There’s nothing like hiking with your furry best friend — no, not Mountain Man Dave, even if his beard is getting bushy. Your dog is bound to love hiking, even if you’ve never taken them out. There’s so many trails to explore, smells to sniff, animals to see, things to react to! It can also be overwhelming.
Well, there lies the key issue. It’s awesome to take your dog out hiking, but you’re going to want to do it with precaution. Beyond the issue of interacting with fellow hikers and respecting trail etiquette, there comes the other issue of having your dog run off into the woods.
We know it’s something you don’t want to think about, but your dog might get lost while hiking. But how do you protect against such a thing?
While you can train your dog to keep them by your side or keep them leashed at all times, there are other safety measures you can put into place, whether that’s getting them dog ID tags or practicing responsible dog owner trail etiquette.
Respecting the Trail
First things first: Your dog might not be welcome everywhere you want to go.
While many national, state and regional parks do welcome dogs, some trails and specific parks might have restrictions. The common causes of dog restrictions are usually related to wildlife. Park rangers are worried that dogs will disrupt the local community, whether by leaving their scent behind, chasing after animals, destroying fauna or their owners not picking up their feces. On the other hand, particularly popular trails might not allow dogs for the worry of congestion and the potential hazard to children.
Regulations aren’t the same at every park, so it’s in your best interest to check the rules before you head out.
Beyond that, you’ll want to follow basic hiking etiquette with your pup, which is more formally called the National Park Service’s B.A.R.K. rule. B.A.R.K. stands for:
- Bag your pet’s waste
- Always leash your pet
- Respect wildlife
- Know where you can go
In general, these rules are about respecting nature, other animals, fellow hikers and the trails themselves.
You should always bag your pet’s waste. Part of this is that you should not be leaving unnatural waste — waste that is not native to the area — in a nature area. Second is that no one wants to step in another dog’s poop, nor do they want to find their own dog munching on it or rolling around in it.
Leashing your pet is another important rule you should follow. If you have a well-trained dog, you might feel comfortable enough to let them go off leash for periods of time, just to give them some independence, but they should always be leashed when any other hikers are around.
Your safest option is to simply let their leash out while you’re alone, giving them the freedom to wander off ahead while bringing them back in when another hiker begins approaching.
Respecting wildlife is another big rule that needs to be followed, whether by picking up your dog’s waste or by not allowing them to destroy the local trail. This means no eating local plants, no digging on the main trail and not letting them run after any animals that appear in the woods.
Finally, as mentioned above, know whether or not your dog is allowed somewhere before you head out onto the trail. Your dog will go wherever you show them, so they’re not at fault. And it will show when you eventually get fined by park rangers for taking them where they are not allowed to be.
Nothing too wild, but there are other things you need to consider before taking your dog out on the trail — besides whether or not they are ready to take to the trail.
First off, do not bring puppies on hikes. If it’s a short walk in the woods, this might be alright, but nothing too lengthy or adventurous. They’re not well-trained enough, their immune systems are not strong enough for eating random plants and drinking out of errant puddles and they’re going to tucker out quickly, becoming a nuisance to both you and others.
Moreover, get some obedience training classes prior to hitting the trail if your dog does not have the best behavior. There’s nothing as frustrating on a trail as the hiker, runner or biker who barrels through everyone around them without at least calling out – or the hiking group that refuses to consolidate into a single line to make the trail comfortable for others.
Don’t let your dog get away with exhibiting similar behaviors, whether hogging the trail, barking at strangers or sticking their nose where it shouldn’t be. If you notice these behaviors while on your daily walks, it’s best to nip them in the bud before heading off to the woods. Trust us. It will save you the headache of a stranger yelling at you for your dog getting too close to them.
As we briefly mentioned, your dog should be trained prior to hiking. But we don’t just mean being able to follow commands like “sit,” “stay” and “come,” or being able to socialize with other people and dogs in a healthy way. Those are obviously important, and are imperative to guaranteeing you are able to safely hike with your dog. But you also need to consider their physical safety while hiking.
First, your dog needs to be fit enough to hike. They should be at a decent age and should be receiving enough physical exercise on a daily basis. This is a simple way to guarantee that you don’t overwork them mentally or physically, as an out-of-shape or older dog could find themselves hurting their paws, hips or legs. Further, they could just end up fatigued, leaving you to carry them for the rest of the hike.
Take some time out on the trails together on shorter hikes. This is a great way to introduce them to hiking without jumping straight into the deep end. You can teach them to more closely follow your commands, to avoid wavering from the trail and to react calmly to other animals seen along the way.
Such lessons are important, as you can properly teach your dog to stay away from strange animal waste, other hikers’ garbage, unknown plants and more. Your dog’s safety should be your number one priority. Training them beforehand is an excellent way to guarantee they’re prepared for a hike.
Dogs don’t sweat like humans, so it’s not easy for them to cool down while physically exerting themselves, especially in hot weather conditions. It’s important to regularly provide your dog with drinks of water to avoid dehydration and heat stroke. You’ll know when they really need water, whether they’re heavily panting or if they’re desperately trying to drink from random puddles. Don’t allow it to get to that point. Give them occasional sips of water to keep them hydrated.
But while you want your dog to be hydrated, don’t let them drink out of any random puddle, stream or pond. These waters are also used, and defecated into, by many other animals (and humans passing through). This leads to waters becoming rife with pathogens, bacteria and viruses that can make both you and your dog exceptionally sick.
Instead, only provide them with water you brought on the trail or any water that you purified while out hiking.
Gear Up Before Hitting the Trail
Before you hit the trail, make sure you bring everything they need. This can include:
- A light dog jacket for mountaintops and heavier jackets for cold weather
- Dog boots for rough terrain and cold conditions
- A drinking bowl
- Snacks and food
- A blanket
- Poop bags
- A dog harness and a variable-length leash
- And whatever else you need
Get a Dog Tag ID
One of the most important things your dog should have on the trail is a dog collar ID. Similarly known as dog tags, a dog collar ID takes the traditional dog tag and upgrades it. How? Rather than putting a set of hanging tags on your dog’s collar, which can get caught on random objects, your clothes, a wedding ring and other dogs’ collars, the ID is installed directly into the collar.
Why are they so important? Well, if you let your dog off leash, or if they manage to break free, they could very well get lost in the woods. It’s the last thing you want to think about, but it’s an unfortunate reality. In the event that they go missing, you want to guarantee that strangers have a way of identifying that they have a home. Doing so could improve your chances of actually getting your dog back.
A dog collar ID sounds like a great idea, but what do I put on it?
What to put on a dog tag is up to personal preference, but there are five key things you should feature for your dog’s safety. They include:
- Primary Contact Information: This should be your phone number (or your partner’s, if they’re more likely to answer their phone). You should list a first name alongside this, too, as it will help a stranger identify you, showing that this dog has an owner.
- Secondary Contact Information: The last thing you want is to miss one of the most important calls of your life. But just in case, list another contact who can be called in the event that you aren’t available.
- Reward Offer: Another unfortunate truth is that everyone loves dogs, and if someone randomly found a lost dog, they might just begin calling it their own, deciding to never look for their original human. State that anyone who returns your dog will receive a cash prize. That incentive can be enough to get your dog returned to you.
- Personality Quirks: Some dogs are big, lovable bears, but you might not know it from looking at them. List any strange quirks they have to help protect both themselves and anyone who friends them. This can include things they are scared of, things they react aggressively to or anything they particularly like.
- Your Dog’s Name: Lastly, list your dog’s name. While some people might argue that this makes it easier to steal a lost dog, it’s an easier way to humanize them as “someone’s pet.” It puts you, the owner, in that person’s mind and no good person would want another human to lose their beloved pet. Also, being called by their name will calm your dog, especially if they are anxious upon being found by a stranger.
Respecting the Trail with Your Pup
Hiking is an excellent thing to do with a dog. It’s a great way to continue working on training habits, whether working on their following and listening behavior or giving them the independence to sniff around on their own. But a level of trail respect is still needed. There are other hikers out there, and they may have their own pets or a child in tow.
Beyond keeping your dog leashed in the presence of nearby strangers, it’s in your best interest to use dog tags. A dog collar ID is an exceptional way to keep your dog safe, whether when coming in contact with a stranger or if they happen to get lost — where they can be identified at a later time.
Don’t take your chances while out in the woods. Enjoy the scenery and savor the memory later, but protect your dog in the meantime.
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