Hiking with Dogs: Safety, Training, Gear & More!

by | February 7, 2020

Are you a dog lover and hiking enthusiast? Then you’ve come to the right place. As a dog owner, you’re about to experience how wonderful your hiking journey can be with your best friend right by your side.

But not so fast. Before you can even think about letting one paw step foot on a trail there are important factors you need to consider.

We’ll delve into each so you and your pup can have the best time exploring the trail.

Why Hike with Your Dog at All

Dogs make the best hiking companions. They can sense danger, are eager to explore, and don’t try to ramble on about work or politics when you’re trying to escape into nature.

Hike with your pooch by your side and you’ll soon discover their quest for adventure and insatiable curiosity adds a whole new level of joy to your adventure.

This time together can easily become the ultimate bonding experience for you two. Plus, your pup can give you a sense of security and perhaps an elevated appreciation of the natural world.

And, we probably don’t need to point out this out, but in case it doesn’t register hiking together is a cheap form of entertainment keeping both of you fit.

Really, the reasons to hike with your dog are endless. But one thing is for sure, once you get used to having your best friend on the trail, it will be hard to trek without them.

Is Your Dog Fit for Hiking

While you may positively adore pugs, they don’t make the best hiking companion. And they’re not alone.

There are various factors to consider before you set off on a doggie and me journey.


Tired puppy after a short hike!

Congratulations, you got a new puppy! Your about to experience the wonderful joy of taking your pup on all kinds of fun adventures, keyword being about.

Dogs under one year are still in a crucial growing and training phase, meaning they’re not quite ready to hit the trail. On the other hand, older dogs may no longer be as agile as they once were.

I’ve noticed this in my own dog, Maggie. Being an Australian Shepherd-Border Collie she absolutely loves hiking, but her old age has turned our day hikes into strolls around the block.

It’s important to know when they’re no longer fit to hike just as much as when they’re not ready for it.


Is your dog healthy? Like people, your dog needs to be in good health if they’re going to be heading out on a hike – no matter the distance.

Take into consideration any health issues or surgeries your dog may have had in the past. This can limit or even prohibit them from hiking at all.

You’ll also want to keep in mind any genetic predispositions they may have. For instance, larger dogs such as Labrador Retrievers are genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take your Lab along – they actually make for great hiking dogs. You simply want to take precautions with exercise regimes and be on the lookout for any signs of health problems should they arise.

Fur Length

Huskies were born to trek long distances in the snow. Bring them on a hike in the middle of the summer, however, and that’s another story.

Dogs with thick fur do better hiking in colder weather. And vice versa.

My Aussie has a long coat and absolutely loves stomping around when there’s snow on the ground. It also means she gets awfully dirty during the summer months. Foxtails, grass, you name it and it winds up stuck in her coat.

Along with the dirt, there’s another issue to be wary of, ticks. The thicker the coat, the easier it is for those terrible tiny parasites to hide. While there’s debate on whether you should or shouldn’t shave your dog’s coat, it does make it easier to check for ticks.

Short or long fur, know each dog will have their own maintenance needs determined by your hike.

Energy Level

Does your pup like to lazily hang around all day? Or is it chomping at the bit to get outside and play? Your dog’s energy level is a major factor in whether or not they’ll make a perfect hiking companion.

Low energy pups will fare better on short hikes. On the other hand, high energy dogs may never want to stop, tiring you out and difficult to keep under control.

Honestly, I find the best hiking dog is one that matches your energy level. If you’re an ultra-marathon runner, high energy will probably suit you best. If you prefer to binge watch Netflix, a low energy dog who prefers to hike a mile then plop down for a nap is probably better for you.


If your dog runs at the sight of every squirrel, you may have a hard time on the trail. Same thing if they’re super timid.

Timid dogs will most likely be too nervous to keep going and beg you to turn around. On the other hand, aggressive dogs can be a liability. Leave the timid, shy, and disobedient dogs to other activities.

A good hiking dog will guide the way and return at your command. It’s important to note they should also have good behavior on a leash. There’s no telling what you’ll encounter during the duration of your hike and you need to have control of your animal for everyone’s safety.


Some breeds just aren’t meant to be man’s best friend on the trail. Bulldogs and pugs, for instance, have short noses which can cause breathing problems during strenuous activity.

Generally speaking, hunting, herding, and working dogs do better on the trail. Think breeds like Border Collie and German Shorthaired Pointer.

Collies have high energy and are extremely intelligent whereas Pointers have high endurance and love activity making them excellent hiking companions.

I’m not saying you can’t take your dog out on a trail because of the breed – I’ve seen some surprising breeds gunning it on through the woods. It will, however, determine their activity threshold and physical capabilities.

Know their limits

Nobody wants to lug around extra weight. Especially when that extra weight is you carrying your pup back to the trailhead.

Dogs have limits. Know yours before embarking on any journey.

Tips for Hiking with Large Dogs

Build up fitness gradually

Large dog breeds may appear to be the best when heading out on a hike, but with their big size can come some big challenges.

For starters, if your German Shepherd winds up severely injuring himself on the trail, you’re going to need a way to carry him out.

Their strength can also become your weakness. Tugging on the leash at the sight of every animal may wind up knocking you down, or wearing out your arm to say the least. If they love to jump, they could wind up injuring other hikers you pass by.

Basically, if they’re not well trained, you’re going to have a hard time keeping them under control. So it’s best before you head out to make sure they can be obedient on and off leash.

Tips for Hiking with Small Dogs

Those little legs are troopers. They go and go, until they can’t go anymore. While some small dogs may be able to keep up with the best of them, they can wear out faster than big dogs. Those little legs are working twice as hard, so plan the mileage accordingly – no matter how big their Napolean complex is.

Also, take note if you’re going to be hiking through any extremely difficult terrain. From time to time, you may need to give your dog a helpful boost and carry them across obstacles.

If you really want to get your hike on and your pooch won’t be able to keep up, consider getting them comfortable to being carried in your pack. It’s extra weight, but worth each step.

Check out these good tips from The Outbound Collective to help out your furry friend.

Trail Training Puppy Style

Before suiting up and tackling the miles, your doggie pal is going to need some training. A well-trained dog will not only make your experience more pleasurable but prepare your pup for tackling challenges that may come their way.


While there are several types of training you’re going to need to put your dog through, obedience is by far the most important. Remember, you are your dog’s human and your animal needs to know you’re the alpha.

Proper obedience training should include the basic commands such as:

  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Wait
  • Lie down
  • Come
  • Leave it
  • Drop it

The best hiking dogs are well-behaved dogs. To help you train a well-behaved dog, the American Kennel Clubs offers some useful tips for obedience training. A few you’ll find helpful are:

  • Use treats
  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Praise good behavior
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Provide mental stimulation as well as exercise

Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to training the ultimate hiking companion.

Build Up Endurance

You wouldn’t try to tackle a marathon without building up to it, would you? The same thing goes for hiking with your dog. Start off small and work your way up.

Happy Dog Training recommends beginning with short conditioning hikes around 90 minutes round trip. From there, increase the hikes by one-hour increments until Fido is able to handle the mileage you plan on.

Fitness Training

Along with building up endurance, you want your hiking buddy to be physically fit. This is where cross-training comes in handy. Like you, your dog can perform better on the trail from some cross-training exercises.

While there are several ways to tackle this, some fitness cross-training may involve:

  • Cardio
  • Muscle building activities
  • Jumps
  • Swimming
  • Balancing
  • Paw fitness

There are all kinds of doggie fitness classes, programs, and personal trainers that can help get your pup up to snuff.

If you’re going to be doing home training, you may want some equipment to help you out. FitPaws offers a wide range of products you may find useful.

Here’s an idea of how some of it works:

A class, on the other hand, may look something more like this:

There’s really no right or wrong answer here. It’s all a matter of what works best for you and your best friend.

You never know what you’ll encounter on a trail. Conditioning your dog through a variety of fitness training activities will strengthen your dog and better prepare them for the journey to come.

Pack and Gear Training

Don’t forget the pack! Like when you first started hiking, there’s a period when your dog will need to get used to carrying a pack.

This doesn’t mean load them up with everything their first go-around. Start with an empty pack so they can get comfortable. Then slowly start adding weight until they’re used to carrying their full load.

Speaking of which, you’re probably wondering what is their full load? Typically, a healthy dog is able to safely carry about 10 percent its own body weight. It’s possible to load on more, but considering terrain and distance, more weight over time can become problematic.

Part of the pack training should also include booties and jackets or vests if they’re going to be wearing them. Put these items on, then engage them in their favorite activity. They’ll learn to associate these things with play time while getting used to them.

You want them to be comfortable in all their gear beforehand, otherwise, you may find they won’t be wearing any of it at all.

Leash training

While your dog would love to run free on the trail, it’s not always practical. It’s likely the majority of trails you’ll encounter will have a mandatory leash rule. This means leash training is a must.

If possible, start this training while they’re still a puppy. While you’ll want to wait until they have all their vaccines before venturing outside, leash training can begin indoors. In fact, you’ll want to start indoors.

The American Kennel Club experts recommend introducing your puppy to the leash and collar during playtime to help them associate it with food and fun. Practice leading them on a leash and coming to you indoors when you call. Then when they’re ready, move the training outside.

Be patient as you two build your way up to longer walks. It will take some time, but proper training can’t be rushed.

Recall training

There’s a reason people say having a dog is like having a child, they don’t always listen. This is problematic if you want to take your dog for a hike.

Remember, a good hiking dog is an obedient hiking dog. Recall training can help. What this does is teach them to return anytime you call.

If you’re new to recall training, this video by Jimmy’s Dog Training is an excellent resource. Take a look:

Animals, other dogs, people, there’s a lot you can encounter when in the great outdoors. Recall training keeps your dog under control and can help keep them out of potentially dangerous situations.

Snake Training

Dogs are curious creatures. If they’ve never seen a snake before, they may have to investigate, which could mean serious trouble.

Depending upon where you live, there may be some life-threatening venomous snakes around. It’s important to know what’s in your area so you know what types of slitherers to look out for.

When I was living in the mountains of Southern California, this meant rattlesnakes. I’ve definitely had a scary encounter or two with these dangerous creatures, one in particular with Maggie. You bet at the moment we came across one of these suckers stretched out, I was wishing she had proper snake training.

In my opinion, teaching your dog snake aversion tactics is worth every minute of your time if you’re going to be spending any time out in nature.

Proper Pup Food and Hydration

You’ve got your protein bars packed and your water bladder filled to the brim. Now, time to pack for your pup. Like you, your dog is going to need proper nutrition and plenty of water.

Food Planning

On trail, your dog is going burn up more calories than their normal day-to-day life so you need to plan ahead. Determining how much, however, can be a bit challenging.

Generally speaking, if you’re doing a short hike, a few treats to encourage good behavior will suffice. But I like to plan ahead and always bring extra in case we decide to keep going or need it in the event of an emergency.

Either way, what you’ll need to take into consideration is:

  • Distance
  • Dog weight
  • Temperature
  • Terrain
  • Activity level

Do a few trial hikes where you increase their food consumption from 25-30 percent. Be sure to bring back-up food in case they require more.

If extra weight is a concern, one trick to keep your load light while upping their calories is to mix their food. Sierra Trading Post points out you can replace 25 percent of your dog’s normal food with high-calorie puppy food.

There are also dog meal bars on the market like TurboPUP and PowerBark. Kind of like your Cliff or Powerbar, they pack in calories into a solid block.

Another good option is freeze-dried food. It skimps on the weight, but not the calories.

As far as their dietary needs, you’ll want to up their protein intake and keep grains to a minimum. Happy Dog Training recommends opting for food with 30 percent protein while keeping carbs under 30 percent.

Going long distance? Great! For long distances, you’ll need to pay special attention to their nutrition and may have to make changes to their normal meal plan. Talk to your vet before venturing out on any long treks to ensure you meet their nutritional needs.

Pro Tip: Happy Dog Training offers this nifty calculation for configuring your canine’s hiking caloric requirements.

Raw Food

Has your dog gone raw? You might be facing a bit of a conundrum. Unless you decided to pack a cooler, you’re going to have trouble keeping your doggie’s meat from spoiling – especially during the hotter months.

Enter freeze-dried raw meat.

The beauty of freeze-dried raw meat is you don’t need to worry about meat going bad or switching up your dog’s diet to kibble. You can feed them the same meat, game, and poultry they get at home.

The only drawback is time and money. If you’re committed, however, you’ll have to decide if you want to prepare your own or opt for convenience and purchase your dog food.

If you choose the latter, you’ll want a quality brand. Raw food dog blogger Keep the Tail Wagging has carefully selected some top brands on the market which include:

  • Raw Paws Pet Food
  • Steve’s Real Food
  • Darwin’s Natural Selection

Whether you purchase your dog food or make your own, the good thing is there are options available.

Dog Treats

Don’t forget the dog treats! After all that important training you did, you’ll need some treats for the trail.

Nutritious treats are not only necessary for reinforcing good behavior, but they’ll keep your dog’s energy levels up.

Backpacker has three awesome DIY dog treat recipes you can make at home to sustain your dog’s energy. If store-bought is more your thing, try one or all 12 of these doggie approved hiking treats from You Did What with Your Wiener?.

Hydration Needs

Are you getting thirsty? Your dog is too. You’ll need to make frequent stops to quench your dog’s thirst. These stops will vary depending on exertion and heat, but it’s a good idea to try every 15-30 minutes.

The same variables determining the amount of food will also determine their water needs. According to REI, you can expect your dog to drink 0.5 to 1.5 ounces of water per pound per day.

It’s best to do a few trial hikes to get to know your dog’s water needs. And when in doubt, bring extra.

Hydration Options

While we can sip on hydration packs hands-free anytime we start feeling a little parched, you’re going to have to find a special hydration method for your animal.

You have a couple options here. I like to carry a water bottle and use a collapsible dog dish on short hikes. I place a little bit of water in the bowl and continually add to it until Maggie’s done drinking.

There are also hydration packs designed specifically for dogs like the Ruffwear Singletrak. It features two collapsible water bottles and stash pockets your dog can carry on its own back.

If your dog is drinking from a water source on the trail, then only let them drink from filtered, clean flowing water. To avoid any waterborne illnesses, don’t let them drink from water sources near livestock or from anything stagnant.

Just think, if you wouldn’t drink it, then your dog shouldn’t either.

If you wouldn’t drink it, your pup probably shouldn’t!

Not Drinking Water?

From time to time dogs can decline to drink water on the trail. Put their water dish in front of them and they’ll downright turn their head away. Rather than assuming they’re being difficult, remember that if they are hot, it’s often not a good thing for them to drink immediately.

It might mean that pup needs a rest, and a chance to cool down before ingesting cold water. Dogs that have been exercising hard can feel ill or vomit if they drink cold water when their core temperature is too high.

Wag points out this may be the result of a few things. It could be:

  • Age
  • Tainted water
  • Illness
  • Dehydration

One brilliant method Klean Kanteen mentions is adding water to their food. You could also try enticing your dog with flavor by adding fluids like chicken broth to it.

Some dogs don’t like their bowl so you could try switching it out – make sure you’ve used pup’s trail bowl at home before heading out. The important thing is to keep offering it to them even when they refuse. Listen to your dog, and do not keep hiking, especially in hot weather if they are reluctant to rehydrate.

If you think the issue is more serious, talk to your vet.

How to Pack for Your Pup: The Doggie Kit

Think your dog doesn’t need a pack? Think again. Dogs need food, water, and other hiking essentials, and they’re going to need a pack to carry it all.

So from the right pack on down to what goes in it, here’s what you need to know when packing for your dog.

Finding the Right Pack

Before you gather all your four-legged friend’s hiking essentials, they’re going to need something to carry it all in. That’s where the puppy pack comes in handy. Your pup can help lighten your load by carrying their own weight.

However, there’s no one size fits all puppy pack. Each pack will have varying options and sizes. To fit your dog, you’ll want to measure the widest part of your dog’s chest. This measurement will be your dog’s size.

The pack should fit snug, but not too tight. You want to prevent it from falling off without causing any chaffing from rubbing so you should be able to comfortably put two fingers under it.

A few other things to keep in mind when choosing the right pack are:

  • Leash clip
  • Compartments
  • Water and/or food storage
  • Weight
  • Handle on top
  • Padding
  • Durability
  • Waterproof

What type of hiking, distance planned, and your dog’s needs will be the ultimate determining factors when choosing the perfect pack.

While I’m all for the pack, you will want to pay close attention to the straps. This will be the most problematic part. Take note of any rubbing causing sore spots or chaffing.

Also, keep in mind any health issues they may have. If they’ve had broken ribs or hip dysplasia, they probably aren’t capable of wearing a pack. Consult your vet before strapping on a puppy pack.

Pro Tip: Check out these top dog pack recommendations.

What’s in My Dog’s Kit

From food to first aid, there are key essentials you’ll need to pack into your doggie kit.

A proper doggie kit should include the following:

  • First aid kit
  • Dog booties
  • Paw wax
  • Leash and collar
  • Water
  • Food
  • Treats
  • Water bowl or other hydration gear
  • Jacket/blanket
  • Cooling Vest
  • Poop bags

What goes into the doggie pack itself will be determined by your animal. Like we mentioned before, a dog can safely carry 10 percent their own weight. In some cases, dogs can carry up to 25 percent their weight. This is all determined by your dog’s age, size, physical abilities, and the hike itself.

When in doubt, don’t load too much. Weigh out everything and evenly distribute the weight in their pack. What doesn’t fit in theirs will have to go in yours.

About those Dog Booties

Do these really work? It all depends on your furry friend. I’ve seen dogs tear these things off in a heartbeat. I’ve seen others refuse to take a single step. And alas, some happily trot along like they weren’t wearing them at all.

The key is to get your pup used to the booties at an early age. Then should you need them, they’ll know the drill.

When to Use Them and Why

Using dog booties can mean the difference between happy trotting paws and torn, blistered, cut up paws too rough to carry on.

Speaking of which, dog booties can really help out your friend in cold weather and snow. In fact, they make waterproof ones specifically for it like these QUMY Waterproof Dog Booties.

They can also be a lifesaver if you two are experiencing any rocky, jagged terrain or hot pavement.

How to Size Dog Booties

Like your shoes, you’ll need to choose ones that fit properly. Ideally, you would take your dog to the pet shop and get them fitted.

If you don’t have that luxury, you can figure out the size on your own by placing your dog’s paw on a sheet of paper. Draw the outline of their paw print, then measure. Be sure to include enough comfy room for their toenails.

Breaking Them In

Another word about keeping things comfy, you’ll want to break the booties in before heading out on a long trek. Just like your new hiking shoes, breaking them in will reduce the risk of blisters.

Ruffwear offers six great tips on how to break them in properly, one of the most important being breaking them in with your hands first. This will help make things more comfy before you put them on your pup.

Paw Wax

Paw wax should be in every doggie pack. If you’ve never heard of paw wax, you should know it’s this magical stuff made to help protect those doggie paw pads from ice, hot ground, and salt.

Made from wax and oils, it helps to prevent cuts and abrasions. During the cold months, it can be used as a preventative measure against cracked, bleeding pads.

Try making yours at home with this DIY from Humblebee & Me or go with a trusted brand like Musher’s Secret Paw Protection.

Be forewarned though, paw wax is no substitute for doggie booties. It may help in paw protection, but it can and does wear off. And if it’s too hot outside, it’s possible for it to melt off.

A Word on Leashes

To retract or not, that is the question. Retractable leashes may be enjoyed by some dog owners, but the trail is no place for them. Now you may be thinking, I love my retractable leash, it lets my hound run along further while I still have him under control.

The problem with this is, they may be too far along. Consider you cross an aggressive dog. If yours has too much slack you may not be able to recall her in time. Retractable leashes can also get snagged, stuck, or wind up letting your pup wrap itself around a tree when you’re distracted by the scenery.

In this case, it’s best to leaves these at home. Appalachian Mountain Club suggests a short heeling or moderate leash under 10 feet and even points out some parks require your dog to be on a leash no longer than 10 feet.

Know Your Trail

Before you even step foot on the ground, there are a few things you need to know about the trail. Like do they even allow dogs at all? If so, what are the rules about leashes?

It’s common for National Parks to permit dogs, but not on trails. National forests and state parks may allow them on trails, but have mandatory leash rules. Check for regulations.

Watch out for Trail Hazards

Is the trail steep? Too muddy? Rocky? Are cougars lurking about? This is the outdoors. There are going to be hazards you come across.

I don’t want to deter you, but there are some things you need to be on the lookout for to help keep you and your best pal out of harm’s way.

Toxic Plants to Avoid

Have you ever gotten poison oak? Not fun. You may be able to identify this plant from a mile away, but your canine doesn’t. Be on the lookout for any poisonous plants that may cause an allergic reaction or irritation.

Plants like poison oak and stinging nettles may cause discomfort, but others can be deadly when ingested. To play it safe, it’s best to discourage any chewing on plants. It’s also best to prevent any rolling in the grass.

We learned this one the hard way. Maggie loves to sneak in a roll when I’m not looking. She has incredibly long fur and this usually results in an extra layer of dirt and a few twigs.

Unfortunately, a couple weeks after a hike we found a foxtail had burrowed its way into her side. It took a very expensive vet bill and a few weeks of healing before she was back to normal.

Avoid tall grassy areas when possible and remove any foxtails, thorns, or anything of the sort immediately. While Maggie was incredibly lucky, it could have been fatal.

Wildlife Dangers

Lions and tigers and bears oh my! These creatures are out there and you need to be cautious about what’s lurking in your neck of the woods. Do your research beforehand so you’re fully aware of the potential risks of wildlife in your area.

It’s also a good idea to check with the ranger station before wandering off. They can inform you of any recent bear, mountain lion, rattlesnake, or otherwise sightings. They will also be privy to any information about recent incidents.

Even though your hound may be able to warn you of danger, you need to know what to look out for and have a plan should you encounter something along the trail.

Also, please be respectful of any wildlife you encounter. Even if it’s just a squirrel, don’t let your pup go running off to chase it.

Watch Out for Ticks

You may be dressed like you’re going into battle with a beehive, covering every inch of your skin to prevent picking up ticks, but your dog isn’t so lucky. Long fur or short, they’re still susceptible to tick bites so check them daily.

Use tick keys or tweezers to remove any hitchhikers. It takes 24 hours after a bit for a tick to transmit disease which is why developing a good, daily tick check routine is important. If you believe your dog may be infected, save the tick in a jar for testing and consult your vet.


This may sound like common sense, but the weather will present its own challenges on the trail, especially for certain breeds.

When it’s hot out, you may have a hard time keeping your dog properly hydrated and their body temperature regulated. The cold presents its own problems – hypothermia and cut paws to name a couple. Know what weather conditions lay ahead and plan accordingly.

For instance if it’s summer, avoid mid-day hikes and head out early morning or late evening when it’s cooler. Choose a trail with shade and water access so they can cool down their paws if possible. If there’s snow on the ground, perhaps put on their booties and keep it short.

Each breed will react differently to the elements so use common sense.

Safely Tackle Water Crossings

Can your dog swim? Forging a river isn’t the ideal time to find out. Know your dog’s swimming abilities before encountering any water crossings.

If they can’t swim, bring a doggie PFD along. Even the best swimmers shouldn’t be doggie paddling in rushing whitewater. Carry your dog across if it’s safe for you to do so.

Beware of Waterborne Pathogens

Your dog might habitually lap up water out of a muddy puddle as opposed to a clean bowl, but they’re still susceptible to waterborne pathogens – like giardia.

It’s best to avoid stagnant water at all costs. Dogs who swim or drink stagnant water are more likely to develop a waterborne illness.

If your dog has been in contact with a body of stagnant water and develops symptoms such as rash, diarrhea, vomiting, or anything warranting concern, then consult your vet immediately.

Pro Tip: Visit PetMD to find out more on waterborne pathogens.

Proper Canine Trail Etiquette

There are some unspoken rules when taking your dog out into nature. It only takes a few bad dogs and terrible owners to ruin it for everyone, so if you want to keep taking your furry friend with you, you’ll need to practice proper canine etiquette.

To start, you’re solely responsible for keeping your dog under control whether on or off leash. If your dog doesn’t respond to voice command, Fido should always be on a leash – even if it’s not required.

If other hikers, bikers, or horses approach, give them the right of way. Step off the trail, give your dog the sit command and let the others pass before continuing. It’s also nice to give other approaching hikers a friendly greeting so they know your dog is friendly too.

Whatever you do, never, ever let your pooch approach other people, or dogs, before asking – even on a leash.

I know it’s hard to believe, but not everyone likes dogs. Some people are deathly afraid. And you never know how other dogs will react despite how adorable they may look.

If you know your dog doesn’t play well with others, pull them off the trail and wait for the other dog to pass.

Maggie, for instance, loves people but doesn’t do so well with other dogs. On one particular hike, we came across a group of dogs romping about together. I politely pulled her way off the trail, but to my dismay, the other dogs were all playing off leash.

The pack came barreling towards her, disobeying their owner’s call. And yet despite my verbal warning, the seemingly unconcerned owners took their sweet time to retrieve their pups.

Luckily, I kept Maggie at my side and under control until the dogs finally retreated. I was proud of Maggie for keeping her cool and surprised by the lack of trail etiquette.

Their bad decision to not leash their dogs with another approaching could have easily turned for the worse.

If your dog just so happens to love every tail they encounter, be advised the other ones might not. Ask before letting them greet and keep them under control at your side until you get the go ahead.

Oh, and when others aren’t around you may be tempted to let your dog run free, but please respect the wildlife and plants around you. There may be sensitive habitat restoration areas along the trail so keep your dog on the path.

And please, please, remember to pack it in and pack it out. Trails lined with plastic poop bags aren’t nice for anyone.

When in doubt, use common sense.

Pro Tip: Learn more about proper canine etiquette at Outdoors.org.

Doggie First Aid

Injuries happen. Whether it’s minor or major, you need to be prepared and a doggie first aid kit can help.

Like your first aid kit, your dog’s should include a variety of emergency items ready to help you two out in a pinch.

While every kit may look different, a proper doggie first aid kit should have:

  • Medical records
  • Pet first aid book
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Antiseptic
  • Gauze
  • Adhesive tape
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Benadryl
  • Towel
  • Flashlight
  • Emergency blanket
  • Thermometer
  • Tick key
  • Muzzle

In addition, you’ll also need to include any medications prescribed and keep in mind any special instructions from your vet.

First Aid Situations and How to Tackle Them

When you’re out in nature, there’s no emergency vet on call waiting to arrive at the scene. So you’ll need to be prepared with some basic first aid.

Here are a few situations you may encounter and some helpful tips on how to deal with each one.

Paw Cuts

Your dog’s paw pads may seem indestructible, but even they are susceptible to the elements. Jagged rocks, cold weather, sensitive paws, and long miles are perfect conditions for cutting up your pup’s paws. If you notice any limping or paw licking, check for cuts.

In the case of torn paw pads, follow these steps by VCA Hospitals:

  1. Clean the wound
  2. Apply pressure to stop bleeding
  3. Place gauze on the wound and wrap to keep in place
  4. Change bandages daily


Puncture wounds can range from mild to deadly. The severity will determine if you bandage up and keep on trotting or you seek immediate care. In either case, you’ll need to dress the wound appropriately. PetMD recommends bandaging the wound if it’s bleeding profusely, is located in the chest, or there’s an object wedge in.

If it’s a bite wound, Backcountry recommends first flushing it with water. From there if the bleeding isn’t severe, let the wound breathe and drain. If it’s bleeding profusely, apply pressure with a clean cloth or towel until it ceases. Your dog may be in need of stitches and should be checked by the vet.


Harnesses, collars, doggie packs, skin on skin, these can all cause your dog to chaff. Be on the lookout for any redness or hair loss as these can be signs of chafing.

If you do notice chafing, Rover suggests first cleaning and drying the affected area then applying a soothing agent. Coconut oil, witch hazel, and Vaseline are a few that can help.

Like you, your dog will need some time to heal the area before it gets worse. In this event, if the chafing was caused by a pack, collar, or otherwise, do not proceed to use these items. If it was caused by skin on skin chafing, give your doggie some time to rest before heading back out on another hike.

Allergic Bug Bite Reactions

Do you swell up like a balloon from a mosquito bite? Your dog may too. According to the experts over at VCA, dogs can have allergic reactions to insects bites just like people. This can result in redness, swelling, hives, vomiting, difficulty breathing, or even anaphylactic shock.

To treat an allergic reaction, you can give your dog Benadryl – also known as Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride. Just like you, this can safely be given to dogs, but as always, discuss with your vet prior.

Burrs, Thorns, and Stickers

These things are pesky buggers and should be removed before causing any serious harm. Luckily, it’s easy to do so. A pair of tweezers can remove any thorns or stickers. For burrs, simply remove them with your hand.

If they’re really stuck in there, you can use this nifty trick by dog owner Kait. Take a look:

Apply a little coconut oil and gentle free up any annoying burrs. Just like routine tick checking, get into the habit of looking for any burrs, thorns, or stickers after any outdoor adventure.


I know what you’re thinking, sunburn through all that fur? Are you crazy?

Like people, dogs can and will get sunburned. Their ears, nose, and stomach being the most vulnerable. You can help prevent this by using pet sunscreen – yes it does exist!

However, if you do notice any pink coloring, wrap your dog in a t-shirt. Keep them in the shade if possible and try to keep them cool. With a severe sunburn, they can even develop a fever so it’s best to consult your vet to diagnose the severity of any burn.

Broken Bones

With all the endless leaping, running, and sustained energy you may think your dog to be invincible on the trail. That is until they break a bone.

If your dog took a nasty fall or you suddenly notice signs of pain, swelling, difficulty moving, deformities, or grinding sounds, they could be suffering from a broken bone.

Unfortunately, unless it’s an open break and the bone is sticking out, the only way to tell is to get an x-ray. Meaning you’ll need to carry your pup off the trail.

If you have a Great Dane this probably isn’t going to happen, so you’ll need a splint to prevent the broken limb from moving. Backcountry suggests fashioning one out of a trekking pole, tent pole, large stick, or any other sturdy object around.

Take your time making your way back to the trailhead and proceed to the vet.


It’s important to know how to recognize and treat doggie dehydration if your furry friend is going to become your favorite hiking companion.

Some of the common symptoms to look out for are:

  • Heavy panting
  • Dry nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Attitude change
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of energy
  • Sunken eyes

American Kennel Club notes you can tell if your dog’s dehydrated by doing a skin elasticity test. Pinch the skin between two fingers. If it doesn’t spring back into position right away, your dog is dehydrated.

In this case, you’ll need to not only replenish fluid loss but electrolytes as well. Find a shady spot and get them to drink. To replenish electrolytes, Pedialyte can help.

If it’s more severe, see medical attention immediately.

Heat Stroke

Notice any excessive panting, sluggish body language, or high body temperature? Your dog is likely experiencing heat stroke. Find a cool, shady spot and let them relax. Give them water to drink and cool them down lightly with some.

If your pup isn’t feeling better after 30 minutes, get them to the vet pronto.

During warmer months, it’s best to keep any hiking activity to mornings and nights to avoid any extreme heat.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, hiking in frigid temps can lead to doggie hypothermia. According to Pet MD, this occurs in three separate stages ranging from mild to severe and is determined by body temperature.

Mild hypothermia having a body temperature of 90 – 99°F (or 32 – 35°C), moderate hypothermia 82 – 90°F (28 – 32°C), and severe hypothermia having a temperature less than 82°F (28°C).

The quickest way to find out if your dog has hypothermia is to use a thermometer. If you don’t have one in your doggie first aid, then you should be aware of the following symptoms:

  1. Mild Hypothermia symptoms include weakness, lack of mental awareness, and shivering.
  2. Moderate Hypothermia symptoms include low blood pressure, shallow breathing, and muscle stiffness.
  3. Severe Hypothermia symptoms include dilated pupils, difficulty detecting a pulse, and trouble breathing.

If your dog is experiencing hypothermia, wrap them in an emergency blanket and seek medical help.

Smaller dogs, puppies, and old dogs are more susceptible to getting hypothermia so keep this in mind when hiking with these furry friends.


Is your pup slowing down? Odds are he’s getting fatigued. Take a breather and let them recover.

If their heart rate and breathing are taking longer than usual to get back to normal, it’s best to throw in the towel for the day and let them rest.

Altitude Sickness

You aren’t the only one to feel woozy when over climbing your altitude boundaries, your dog is too. Believe it or not, they are affected by altitude just like you and me.

Some symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive panting
  • Dizziness
  • Increased pulse
  • Tired
  • Swollen feet
  • Nosebleeds

The best way to prevent sickness is by pacing your hike and giving your dog plenty of water.

However, if and when these symptoms occur, it will likely be at 8,000 feet or higher. Should you notice symptoms caused by altitude sickness, then you’ll want to slowly hike down to lower elevation and let your dog rest, giving them plenty of water.

Basically, Know When to Stop

Unfortunately, your pooch can’t scream out and say “hey there, I’m pooped”. Making it even more difficult, there’s no right or wrong length of mileage any one dog can do. So it’s best to do some trial hikes and get comfortable with knowing your dog’s limits.

If you start to notice any funny body language, take a breather. And when in doubt, always seek medical attention.

Pro Tip: If you’re a crazy adventure junkie and your pup is too, or want peace of mind, consider getting Pet First Aid and CPR certified. American Red Cross offers online training.

Worst Case Scenario

When I was in my early 20s, I went on a day hike with a friend. It was a 4.2 mile out and back trail to a set of three stunning waterfalls. Long story short, she slipped on a boulder, busted open her head, and ended up leaving the hospital six hours later with 10 staples.

Do you think we planned for that? Absolutely not. We naively didn’t even have a proper first aid kit on hand. When you’re traveling with your pet, it’s best to think of a worst case scenario such as this and make a disaster game plan.

Make a plan for any events such as getting stuck in bad weather, getting lost, or winding up injured. This can include anything from training your pup in crisis scenarios right on down to carrying a simple map.

However you plan for a worst case scenario, before you go you should know the closest medical facility and have any contact information you need handy.

Know your trail, pack your doggie first aid, and know the first aid basics should you need to use it.

Camping Out

Are you turning your hiking trip into a backpacking trip? Excellent! Extending the trip to an overnighter can be an incredibly rewarding experience for you both, that is, as long as you plan ahead.

So first things first, let’s discuss your sleeping arrangements. Are you tenting it? Or are you a hammock sleeper?

Tent Camping

If you’re sleeping in a tent, you’ll need enough room for your dog to sprawl out. We all know how much they like to take up the bed at night so be sure you have enough space for the two of you to sleep comfortably.

If your dog is smaller, you can probably comfortably snuggle up on the same sleeping pad. If they’re the size of a Great Pyrenees, you’ll probably want a little more space.

In this case, pack a separate pad for them. Even though they’re dogs, they’ll want to be comfortable too. Unless you want to find yourself unwillingly giving up your comfy space, be sure they have their own.

Along with being comfy on a doggie pad, you may also want to bring along their own sleeping bag. Ruffwear makes one just under a pound so you won’t have to worry about too much extra weight.

Tenting a Wet and Muddy Pup

Dealing with a wet, muddy dog before going to bed isn’t typically the highlight of a hiking and camping trip, but it happens. I like to bring a packable microfiber towel to help dry them off.

These tend to be fairly cheap and not take up much space.

Giant sized wearable towels like the Snuggly Dog Towel are another option. If you can’t get them dry enough in time and don’t want everything soaking wet, they can wear these like a bathrobe.

However, if your dog is muddy as hell and soaked to the bone, a towel probably won’t cut it. Don’t worry, you still have a couple options. One is to let the pup sleep in the tent vestibule. This way they’re still next to you, but not soaking everything up inside.

Another option is to let them have their own tent. I would only recommend this if they’re fine sleeping on their own and won’t wind up crying all night for you.

Oh, and if you’re worried about those paws tearing up your tent floor, keep the nails trimmed to prevent any damage. You could also slap on some dog socks for extra protection.

Hammock Camping

Prefer the hammock to the tent? No problem. You can still sleep soundly swaying between the trees, you’ll just have to determine how you’ll do it with your doggie too. Here’s a few options:

Your dog sleeps with you

If you and your pup can comfortably cuddle up, then there’s no reason why your dog can’t share your hammock. Comfortable being the key word here. If either of your toss and turn or you have a large dog, you’re going to have a terrible time sharing.

Your dog sleeps in their own hammock or tent

For those that find sleeping with more than one in a hammock incredible difficult, then perhaps you should give your dog their own sleeping space and set up a hammock of their own.

Another option is a doggie tent. They’ll still be secure and protected from any pesky mosquitos that come their way.

Your dog sleeps on a leash or line

If your dog isn’t going to be sleeping in a tent or hammock, then nestle them down for the night on a pad by your side.

To ensure they don’t run away, you can do one of two things. First, you can tie their leash next to you so they have plenty of room to curl up right under you. Or you can run a line and clip them to it using a leash and a carabiner.

Pro Tip: For more tips, take a look at this video from a seasoned hammock camper.

Test It Out

It’s a good idea before trying out any new sleeping routine to practice beforehand. Mimic your sleeping arrangements in the backyard, or at a car camping site if you don’t have one, to test the waters. Let them get used to going in and out and sleeping with any new gear.

Like wearing a pack and stomping around with booties, this may take some getting used to for your dog and you.

Pack it in and Pack Back Out those Poop Bags

Nothing is more frustrating than wondering along a breathtaking trail and stumbling across a tied up poop bag on the side. Why even bother to tie it up at all? The poop bag fairies aren’t coming to clean it up.

Even when hiking with your dog, it’s expected of you to practice the leave no trace rule. This means on day hikes you take those plastic poop bags back out with you.

If you just so happen to be doing an overnighter, practice the same etiquette you do with your own waste. Bury any doggie dodoo at least 6 inches deep and 200 feet away from water sources or the trail.

Talk to Your Vet

Before embarking on any new exercise, talk to your vet. Be sure their vaccinations are up to date and are in good health for any strenuous exercise.

Pups too young may still be developing and not have a strong enough immune system yet. Discuss a good age to start hiking before embarking on a trek. Also, keep in mind any preventive medications they may need according to where you’re hiking.

The more you prepare, the better your hiking experience will be.

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