure them on the shore.

  • In general, make sure your dog can actually swim before letting them in the water! And don’t let them swim out too far where you couldn’t rescue them if needed.

FAQs (People Also Ask):

1) How can I keep my dog safe during the hike?

Keep your dog safe during a hike by making sure they are up to the task fitness-wise and in good health. Also, bring water and snacks and a first aid kit.

2) Should I pack extra food for my dog during a hike?

Yes, you should always pack snacks, water, and a little extra food for your dog during a hike, just in case it takes longer than you think it will with them on the trail.

3) What if my dog is not used to other dogs or people on the trail?

It's best to try to socialize your dog with other pups and humans before you set out on a hike. No matter what, remain calm when you encounter dogs and people on the trail.

4) How far can dogs hike?

Most healthy dogs can hike between 10 to 20 miles, but it also depends on your dog's age, breed, activity level, size, and stamina.


william wayland bio pic

William Wayland

William Wayland is a writer, photographer, and dog parent to two cats and a dog (and a husband and father to two human boys). Though best known for his event and live music photography, William aspires to photograph every dog in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow his dog’s adventures on Instagram @quinceytheaussie.

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