Hiking with Fido - Tips for Doggy Hikes
Updated: Jan 23
“I try to keep myself busy. I always hang out with my family and friends and my dogs. Go to the beach. Go swimming. Go get exercise. Go on a hike.” - Colbie Caillat
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It’s no secret that we take Buzz with us on nearly all of our road trips. We can get a lot of grief for it - Why don’t you take the other dogs? Why Buzz and no one else? Don’t you love your other dogs? Buzz is clearly the favorite.
To answer the questions we get all the time: the other dogs do not do well in the car, or aren’t good hikers, or have worse recall, etc. Buzz is small and easy to transport along with us and all of our things. We absolutely love all of our dogs, and as a good dog mom, I cannot say that I have a favorite (that would put me immediately into the “bad dog mom” category, I’m sure).
Let’s say we, for some reason, decided to bring Jackson along with us to Colorado. As a Husky mix, he should do really well in Colorado, right? Maybe, but Jackson absolutely hates the car. Even as a puppy, he would whine and howl anytime he was in the car. That quickly turned into car sickness. The car sickness dissipated fairly quickly, but the howling and whining continued - and got a lot louder and more frequent. Even the ten minute drive to the vet can be painful with him.
Xena, Rascal, and Ripley are okay in the car, but Buzz just handles the car so much better than the others do. He is also much smaller and easier to transport. If there is a fifty-five pound Husky mix howling in the back seat for twelve hours, I can guarantee that I will not be having a good time.
A lot of it, though, truly circles back to our love for hiking. When Zac and I go for a road trip, it usually means that we will be spending a large portion of our time in nature.
Ripley (the pug) hates walking for any amount of time, and I do not think she would do well even on a short hike.
Rascal (a herding mix) loves to run and hike, but has terrible recall. If he were off leash, the minute he sniffed, saw, or heard something - he would be gone forever. He was lovingly adopted from the shelter as an adult dog, and has some trust issues with new people. Bad recall along with a lack of trust for other hikers on the trail does not create a good mix. His paws are also much more sensitive (bad on the rocks and other hiking environments). Between carrying a leash around and watching Rascal’s paws, a ten or more mile hike with him sounds very unappealing.
Xena (the Red Heeler) does well in the car and can handle short hikes, but has issues with the ligaments in her hind legs that can cause pain after runs or long hikes. She really slows down after a few miles, and it would be nearly impossible to carry her around. We have brought her on one vacation before, but it was a much less active vacation than our “norm” and we felt confident that we would be doing short hikes only.
To reiterate, Jackson (the Husky mix) hates the car. One time he peed all over the backseat just to show us how much he truly hated it. For those that don’t know, he is what we call a Sharchowsky - a Sharpei-Chow Chow-Husky mix. If a person were to Google each breed individually, they would find “stubborn, but sometimes treat-driven” for each breed. That being said, his recall is not the best. He is also not great on a leash. Those two personality traits create a very bad mix for hiking with him.
Basically, Buzz is the perfect road trip dog and also the perfect hiking buddy. He does well in the car, he’s small, he listens pretty well, and he can handle miles and miles of trails at a time. We didn’t always know that, though. Just like we weren’t always sure he would be good in the car for a long ride, we weren’t positive what things would be like when we took him hiking.
In fact, the first trip we decided to take him on, we bought him a doggie carrier backpack on Amazon similar to this one. We lugged that thing around for our ten mile hike, and didn’t need it once. Thank goodness, too, because when we tried it out to check the sizing, he absolutely despised it. I don’t know that he ever would’ve been tired enough to let us carry him in that backpack.
We are true believers that the best learning comes from firsthand experiences. Hiking with a dog in Colorado, we quickly learned some of the things that worked well and some of the things that didn’t. Over the last few years of bringing Buzz along with us for hiking adventures, we have picked up additional tips and tricks along the way.
Dogs should be allowed off leash as much as possible. I absolutely do not believe dogs should be leashed at all times. In fact, I believe quite strongly in the opposite. If the dog is one of the good boys (or girls), there is nothing more enjoyable than seeing them run freely, at their own pace, to explore their new surroundings.
Off-leash hiking is the biggest reason I discussed the recall status of each of our dogs. Being able to ensure that the dog can be successfully called away from danger immediately is extremely important.
Off-leash hiking allows both the hiker and the dog to enjoy the hike at their own pace, and explore what they want to explore. I know Buzz enjoys zig-zagging through the trails to explore more ground but also stay near us.
Leashes are absolutely necessary. I know, I know. This counteracts what I said about the good boys and girls! No matter how good the dog or where a hike will be, leashes are a must. They are necessary for the dog’s safety, for the hiker’s safety, and for the safety of others.
We have had encounters with dogs that did not appreciate Buzz (I still can’t understand why - probably jealousy - but that’s beside the point), and walking him far enough away from the other dogs while Buzz was on leash kept both of our dogs safe.
We’ve come face-to-face with giant moose, mountain goats, and multiple other critters on our hikes with Buzz. Without the leash, we would’ve had to carry him past all of those animals.
On top of the other dogs and people that may be on the trails, some trails can be dangerous for dogs as well. But dogs completely know where they’re going and can keep themselves safe, some might say. I believe they are typically better on their feet than we are, but still would not ever chance letting Buzz or any other dog walk right up to the edge of Horseshoe Bend or the Grand Canyon off-leash.
Harnesses are the new black. If ever there was a “most important” piece of doggie hiking gear, it’s the harness. We picked up a Gooby escape-free harness a few years ago, and have never looked back. It is perfect for hikes (and also for Buzz’s running!).
I say that the harness is the most important piece of gear for a dog because it is another big safety feature. If the dog is being walked on a leash, in rough terrain, they could (or the hiker could) slip and fall.
If the dog has a collar around his or her neck, slipping off a trail could be detrimental and seriously injure them.
However, if the dog is wearing a harness, even if they had to be picked up by the leash (perhaps if they got too far away for the hiker to reach them by hand), it would evenly distribute the dog’s weight and allow for their safety.
Work their way up to longer hikes. Dogs have to work their way up to longer hikes and walks just like people do. One cannot expect their dog to complete an 18 mile hike without any training leading up to it. Their legs need to get used to it and their paws need to too. A big mistake that some people make is assuming that dogs can handle any length of a hike.
Please please make sure to train dogs for long hikes. I have heard horror stories about dogs with bleeding paws that cannot hike any longer. I hate to even share it, but feel it is necessary - I’ve heard even worse stories about dogs getting left on the trail by their owners because they cannot hike the rest of the way.
There is an excellent emergency harness specifically for hiking dogs that can be found here, just in case. One can never be too careful.
Booties can be an excellent addition for some dogs. Buzz trains on sidewalks, trails, rocks, and everything else. His paws have worked their way up to being strong enough to handle even long hikes on mountains. Some dogs, though, haven’t worked themselves up to that. To avoid bleeding paws, booties can be an option. I would recommend that, if using booties for hiking, the dog have plenty of time to get used to them prior to their adventures.
Bring food, water, and treats. We have learned with Buzz that he does not like to eat his normal dog food while on vacation. Our vacations are typically more active than our day-to-day lives at home, so it is very important he gets food in his system.
We bring him his normal dog food, along with wet dog food in a few different flavors - to ensure he is getting enough proper nutrients.
We also bring really high-quality treats. Buzz loves Merrick Power Bites. I like that they are all-natural and have necessary components like protein, fat, fiber, and other added minerals.
The best mixture I have found (both for running and hiking) for Buzz is to put his normal dog food and the Merrick Power Bites in a Ziplock together. I just grab handfuls throughout the hike for him, so he is getting both food and treats - and getting proper nutrition!
Since I’ve been doing this, he has actually been eating proper amounts both for runs and hikes. It has been about four years of trial and error, though, so my biggest recommendation is to keep trying to find what works for Fido.
Water, water, water! Dogs need water too, especially for warmer climates. They cannot sweat like we can so proper hydration is very important.
Remember the temperature. Dogs are decent at self-regulating their internal temperature, but it is important that we monitor it as well.
It is not recommended to have dogs out at all in temperatures below 20℉ (and that is pushing it for different breeds, sizes, and acclimations). MentalFloss has a great infographic as a guide.
It is also recommended avoid having them out in temperatures above 80℉ for too long. I love a good infographic, and DailyPaws has a good one about the heat.
Get that dog some style. Buzz is half mini poodle so we have to groom him regularly. Sometimes, this means his hair is really short for vacation. When hiking up to 14,000 feet above sea level, the temperature can be pretty chilly and windy. I probably overpack, but we typically bring a jacket, sweater, and/or a raincoat for him. For the colder morning 4 AM starts, I typically put his jacket on him (like this one), then carry it in my pack once it gets warm enough for him to take it off. We have a raincoat like this one, which I normally take in my hiking pack too.
Bring their favorite toy. This is a new trick we discovered and I am disappointed we didn’t think of it sooner. I recently bought Buzz some squeaky balls similar to these for the dog park. I, of course, packed one with us for vacation as well. We decided to bring it along on a short hike, and boy, did it do wonders. His recall was already pretty good, but with the squeaky ball, it was even better. We found that he would do one of two things: carry the ball with him, and stay closer to us; or hang out near us if we had the ball in our hand. For miles and miles at the end of our most recent long hike, he carried the ball in his mouth.
Hiking with a dog is a lot of trial and error. The biggest thing to know is that not everything is going to work out smoothly on the first try, but it is so worth trying again until it does go smoothly.
Hiking with a four-legged buddy is an absolutely incredible experience. Watching a dog see new things for the first time is so eye-opening. It really can make a person see things in a different way, and help the hiker see things with innocent awe and wonder just as the dog does. There are a few reasons that I say Buzz is my spirit animal, and watching him explore the trails is definitely one of those reasons.