Many of us love nature and animals, and so many of us also have dogs, who not only are incredibly great life buddies, but also very good hiking companions. And we at Apache Pine we love them no less!
However, they are not “made” to hike, so you will need to take extra care of them and make sure they get there ready and with everything they need.
This can be quite tricky, as dogs cannot speak with words, so it will be hard for them to express what they need or how they feel, if not adopting strange behaviors. So you will have to think ahead and make sure you know how to interpret all their signs.
Fortunately, the community of hikers with dogs counts many enthusiasts, and they are all very eager to exchange advices, experiences, gear reviews and anything that can help our furry friends.
So let’s start straight away with some tips on how to hike with dogs and what you will need to keep in mind when it’s time to hit the trail.
Take care of yourself
Remember that airplane procedure for which in case of emergency you have to wear your mask first and then that of the kid who is with you? It is exactly the same thing when it comes to dogs. This is because you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first.
So make sure you have all the right hiking and dog gear you need and that you know what you are about to face: plan ahead, find information about the trail or the itinerary, make sure to have a good water plan and don’t forget your snapback and sunglasses to protect from the sun.
Also, a bush knife can be very useful in case your dog gets trapped while exploring and you need to free it.
Train your dog
This means two things: train your dog physically and train it to listen to you and respond to your orders.
Dogs are not natural born hikers, but with dedication and patience they can cover great distances without struggling too much. As humans, they need the training to do that. Don’t expect them to hike for 20 miles on the first day: at some point they will get tired, or they will simply get bored because they are not used to such long distances. Or they could get sore the next day, suffer from inflammations and in general get sick because of too much work. Some dogs will do anything to come after you, so don’t abuse it.
Give them the right amount of time and training they need in order to develop the skills and walk by your side without side effects. Start from shorter and easier trails and build it up from there until you reach your goal. The good thing is: they become stronger and more resistant very quickly!
At the same time, make sure they respond to your orders. This is very important for their safety, for your own and for that of others. Indeed, you must make sure your dog doesn’t run away, distracted by some animal or some inviting smell. Once off track, your dog can fall into a cliff, get injured or just get lost. Also, if it gets trapped and you must help it by using a knife, you have to be sure it won’t keep thrashing all the time, so you can act safely.
At the same time, it is very important it doesn’t end up in a fight with another dog, or that it doesn’t harm anyone. The best way to do that is to make sure it responds to you and that the blink of an eye will be enough to have it listen to you. Even if your dog is a good one and you are 100% sure it won’t harm anyone, remember some people might be afraid or might not like it getting close to their food or their gear. Be respectful and make sure it is too.
Not all trails are accessible to dogs, the same way not all means of transportations and not all accommodations. As much as you consider your four-legged buddy at your level, don’t give it for granted that it will be okay to take it with you.
Always ask, double check and, in case you need a permit, make sure to get it in time: some of them take a bit longer, or require you to pay some fees in advance. Just don’t let it catch you unprepared, or you might have to turn back, get fined or left out.
Beware of safety procedures
Do you know what to do or who to call in case something happens to your dog? Do you know how to act in case of emergency? Do you know where the closest clinic is? These are all very important questions that you must know the answer to.
Also, assess all sorts of risks you might encounter during your trail or while backpacking. Ask people from the hiking and backpacking with dogs community if there’s anything to be aware of, especially if they have experience and if they have done the same trail or backpacking trip with their dog already. There’s plenty of forums, websites and facebook groups on the internet to exchange suggestions and observations with other people who have your same necessities.
Also, safety begins before the actual trail or backpacking trip: does your dog have all the right vaccinations? Is it protected against unusual pathogens and bites? Its immune system must be ready to protect him in all sorts of occasion, especially when something very different from usual, like a snake bite or a dog illness from a foreign country might occur.
Hiking and backpacking with dogs have become very popular activities and the outdoor and travel community is now helped by many products and gear created especially for dogs in the outdoors in order to improve both their experience and that of their owners.
Some example of very useful and good dog gear can be, first of all, a good dog harness: it’s highly advisable to remove their collar when they are out in the wild, as they could end up trapped somewhere and choke. In general, dog harnesses are the best solution to walk a dog even if you are just strolling around the city center, as they have more respect of your dog’s physicality and won’t require you to strangle it to stop it or slow it down.
Dogs can carry their own backpack too: it looks like a small and light saddle with bags on the sides. It is a very comfortable item for your dog to carry and at the same time, thanks to its many pockets, it allows it to carry its own stuff, including water, food and a bowl to drink or eat from.
This will relieve you from having to carry your dog’s stuff too and it will make it an equal experience. Of course, you should never load your dog too much and you should never expect it to carry more than it actually can. If you see it struggling, unload it, give it plenty of water, let it rest for a bit and then keep going. It won’t be able to tell you, so make sure to observe it properly and interpret even the smallest sign of struggle.
Dog’s gear might include even a first aid kit and some other gear that can help them in case of emergency. There also are climbing harnesses for dogs, as well as dogs lifejackets in case you want to take you buddy rappelling down some canyon, or kayaking. Of course, always remember to not put them through anything too scary or too stressful: they don’t respond like humans, they could be a lot more scared than you think and they need to get used to new stuff and activities. Even walking with a backpack on can be a great challenge for some of them.
Also, make sure they wear a tag that shows clearly their name, your phone number (including your international prefix), any address that can be contacted and any other important information someone might need in case your dog gets lost and someone finds it.
You pack it
Of course, you are going to be the one who packs and checks their gear. Make sure you take enough food, that all the gear is perfectly functioning and that your dog is happy with it.
Test it during short walks to see if it has any problem with it and always make sure to have enough water to take away their thirst. Pack it like it’s yours.