Taking Your Dog Hiking
I know a lot of us love our furry companions. I love mine, and I love all dogs, but I also love when I successfully feel my dog is healthy throughout our hiking trips.
Hiking with our dogs is A LOT of fun, I totally get it, and I love bringing Aspen to the mountains. But, a lot of people don't know there is in fact A LOT to know when it comes to hiking with dogs. I'm going to start with the very generic basics, and it actually falls under quite similar guidelines we follow for ourselves!
Know Your Food & Pack Your Water!
Dry food & The Wet Food Method- Pack their food! This should be common sense. People and dogs have metabolisms. We both burn calories, we both need food for our body to create and store energy to be used, you know the science. I understand a lot of us have our dogs on a schedule, and some of us may not. I feed Aspen 2 1/2 cups of dry dog food a day. She doesn't always eat it and sometimes she eats all of it - completely normal! When we go hiking, I pack for an extra days worth of food. If we are staying over night, I pack for however many days + one extra day. *Exact same scenario if your dog is on a raw diet. Although I would be sure to pack this extra carefully because it may attract wildlife.* A bear bag or bear barrel would be essential for this, although it may not completely deter an encounter from happening. Always be prepared for bear, wolves and potentially cougar encounters when hiking. Have bear mace ready at the hip at all times, and a bear banger in your pocket.* Something I have learned is Aspen won't actually eat while we are hiking. I tend to get myself a little stressed out because she will stop for breaks often and lay down when we stop to also rest. I know that she is getting exhausted, hot, tired, cold, whatever it could be. I started to bring soft food with me while I hike to feed her at the end of the hike to feed her to help her restore and maintain her energy levels. If you are also going to do the wet-food solution, I advise trying out some brands to make sure your dog is happy with it, and doesn't cause any digestive issues, diarrhea, puking..the awful stuff.
Obviously another rule nobody should ever not stress enough! Water is also important. And yes, dogs CAN get sick from streams/rivers/swamps/puddles. It's just like humans. We have to filter or boil water if it is sourced from a lake, river, whatever you have it, etc. Bacteria is bacteria, it affects us all the same. Parasites are parasites, algae is algae, it's not fun for anyone do deal with and our pets also don't deserve to go through this! This is something that can cause serious illness, diarrhea, vomiting, and even death. I pack Aspen her own plastic water bottle, plus I have my camel pack if she needs extra water. Train your dog to drink out of a collapsible bowl only.
A Fitted Backpack means a Happy & Outdoorsy Dog!
- Say no to chaffing, rubbing, pinching, & of course, the pack sliding!-
Purchase a fitted backpack! Shop around and try the back packs on. Back packs for dogs can start anywhere between $40-$100+ depending on the brand, how big the pack is, and what it all includes. Go to different stores and see what they offer, and do your brand research. When you are fitting your dog, make sure the straps and harness are snug but not tight enough to chafe, or all together make the dog feel uncomfortable. Look for a pack that includes:
- A top handle. In case of crossing over streams or rivers, or even a wildlife encounter you can keep your dog close to you.
- Ensure you the saddle bags have pouches and dividers for storage.
- Ensure the pack is the RIGHT FIT for your dog!
- Don't purchase the pack if the pack does not fit! No matter What!!
Generally, a young and healthy dog should be able to carry up to 25% of its weight. This of course doesn't account for all breeds though. If you have a small dog, or older dog, I would advise leaving them at home as it might be hard for them to keep up, and overall keep them safe at home where they would be much happier. Unless you have a smaller breed, be prepared to carry them for some of the trip as they have to take several more strides to keep up, therefore they use quite a bit of energy! Pack training your dog is also very important in taking your dog hiking with you. Start by letting the dog wear the pack around the house to get used to the weight and feel of the pack. Then begin walking and increasing the duration of your walks with a little weight in the pack. Great weight would be bags packed with dry dog food, pairs of socks, a collapsible water bowl, and eventually a small water bottle!
Warmth, Shelter & Comfort
Aspen is a collie mix. She is double coated, has a TON of long hair, and is also black so she runs pretty hot naturally. During the winter months I don't worry about her as much because she grows a very dense winter coat, although she does wear booties to protect her paws from packing with snow, and getting cold. During the spring she sheds her under coat and it thins out to be long and sleek. During the summer months, I shave her tummy to help keep her cool when she lays down. You can't do this with all dogs varying on their breed, so keep in mind! If your dog is short haired, during the winter months your dog will NEED that extra clothing to keep them warm.
- Fitted Booties made outfitted for winter weather
- A sweater/Jacket/Vest
- Extra Wool Blanket if you are staying over night
- Microfiber cloths to help dry them off
- You can purchase pet sleeping bags for their comfort as well
- If you do a lot of outdoor camping in the winter, I suggest putting warm rocks from beside the fire in your sleeping bag to help maintain warmth of the sleeping bag for extra comfort for yourself & your pet!
- Booties for hot stones/tough terrain that may damage their paws
- Microfiber cloth to dry them off
- A blanket for comfort
- Sweater/Jacket/Vest - Be prepared in case you get caught in a storm or a chilly night! If your dog is short haired, they will need it!
If you are camping with your pet, I recommend trimming their nails as they can get quite long and sharp, and your tent will be at risk for tears and holes in the floor. Also make sure you have a mat outside your tent and keep a microfiber cloth close so you can wipe their feet off to deter dirt and dust from getting into your tent. Bring a blanket for your pet to sleep on or a sleeping bag for those cooler nights during the summer and fall or the chilly winter nights!
Oh, and the ticks..
Yeah, not my most favorite part of this whole thing either. I have to admit, ticks are my LEAST favorite part about hiking but they are apart of life. We can't get rid of them, just like mosquitoes, and many other crawlers that may not have made it to the top of our list. Make sure your dog is properly outfitted for the Spring-Fall season. Ticks don't fly but live on well vegetated forest floors, tall grasses, and trees. They await for a host to pass by/over them so they can stretch their legs to latch on and begin to find a spot to bite, and then feed. Visit your vet or local pet store to purchase Tick and Flea repellent. Follow the instructions carefully and make sure that the medication will be in full effect prior to your trip! Thoroughly search your dog once you have reached the summit, your camp, or your vehicle. Don't forget to properly outfit yourself and check for ticks too!
Overall, these are the most important things to know when hiking with your dog. But, here's the few extras I always share with people!
- Leashes - I know, really annoying. Especially for the dogs who are very obedient and are great off leash. I love letting Aspen off leash, but when hiking it can be a danger. I recommend going to a local tack store for horses and purchasing a "Lunge Line". Its used to lunge horses for exercises but I refer to it as an "extra long leash" and by extra long I mean..about 22-35ft long! You can purchase extended leashes also, but they aren't the most durable to hold onto. These are great for letting your dog venture off leash and still enjoy the outdoors within your reach!
- Reflective & Lights - Glow sticks, or LED collars are very important. I highly recommend these if you are camping. Attach to your dogs collar and wah-lah!
- First Aid Kits - Yes, you should pack extra for your dog and know a little basics when it comes to pet first aid! Your dog is at as much risk as you are when hiking. Pack extra gauze pads, tape, etc. I purchased one from a local pet store in Edmonton called Pet Value. It is a 50 piece set and was $32.99. It also comes with a manual of how you can help your pet when injured.
- Rips & Repairs - Hey, just like how our back packs can get ripped from use, dog packs can go through similar errors. Keep extra string and needles in your repair kit in case of any tears
- Paw Protect! - In the collage of images below, you will see the first one Aspen as actually licking is what I use to put on her paws before walks. I use this ever so often, it's not an every day application. From walking, she has natural calluses and I use this to protect against any serious cracking, or wet conditions in the spring weeks when the snow is melting and there is not so pet friendly salt on the sidewalks.
I hope everything in this small entry may help you in any way in the future! If you have any further questions, please reach out!