Hiking With Your Dog: 11 Tips to Keep Your Best Friend Safe

Hiking with your dog
Hiking with your dog

Tips for Hiking with your Dog

If you’re looking to go hiking with your dog, it’s important to be prepared. I’ve read far too many stories about people taking their dog hiking, when they shouldn’t be, and their dog paying the price. Sure, our dogs want to come everywhere with us, and we love to bring them along, but there are some important thing to consider before any hike.

Read on for 11 tips for hiking with your dog!

1. Be real about your dog’s capabilities

The #1 rule to hiking with your dog: consider whether your dog really want to go hiking. Do you have a super cute pug who gets tired walking down the street? Or maybe even a super lazy huskie (not all turn out to be hikers, trust me!)

If your dog isn’t excited about hiking, leave them at home. Hiking with your dog might sound fun for you, but might not be for your dog. My dog is a 23-pound cocker-spaniel-ish, and he loves it! He is well conditioned for it. He can’t get enough. And he’s been that way since a puppy.

But I’ve had friends bring their dogs hiking who had to turn around after 15 minutes and hang out at camp while the rest of us continued on. I also have a friend who has a huskie – a breed you’d think would be great for hiking. And although her dog is in great shape, she hates hiking, running, and anything more than walking around the neighborhood.

Please don’t try to force your dog to do something they don’t like just so you can get a cool Instagram photo.

2. Check the weather

This is obviously important for hiking anyway, but more so when you’re hiking with your dog aka, your best friend! When I first started hiking, I decided to take my dog on this one popular trail east of San Diego.

Biggest mistake ever.

It was May, and weather.com told me it would be in the 80’s. However, weather.com hadn’t adequately predicted the weather for the trail I was hiking. Reaching my car at 2 pm, it turned out to be 102 degrees. He struggled the whole way up, and we had to carry him much of the way. This was very abnormal for my very stubborn and proud dog.

Two weeks later, I read about a group who hiked the same trail with their 2 dogs and one died on the way up, while the group had to be helicoptered out. I now use weather.gov which allows you to pinpoint your location on a map to get a much more accurate forecast. If it’s going to be hot, let your dog rest at home!

3. Bring enough water for both of you

Remember, you don’t only need enough water to get to where you’re going hiking with your dog – you need enough to get back! If you’re going somewhere with streams, your dog can obviously drink that. But, you’ll still want to bring some along for any dry areas.

If you’re not sure what the water situation is on the trail, call the local Ranger and ask!

4. Research the trail thoroughly beforehand

If I’m going hiking with my dog on a trail I’ve never hiked, I try to find as many photos and reviews as possible. What kinds of things are people saying? Does it look like there is shade along the trail for your pup to rest? What does the incline/decline of the trail look like? Is it a dirt path, or rocky that could hurt your pup’s paws? How long is the hike, and how long are people saying it took them?

Then put this together with tip #1 for hiking with your dog and consider if this is the right trail for you and your bff. If it looks like maybe there isn’t enough shade, or maybe it will be too rough on their paws, go check it out yourself, first. You can always go back with your dog if you find out the trail is comfortable for them!

5. Pack snacks for you AND your dog

Humans need fuel, and so do dogs. Bring some extra treats for your buddy to give them fuel while you’re hiking.

6. Consider the season

If you’re hiking in the summer, start your hike early. In San Diego, if you’re hiking with your dog, you should be on the trail by 7 am. By 11 am, it’s going to be in the 80s and your dog very well could overheat. Try to be done hiking with your dog by noon.

If you’re hiking in the winter, time it around when the sun will keep you both warm. If you’re hiking in the mountains, consider that storms move through early afternoon, so you want to be done before that. The last thing you want is to be stuck on a summit when a storm moves in! And make sure you bring a headlamp in case your hike gets you back to the trailhead after dark.

7. Keep your dog on a leash

I know, hiking with your dog on a leash doesn’t seem like fun. But, it’s safe.

First of all, it saves them from hiking the trail 3 times. Ever see a dog hike off leash and run up ahead, then back to you, then up ahead, then back to you? It has to be exhausting, but they’re often too excited to care.

It also protects your dog by keeping them close to you in the event they run curiously into a rattlesnake. Or any other danger that they won’t be prepared for.

Last, it’s considerate. Some people, believe it or not, are afraid of dogs. But also, dogs can be unpredictable. Especially if you’ll be on a crowded trail, be considerate of people around you who may not be comfortable with dogs.

I don’t always hike with my dog on a leash, especially when we’re backpacking. But I do have him trained to hike right next to us and not run up ahead, and when he doesn’t feel like listening, he goes straight on the leash.

8. Don’t wait for your dog to tell you how they feel

Dogs are great, but they’re not always as in tune with what’s going on inside as humans are. They can’t tell you – hey, I’m feeling a little overheated right now. Can we take a break? My dog, given the chance, would hike himself to death on the hottest day and not care.

If you’re going hiking with your dog, don’t wait for them to show you they’re TOO hot or TOO tired. Hike smart, stop often for breaks, and pay attention to the little signs. If you see them slowing down, take a break and make sure it’s just a little fatigue and not something worse. If you wait for the serious signs, it could very well be too late for you to do anything.

9. Check their paws often

Hiking with your dog means that everything you’re hiking on with your nice new hiking boots, they’re hiking on barefoot. Sure, their feet can withstand more than ours, but it can still be painful.

The first time I took my dog hiking Mount Baldy in California, his pads were completely torn up. I had to put socks on his paws for a week after to keep him from licking them, and causing an infection. You can try hiking booties, but my dog hates them. They just don’t have enough grip and he looks at me every few steps like “seriously, mom??”. Luckily, he’s developed tougher pads since then so his pads don’t get cut up anymore.

So, if your dog won’t hike with booties, just keep an eye on them as you hike. If they look like they’re getting torn up, consider turning around.

10. Hike the shoulder seasons

Hiking with your dog in the summer is tough. In most places, it’s just too hot. Hiking with your dog in the winter can be tough too, obviously. But spring and early fall are beautiful times to hike with your dog. The days are long enough, the weather is comfortable enough, the views are still spectacular.

11. Don’t be afraid to turn around

One time, I went to go hiking with my dog on a short trail in San Diego that I know well. The trail starts out narrow through tall brush, and all I could hear was the loud sound of buzzing bees. I had read about a woman and her dog being attacked by a swarm of bees nearby the week before and decided not to risk it. It’s one thing to put myself in an uncomfortable position, it’s another thing with my best friend.

I turned around and went back to my car with zero guilt. I don’t care how far you drive or how much planning goes into the hike. If you get there and something doesn’t feel right – it’s too hot, not enough shade, not enough water – turn around. Don’t do it.

I love seeing people getting out and enjoying the outdoors, but I encourage everyone to do it responsibly. If you don’t go that day, try another day – or another trail. Just because you don’t hike that day with your dog doesn’t mean you can’t at all. But, trust your instincts so that you end up with a great experience hiking with your dog!

Thanks for reading - feel free to add comments or questions below!