by Diane Spicer
My personal story about
hiking with dogs
OK, I admit it.
I had high hopes for taking my dog hiking, in the form of a mixed breed shelter rescue named Cleo.
Maybe even unrealistic
expectations about hiking with dogs.
After all, I didn’t know her history, let alone her exact heritage or age.
Nevertheless, I was completely shocked the first time I took her out on the trail
She was a bundle of energy, long legged and
She was definitely a puppy, but
could there have been a bit of hidden ‘fraidy cat in her?
Here’s why I ask
She did just fine for the first half mile on the trail, but then a stream crossing
- It wasn’t much of a stream, probably a bit cold on her paws but
not deep enough to slow her down.
- No rock hopping or wading involved!
When I glanced over my shoulder,
there she was, sitting near the edge of the water.
She just sat there looking at me.
“Huh” I thought.
“She’s tired already.”
So I went back and got her, carried her over the
water, and was astounded when she immediately squirmed and whined to be put down on
This happened at the next stream crossing, too: exuberant puppy energy disappeared in the face of water, and miraculously re-appeared after the stream was crossed (in my arms).
I’m not a rocket
scientist (just a humble microbiologist), but it only took TWO MORE
water barriers (a snow patch and a large mud puddle on the trail) to
arrive at the conclusion that my little puppy was terrified of getting
her feet wet.
That definitely put a dent in my enthusiasm for hiking with dogs.
Doggie foot issues:
keep this in mind
when hiking with dogs
Her feet issues were driven home even harder at puppy class the next
week, when the instructor taught us how to trim toe nails.
- Cleo had to
be scraped off the ceiling – not really, but let’s just say she was “extremely unhappy”
about having her toes touched.
And then I recalled an incident that had happened on the day we adopted
her from the shelter.
We were getting to know her a bit by holding her,
and then put her down on the floor – she refused to walk more than a few
steps before wanting to be picked up again.
- So she was demonstrating
foot issues from the first day we met her.
- I just wasn’t smart enough to catch on.
I’m still wondering what sort
of traumas she endured before ending up in the shelter (she also hates
brooms and will go out of her way to avoid them).
Dangerous assumptions about
hiking with dogs
My personal story illustrates the danger of assumptions about hiking with dogs.
- Not all dogs like to hike.
- Not all dogs like water.
- Not all dogs should
be out on hiking trails due to behavior issues or physical limitations.
- And not every shelter rescue is going to make a great hiking dog.
Take home message: Be sure you touch the dog’s feet, and pretend to clip the nails, before seriously considering the dog as a hiking companion.
Foot trauma early in life does not go away!
And pay keen attention to how socialized the animal is.
You’ll be meeting lots of strangers (human and canine) on the trail, and aggressive barking or lunging on the leash isn’t going to win you any friends.
- Cleo demonstrated a protective streak that was hard to curb, and led to her hiking days being limited.
Sometimes antisocial behavior can be trained out of a dog, but not always.
You don’t want to leave your buddy at home because s(h)e can’t go along and get along, right? But sometimes hiking with dogs is not a good fit for the dog.
And then there are the dogs who are extremely uncomfortable in unfamiliar settings. They jump at every noise, they back off from “scary” encounters, and they just don’t want to be on a hiking trail.
- Have a little compassion!
for choosing a suitable
hiking canine companion
A few considerations for sizing up potential trail dogs:
- good stamina,
- coat length and
thickness (silky long coats will need heavy duty maintenance after a
- adequate leg length for clearing obstacles or wading
streams (unless you don’t mind scooping up the dog each time),
- strength for uphill climbs,
- ease of training,
- temperament (eager to please? responds to voice
Which breeds make good canine trail companions?
In the event of an accident or injury, you will need to give first aid to your hound.
If that idea gives you the heebie jeebies, this dog first aid site can get you all calmed down, with some training.
And read up on the 4 most common injuries to hiking dogs.
Smart human behaviors
make hiking with dogs
safe & enjoyable
Sometimes hiking with dogs is not about the dogs at all – it may be the
humans who do not understand how to be responsible trail companions.
Think about this for a minute with the following questions.
How tall are you? How tall is your dog?
Your view of the trail is WAY different than what your dog sees.
- Think it’s fun to have your nose in rocks and trail dirt all day?
If it’s a hot day, you are probably wearing a hat to keep the sun’s
rays off your head and out of your eyes.
Are you going to put a hat on your dog’s head?
have actually seen, with my own eyes, a floppy pink hat on a lovely but embarrassed
looking Irish Setter.
- It clashed with her coat, for sure.
- Why not just take shade breaks every so often, or schedule your hikes for early or later in the day?
You can apply sunscreen to prevent UV radiation burns to yourself, but also to your canine hiking companion.
We all sweat, but do we drool?
How many times have you gotten down on your hands and knees, wearing a heavy fur coat,
to check out the trail temperature on a hot, sunny day?
- I’ve seen some
“low riders” (short legged pups) looking rather uncomfortable
under those conditions, including a teacup Chihuahua on a rugged,
exposed mountain trail who trailed way behind her owner.
- Said owner went out of his way to assure me that “she loves hiking!!” Uh huh.
Dogs dump excess heat by panting. Ever run into a dog with its tongue rolled out to maximum length?
New meaning to the term “hot dog“!
Use a cooling bandana like this one around your dog’s neck to reduce the temperature (somewhat) for her.
Your feet are snug inside socks and boots or trail shoes.
How do you think your
dog’s paws feel after the first mile or two?
Keep your dog’s toenails clipped short to avoid broken or cracked nails, which can lead to infection.
- This includes dew claws, which can get ripped off (and bleed like crazeee when the dog barrels through brush along the trail, or scrambles over logs.
When you’re thirsty, you can stop for a drink of water from your bottle.
When you’re tired, you don’t ask your dog for permission to stop.
when your dog shows signs of fatigue (you ARE watching for those,
right?), do you keep pushing on?
- And scold the animal to “keep up”?
- Or do you offer a healthy trail treat and some love?
High profile canines
Do you take steps to make your dog visible to others on the trail?
A startled dog and a startled stranger on the trail can be a bad combination.
Here’s the punchline when
hiking with dogs
These questions sum it all up:
Do you consider your dog’s needs as
you’re packing up for a hike?
Are you responsive to trail conditions
impacting your dog’s well being?
Some dog owners simply ignore the fact
that dogs get tired and scared and uncomfortable and perhaps frustrated
on the trail, too.
One more consideration
One more potential source of unintended doggie trail abuse:
Who carries the
dog’s food and water – you or your dog?
Some breeds are born to work,
other breeds may not have the physical stamina or strong back to lug
around heavy water bottles (see link above).
If in doubt, ask your vet.
If you decide to purchase a doggie pack, be sure it fits snugly but is not overly restrictive of leg movements.
And be aware that some breeds love to roll in the mud (or brown substances much worse than mud).
- Be sure that whatever your dog carries is double wrapped in plastic. I learned that the hard way.
- Or use a pack cover for the doggie pack (you can repurpose a small daypack cover with a few modifications, or sew your own).
- Otherwise hiking with dogs might become hiking with mud pies.
Curious about what happened
to Cleo’s hiking career?
Just in case you’re wondering, Cleo no longer goes hiking with me.
had too many issues to make her a safe and reliable hiking companion.
Can you imagine me carrying a 70 pound dog over every mud puddle???
Instead, she goes for long walks around the neighborhood.
But only on dry days 🙂
Dogs on trails –
good or bad idea?
I’m very interested in your thoughts about whether or not it’s ok
to have dogs on established hiking trails, or in the back country.
Human behavior is
very important for this issue.
If you hike with dogs, you probably have some opinions about these questions:
- What does it take for hiking humans to be responsible and
considerate dog owners?
- Do they have good control of their animals, even
when off leash?
- Do owners pick up the inevitable dog poop? Should they?
- Are they aware of, and follow, the rules for hiking with dogs?
- Do they take precautions to avoid harassment of wildlife by a dog going off trail?
- What motivates people to bring dogs into the backcountry, where large mammals make their homes?
And if you don’t hike with dogs, you probably have some ideas about this topic as well.
Chime in on this issue, and let’s learn from each other about whether canine companionship is important to trail enjoyment.
- Contact me here to send me your thoughts.
The loyalty and love of a dog are priceless.
Saying good bye is difficult.
If you’re a dog owner, you know what I mean.
Best Tips For Hiking With Dogs
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