Hiking with a partner or two always seems to make the trek all that more enjoyable, particularly when your company is of the furry persuasion. If you’ve already been out on the trails with your dog, then you’re familiar with how rewarding your day in the woods can be with Man’s Best Friend. I look at it this way: at the very least I’ve gone from talking to myself to talking to another living being on the trail, even if they don’t use the same language I do. The spring in their steps and the wagging tails say it all. I have to believe people aren’t the only ones that get cabin fever during the cold weather months.
While there are various reasons you may be motivated to leash up your dog and hit the trails, one of your first considerations should be that of safety; safety for you and your dog as well as others hiking the same trail. Taking your dog with you out in the woods isn’t a complicated addition to any preparation you already do for yourself prior to hiking, but here are a few quick things to remember:
Just as you pack water for yourself, make sure your dog will have plenty of water available either in the way of a canteen or a collapsible bowl that you can fill from a fresh stream along the way. Pack him/her a snack as well, since it’s easy to work up an appetite in just a few short hours.
Review the first aid kit you keep in your daypack (you DO keep a first aid kit, right??) and consider adding an extra roll or two of gauze in the event your dog is injured and you need to wrap a leg or paw.
Be sure to carry your dogs’ rabies vaccination certificate with you, particularly if you will be entering a state park. Most state and national parks will not admit you with your dog unless you can provide the certificate describing the dog and showing the date of the vaccine.
Purchase a good canine bug repellent. There are many on the market geared toward dogs and even some that are formulated with natural ingredients. Swarms of black flies and mosquitoes are not fun for man or beast.
Make sure you have a good retractable leash. Since your dog will inevitably want to sniff his way up and down the trail, a retractable leash will allow you to give him some leeway while reserving the right to reel him in when other hikers approach.
Depending on the season you are in, you may want to consider putting a bright bandana or even a field vest on your dog. Not only will hunters now see the flash of blaze orange, keeping your dog out of harm’s way, but other hikers won’t mistaken your dog coming at them for a bear or other wild animal. (Laugh, but my Newfoundland was mistaken for a bear once and I thought the woman walking toward us would have a heart attack).
If the terrain you’ll be routinely hiking with your dog is rough and particularly rocky, you may consider checking out some of the hiking ‘boots’ they have to protect the pads of your dogs feet. If you decide you and dog are destined to spend many more hours in the woods together, consider putting your dog to work by strapping a saddlebag/daypack on him/her, contingent on his/her breed, of course.
Lastly, in order to be sure both you and your dog have an enjoyable experience hiking together, treat your dog as you would any other friend and don’t take him/her on a hike of great difficulty right off the bat. If you had a human friend that was new to hiking you wouldn’t take him/her up a steep eight hour climb, so don’t expect your dog to do it unless you want to be carrying him back down.
For more information on hiking and backpacking with your dog, as well as finding local dog-friendly destinations, check out www.hikewithyourdog.com.