Blaze a Trail with Your Dog

Everything you need to know about hiking with dogs, from an outdoorsy guy.

by William Wayland
May 28, 2021
Australian Shepherd on a hill during golden hour
William Wayland

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If anything good came out of the pandemic, it’s that a morning hike with my dog replaced my two-hour commute. In the past, my wife took our dog for neighborhood walks during the week and big adventures were relegated to the weekends — but as my schedule opened up, so did our ability to tackle longer and farther-flung hiking trails on the daily. This new (and very welcome) way of living presented a crash course in exploring the great outdoors with our dog. I learned quickly that I’d need to research the best gear for myself and my dog — and I’d need to prepare a little differently for each trail, too. Here are the most important things you need to know about hiking with dogs.

First, sort yourself out

I love the outdoors and exploring the hiking trails near my home, but when I leveled up my dog-walking routine I might have been a little out of shape. Know your fitness level and don’t feel like you have to attack the trail. 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.

aussie shepherd on a hike in the woods
William Wayland

Next, suit up your dog

I have an Australian Shepherd and they’re known for their energy and endurance. Not every dog will enjoy a long hike as much as mine, so make sure you have a sense of what’s ideal for your dog. 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.

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. Quincey likes the taste of NexGard, 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.)

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Finally, get to know the trail

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 or. 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.

Once you’ve confirmed that dogs are allowed, dig into the other details: During which hours are they 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.

Quincey went through a few rounds of obedience training at our local Humane Society and has good recall, but I always bring along his favorite treats for extra insurance. At the very least, they’re a reward for being such a great hiking partner. If it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure I would have been motivated to seek out new trails every morning.

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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.