Hiking or Backpacking with a Dog: a Beginner’s Guide for Your Best Friend

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If you are like me, then you enjoy going outside, but you will love it even more if you go out there with your dog. For this reason, you need to have a guide for backpacking or hiking with a dog. In this article, you will get an overview of safety tips, supplies, and preparation. Read on to find out everything you need to know.

Bracing Your Pooch

Taking your dog to the wild is a big step. There are new rules and a whole set of novel challenges to face. Unlike walking in the city, your dog will have to be in shape and ready for the rigors of trail life.

  • Is your dog able? To go on a trail, you have to be in shape. When I first started out hiking, I was not ready to do thirteen miles a day, but now I can because I put in the time. Consider your dog’s physical limitations and whether he or she is able to go through the rigors you plan to go through.
  • Is the immune system ready? When I first traveled to Kenya, I threw up two days after I arrived. It is no different for your dog. Unless your dog has done this before, then you will need to be prepared for the pathogens, bugs, and ills your dog will encounter.
  • Does he or she need specific medications? Some dogs needs arthritis pills, pain meds, or another medication on a regular basis. When you are out in the wild, you will probably be hours away from any sort of medical help. You are alone, so carry what your dog needs.

Visit your veterinarian. If there is someone who knows animals really well, it is your vet. They will answer the above questions and more. Tell them that you are planning to take your dog to the wild and broach any concerns you may have. He or she will help give you the knowledge you need.

Leave no trace. When traveling into the wild, you have to be more careful than you ordinarily would to follow leave no trace principles because of your dog. They do not understand the doctrine like you do, so they will roam around and tear up the environment if you let them.

Use obedience training. When you are hiking, you will need to use more than just your leash. If a horse, another dog, or people pass by, then you will have to keep your dog calm. It is more than just having a leash on your dog, but rather your pooch has to have the discipline to do what you say.

Know the regulations. Each park has rules when it comes to bringing along a dog, so be sure to know them. Some do not allow them at all, while others let them in but with restrictions. Learn about where you want to go and then select your trail.

Start small and build up to the trail. If you are like me, then you may have jumped into something big before and done not too bad. With a dog, you cannot do that. You have to take them by the paw and lead them up to something big like a multi day backpacking trip. Start with regular trail outings and increase the distance as you progress.

Sleeping Together in a Tent

When in a tent with your dog, it is quite different from sleeping on a bed together at home. The space is more confined and your dog is an unfamiliar environment.

  1. Keep your dog calm. Accidents happen when you are not calm. Slow your heart rate down and your best friend’s too by cuddling. It reassures them that they are safe despite the overwhelming amount of sites, smells, and sounds that constantly distract them.
  2. Trim your dog’s nails. When camping, a dog’s nails can wreak havoc on a tent’s fabric, so keep them trim and short. It prevents them from ruining your tent, saving you a lot of money and headache.
  3. Use a comforter or dog bed. At night, your dog will want something soft to lay on. A comforter or bed will be perfect to keep them at ease.

Safety Concerns

When heading out into the wild, there are a number of hazards your dog could run into, so it is important to be aware of them. Here they are:

  • Wildlife is ever present in nature. Keeping your dog on a leash is the best defense against bears, mountain lions, and other large mammals. You have control of your dog when he or she is on a leash.
  • Wild plants are another concern. There is poison oak, ivy, nettles, thorns, and the like outside. Fox tails are your biggest concern. They can end up between toes and cause a lot of pain if your dog is not careful. They are found in grasses during the Spring and Summer.
  • Heat stroke, when traveling in a hot area, you and your dog need plenty of time to rest. Dogs, unlike that of people, can only reduce their heat level by panting. If your dog is heaving a lot, then it is time for a break under the shade of a tree.
  • Water safety, dogs have a habit of drinking from a stream or lake if the see one, making them susceptible to pathogens. Bring you own if you are worried about those. As well, if your dog cannot swim and you need to cross a stream, then you will have to carry them across.
  • Going too hard, because I wrestled, I have a tendency to go all in. I hold nothing back. It is different for your dog. Watch how they breathe during a break. If they are limping or panting, then it is time to get off the trail.

Two Steps for Preparing Your Dog for a Pack

If you are backpacking or hiking for any period of time, then you will need a backpack for your dog. It separates the everyday walk around the block from an actual hike.

  1. Measure your dog’s girth. Each pack is sized differently and the primary way is through girth. It is the widest part around your dog’s rib cage. Your dog will want it not too tight, but not too loose either.
  2. Train your dog with pack on it. Hiking is a lot different from strolling the neighborhood, so you need to acclimate your dog to wearing one. This involves putting it on them empty and then progressively building up the weight. Twenty-five percent of your dog’s body weight is the maximum, but it is a rough guideline for tailoring to your dog’s particular needs. Bribe them with treat if you need to do so.

Needed Supplies

When venturing into the wild as you normally would, your dog will need supplies just as you do. In a previous article, I looked at common supplies you could bring with you.

Gear

  • Dog backpack, it can be quite a lot to carry everything for your dog, so split the load. Get one for your dog, so he or she carries some weight.
  • Collapsible bowl, when going into the wild, your dog will need a bowl to eat and drink out of. Aim to get one that is lightweight, collapsible, and durable to hold up to the rigors of trail life.
  • Paw boots, if your dog does not have boots, there are rocks, branches, thorns, hot ground, and sharp objects your dog could step on when outside. You wear boots to protect your feet and it is no different for your best friend.
  • Safety light, wrap one of these around your dog’s neck or body, so you can them at night. Once it gets dark out, then you will have no problem keeping track of them.
  • Dog coat, it can get quite chilly outside at night. The temperature drops like a block of lead in some parts, so your dog will get quite cold. Bring a coat for them to keep them warm.
  • Dog towel, when outside, a dog can get quite dirty. From rolling around in the mud to swimming in the water, your dog is quite active, so be sure to bring a towel along for cleaning them up at the end of the day.

Essentials

  • Kibble, when going into the wild, be sure to have plenty of food for your dog to eat. They will be burning a lot of calories from carrying a pack and hiking the trail, so they need to have the necessary energy. Bring more than you need.
  • Water and container, if there is one item your dog cannot do without, it is water. You have to bring this with you, whether it is a gallon jug or in a small container. Your dog needs to be well hydrated.
  • Treats, if you have a small child or encountered one, then you know how powerful candy is. It is a wonderful bribe. For your dog, it is no different. Eating something sweet will calm them down. Use it as a tool to get your dog to do what you want.
  • First aid kit, when you are out in the woods, desert, or grasslands, you will be hours away from any medical help. Even if you have something small at the ready, then it will make all the difference if you run into trouble. I am sure that you love your dog very much.

Top Tips

When hiking and backpacking, these are the top general tips for your dog. Think about them as you hike the trail. Remembering them is critical for a wonderful trip.

  1. The leash is your best tool. With a leash around your dog’s neck, you can better control his or her movements. If you know that you are about to enter a crowded part of the trail, then use the leash. It will give you a handle on your dog despite the influx of activity.
  2. If you are thirsty, then your dog is too. When you notice yourself feeling thirsty or hungry, then it is time for a break for your dog. They need more energy if you want to continue on the hike.
  3. Be clear with your words. Dogs pay attention when you speak, but less so if you use too many words. It will overwhelm them. When you say sit, heel, or lay down. Use a deep, clear voice to let your dog know you mean business. Your dog will do what you say.
  4. Pay attention to your dog’s signals. While dogs cannot talk, they do a lot of communicating. They bark, wag their tail, pant, yowl, cry, and moan. Watch for the particular signs of your dog. You can better take care of him or her when are attuned to them.

A Final Word

When hiking with your best friend, you need to be careful. He or she does not think the same way as you do. Follow this advice and you will be sure to have a great time outside. Be conscientious. Be smart. And be disciplined to have a memorable experience.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns, please do comment below and share it. Otherwise, I hope you make it a great day!

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20 Comments on “Hiking or Backpacking with a Dog: a Beginner’s Guide for Your Best Friend”

  1. This is an amazing preparatory guide. Explained in the least detail. You did great pointing out the needs of a dog if you want it as a company.

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I was also surprised by the comment about dogs having arthritis? How do you guys detect that?? And all the medications. I’m also surprised that you can trim their nails.

    I hear a lot about animal keepers trimming the nails of their pets. I always wonder what this animal would do to scratch its body? If there is an itch? But this is really a common practice. Would you encourage that?

    I also love the picture of the dog with a backpack. Hahahaha. They are such an awesome company.

    In fact, your post was excellent.

    1. I appreciate the compliments. You do not want to miss anything when preparing your dog for trail life. It is critical for having a wonderful trip.

      Especially when it comes to arthritis and other ills, arthritis in dogs is fairly common. It can be detected by signs of swelling, discomfort, and heat. A full examination by a veterinarian will diagnosis the problem.

      When trimming your dog’s nails, you do not want to cut them too short. Ideally, they are supposed to be trim. You can still get a good scratch in without a long nail. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. I have a dog, a stray dog. I seldom let him out from the house compound. He always out of control if I let him out. I tried to use your advice: “… less words…..When you say sit, heel, or lay down. Use a deep, clear voice to let your dog know you mean business. ” — It seems much better to control him. I think I can use this technique too on my kids, haha. TQ for your info.

    1. Hello Kalis. It sounds like your dog is quite the handful. Yes, the advice is beneficial. It should help you get a better handle on your dog. If it works on your kids, let me know! Ha ha! Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. These are some great tips. I believe that animals have to adjust to the surroundings just as humans and we should be mindful of that.

    I like your idea of visiting the veterinarian. You can get some great tips to assist you before the trip. That is an idea that I would not have thought of, even though it is very practical.

    You make a great point that animals are good at giving signals. As dog owners we just have to be able to pick up on those signals. Great supplies list as well. You covered everything here. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yes Nate, animals have to learn about new environments when outside. It does help a lot to visit a veterinarian for advice. They know best when it comes to taking care of animals. If you want a better trip outside, then watch your dog’s signals. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. This is a really detailed and helpful article. Thanks for putting this together.

    Trimming the dog’s nails may seem silly but its important. I once took my dog camping and in the middle of the night she tore through the tent trying to get at a pack of raccoons outside. Luckily it was a pretty cheap tent.

    I also made the mistake once of not taking a sleeping pad for my dog so she got really cold. I ended up giving up half of mine to her and it made for a really uncomfortable couple of days.

    Do you have any tips for getting your dog to tolerate the booties? My pup hates them but we often hike on really rocky terrain and her foot pads get torn up sometimes.

    1. Hello Katie, I appreciate the compliment. It sounds like your own experience with a dog serves as a powerful reminder for future trips. Thankfully your tent was an inexpensive one and next time you will remember to get a sleeping pad. 

      When trying to get your dog to tolerate booties, my best recommendation is to bribe them with a treat. Praise them with gratitude once they put it on. Also make the boots as comfortable as possible. You can get a dog sock if need be.

      Otherwise, thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  5. what a great article, my favourite time of day is when I walk my dog for an hour in the local woods, I would love to take him to places new with me. I will definitely try out some of your tips before I go.

  6. I love this post! Not usually do you realize how much care needs to be taken if you plan to brave the outdoors with your furry friend. I’m sure lots of dogs will be thankful for you writing this as it will help them be prepared, comfortable, and most importantly hydrated! Thanks for this info! 🙂

    1. That is nice to hear Jarod. With a dog, there is more planning than you realize. I appreciate the compliment. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  7. Wow, these are some wonderful tips and guide. Thank you for all the information. I currently don’t have a dog, but I consider getting one in the near future. I love hiking, but never had the experience hiking with a dog. From reading your article, it sounds like a great adventure. I will definitely be checking out more of your article when I get a dog in the future.

    1. I appreciate the compliment Hong. With a dog at your side on the trail, you have a much more enjoyable experience. It is very lovely. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  8. It’s good that I came to this site. I am going to go to the mountains in a month and I wanted to take my dog with me.

    I did not know how to prepare for it, but you describe every detail that is important. Now I am ready to travel to the mountains with my dog. Thanks.

    1. It is good to hear you are now ready to go traveling the mountains with your dog. I am glad you found this article helpful. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  9. Hi Alex,

    I think it is amazing people are brave enough to camp and trek in the wild where you got wild bears. We do not have them in Ireland you know. However, an interesting fact on bears, well Polar Bears, they actually came from Ireland. You should look that up if you like. I was surprised to.

    I always wanted to know how to survive in the wild and live off of the land – just in case I had to one day. We men, well in Ireland anyways, have become so domesticated that living outdoors, even for one night, is terrifying and I for one would not be able to cope.

    I am fond of Dogs, but only those cute little terriers, and I never considered that a dog could be upset by being in new surroundings. That was good to know and you certainly know a lot about the psychology of Dogs – I learned something valuable here today.

    Thank you for this informative article and I will take a way a lot from it should I ever need to go out into the wild camping with mans best friend.

    All the best Alex 🙂 .

    Regards,

    Philip.

    1. Hey Philip,

      You are right that people have to be quite brave to go where there are wild bears. I did not know that Polar bears come from Ireland. That is a new one to me. I will look it up.

      It is an important skill to know how to live off the land. Not enough people know how to do it. Just like people in Ireland, Californians are quite domesticated. They have become too used to living indoors.

      Unfortunately, people forget that dogs can be upset by being in new surroundings. It varies from situation to situation, but this is new to them, so you have consider that. It is nice to know that you found this article helpful. I appreciate it.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make today a great day!

      Best,

      Alex

  10. A well written and informative article. It is inspiring to see someone hiking or traveling with their dog especially when you consider their needs also, and there are quite a few you mentioned that I would have never even thought of. We have four Great Danes and sometimes just going to the vet is an adventure in itself haha.

    1. It is wonderful to hear you found this article helpful Bruce. Dogs have a lot of needs when you think about it. It sounds like quite the adventure to have four Great Danes. I know I could not handle all those dogs. That is just incredible. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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