Day hiking is a great way to introduce your dog to the trails and helps build stamina and ability. You will get to appreciate the aspects of hiking with a dog while still enjoying the outdoors and time with your dog. There are 7 key items to bring when hiking with your dog on a day hike of a few hours or more.
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1. A Leash
Nature is a pretty exciting place for any dog and they will probably want to go everywhere. So a leash is good for control when hiking with a dog. But even if your dog is perfectly trained and you are comfortable going off leash at times (check the park regulations), it’s a good idea to have a leash handy for when you encounter other hikers, dogs, and wildlife.
Parents like to take their kids hiking and not all kids like dogs. We don’t need to traumatize anyone today. For that part some grown ups don’t like dogs either, crazy right? But also, my Golden Retriever loves people! He will run right past any dog that wants to play and sit on the other person’s feet and lean on them. Sounds fun until the other hiker is an 80 year old with a cane and gets knocked over. No mal-intent and everyone survived but lesson learned, control and caution is never a bad thing.
Your existing leash should be good enough to get by, but if you are looking for a hiking leash that you can fasten around your waist and has some variability and added handle grips for tight control the RUFFWEAR Bungee leash is a common recommendation.
A Word of Caution on Wildlife
Deer and squirrels are cute and you might lose the dog on a quick diversionary chase, generally no big deal. But snakes and other pointy critters are a little different. Know your environment and the inhabitants of the area. I was hiking on the AT in Pennsylvania and came upon a rattlesnake crossing the trail. The snake was close enough to give me a warning rattle and I quickly leashed my dog. I was lucky because I had instructed my dog to follow rather than lead and I had a leash in hand. If your dog is creative on their interpretation of your commands, then be cautious when on the trail.
Also, there is a rattlesnake vaccine for dogs if you plan to be a regular hiker in rattlesnake country. There is a healthy debate on the vaccine, so you should decide for yourself. The below video summarizes the debate pretty well, its not anti-venom but it might give you more time to deal with the consequences of a bite.
2. A Dog Harness or Dog Backpack
Dog harnesses have a lot of advantages over your typical collar for hiking. The harness configuration prevents the leash and collar from choking your dog under stress and will not slip off once the harness is attached.
If your dog is a manageable weight the harness is a reliable way to pick up your dog when dealing with hazards on the hike. Lifting a dog up a steep rock face or over some white water.
Many harnesses have pockets or serve as a full dog backpack. See the list on Amazon.
Fitting a harness is important to ensure there is no chaffing and to prevent injuries. At the simplest level you should ensure the harness has a vertical chest strap to support the dog and keep the harness in its desired configuration. The maximum weight a dog should carry is 25% of their body weight and I would stay under that.
Its important to remember that dogs are susceptible to most of the same water borne pathogens as humans. You should filter, treat, or pack-in the water your dog drinks just as you do for yourself. Remember, you are the brains of the operation here.
Most dogs are good with 1-1.5 ounces of water per day per pound of body weight. For day-hikes bring extra water and keep a bottle in the car for when you’re done.
Unless your dog has figured out how to drink from a bottle, a collapsible bowl is the way to go. They fit easily into your backpack and some have clips to keep them on the outside. If you dog has a pouch on their harness, let the dog carry it!
These have a reputation for breaking and wearing out, so buy a two pack and don’t over invest.
Bring food for your dog. They will probably eat whatever your bring for yourself and my dog has grown fond of granola but this is supposed to be enjoyable for them so bring some treats for your day hikes and pack in their normal food for overnighters to keep some consistency.
My dog loves Greenies Dental Chews as a treat which helps when we’re sleeping in the same tent or riding in the car for an extended period.
5. First Aid
Hopefully you are already packing a basic set of first aid for yourself to get you through any emergencies. You should have a tweezer, some anti-septic wipes, sterile pads, and tape.
Most of the same gear works for the dog. A good addition is a first aid field guide for dogs and a muzzle. I’ve never had to use a muzzle, but if my dog is hurt and I need to pick him up or wrap a broken bone, I will use a muzzle.
Another minimalist addition to the first aid kit is a set of dog boots. A dog isn’t walking on trail shoes and regardless of how tough their paws are there are plenty of sharp rocks and thorns to injure their paws. My dog doesn’t hike with boots on all the time. But I do have a set for winter hikes to keep the snow from getting between his toes. You can keep a good set of winter Kurgo Boots in the first aid kit just in case.
There are dedicated dog first aid kits that you should evaluate if you plan on backpacking with your dog regularly. And its not a bad idea to either read up or carry a book on dog first aid.
6. Flea and tick prevention
I like quick checks at the end of my hikes rather than full body scans through the fur so I keep a month long treatment on my dog. It definitely works and I don’t have to worry about bringing anything home on the dog. I spray some picaridin on myself, so I give some thought to my dog too.
At the end of hike, my dog can be muddy and seems to pick up burrs and leaves regardless of where we have been hiking. Two things I keep to deal with this.
First, a water bottle shower head from Kurgo. I don’t know why I didn’t get one of these earlier. Its handy for myself as much as for the dog and the price is right. I keep it at the car for when I return. Also, keep a towel handy for the drying. The one downsides of the Kurgo is that it requires a 2 liter soda bottle and won’t fit a regular water bottle tightly enough to stay on.
Second, a fur brush. To be honest, I don’t go overboard here but I do work out anything excessive that I want off the dog before he jumps in the truck. A double sided brush with pins and bristles is useful to deal with tangles and work out any dirt as needed.
That’s the basics for day hiking with a dog and the gear is useful as you get into overnighting and thru hiking. So, start with a day hike pack and build up the training for the dog while you build up your equipment.