Domesticated dogs have proven to be more than our best friends – they can also make wonderful hiking partners. Whether you decide to take a mountain trail, or camp out under the stars, your dog will probably be more than delighted to follow. However, it is far from being as easy as taking a leash and going out into the woods. Dogs have evolved from an ancient breed of wolves, but they are far from being perfectly comfortable in the wild.
1. Prepare your dog for the challenge
Hiking is much more demanding than the everyday stroll around the block. If you and your dog prefer lounging over longer walks in the park, it will take some prior preparation. Walk your dog every day, gradually increasing the distance. In time, you will build up your dog’s fitness level enough to ensure you won’t have to carry it half of the hike.
2. Be prepared for a change in behavior
Dogs are adaptable, but they can only take so much. Your dog is used to a certain kind of routine. If that routine does not involve hiking through the forest trails, or camping, their first time might result in some behavior change. Bring his favorite treats, or a toy he likes, and be by his side at all times. If you are aiming for a longer stay at a campsite with other campers, keep in mind that there could be those who are allergic to dog hair, or afraid of dogs. Play it smart, and read into the rules and regulations of every campsite before you decide to bring your pooch along.
3. Speaking of behavior
If your dog can’t stay put on a boardwalk, and goes off chasing seagulls the moment she is off the leash, a forest hike might not be a good idea. During camping or hiking, the dog needs to be at her best behavior: she should be tame and close to you, even when off the leash, not easily distracted, and well versed in basic commands, such as heel, sit, and stay. This helps both you as her owner and other campers and hikers that you meet along the way.
4. Age matters
This should come as no surprise, but your dog’s age should greatly factor in your choice of a hiking trail, the duration of your camping stay, or if you should even bring her along. Older dogs tend to be more susceptible to joint pain, hip problems, tire more easily. Similarly, younger dogs are still developing their muscles and bones, and taking them through difficult terrain can hinder proper growth. Wait until your dog is at least a year old before undertaking any challenging routes. Nursing dogs are also particularly sensitive, due to the stress their body is under as they have to nurse and care for their litter.
5. Crucial items to bring
There is a certain number of items that are vital to these outdoor trips with your furry friend: for safety, bring a leash (10ft or shorter), name and address tags for his collar (easier identification if he gets lost), dog booties for a less paw-friendly terrain, the off-chance of him hurting his pads or nails, or weather conditions such as frost or snow. As far as grooming goes, a brush or a comb is a must, to keep their fur from knotting. When it comes to food, bring water and a dish and nutritionally balanced dog food that they can digest quickly. Lastly, bring a first-aid kit for dogs, packed with iodine, lotions for their pads, disinfectants and bags for when they need to “go”.
6. Sleeping gear
In urban and suburban areas, we often see dogs sleeping outside, on bare ground. However, that is not the case when you are out in the wilderness. When the temperatures drop below 60 degrees at night, you will want to avoid your dog sneaking into your sleeping bag, and gradually worming you out of it. Depending on his size, choose a kids’ sleeping bag, or a light two-person bag for comfortable night snuggles with your canine companion. Letting them sleep with you is a far safer alternative than keeping them outside with nocturnal animals.
7. No swimming!
No matter where you are in the mountains, dissuade your dog from swimming in a lake, or drinking from any water source you are not familiar with. Dogs can easily catch waterborne diseases and infections. This is why it is important to keep your dog watered properly, and cooled off if the weather is hot. In the same way, some campsites and trails forbid dogs in the water, if it is used as a source of drinking water, or for swimming. Again, informing yourself is crucial.
8. Wildlife encounters
The complete list of animals you and your canine partner can see during camping or hiking could be too long, and too versatile. The key is in educating yourself of the possible species of small mammals, insects and reptiles typical of the area you intend to visit. Bees and saddleback caterpillars can pack a nasty sting, coyotes are not uncommon, as well as porcupines which can leave your dog with a bad case of needles in the snout which requires surgical removal more often than not. This inevitably goes hand in hand with the way your dog behaves around other species of animals. So – always bring a first-aid kit!
9. Check your dog regularly!
This goes for everything – dogs are not very good at showing whether something is bothering them, unless it becomes detrimental to their health. Check their nails and pads before and after every trip or hike, check their fur for ticks as they carry diseases and can cause anemia. Make sure your dog is hydrated, and take breaks. Some dogs are not aware that they are exerting themselves beyond their capacity and won’t show it. That is why they have you, their human companion, to keep them healthy and sprightly, so they can be the best wildlife partner you will ever have.