Updated: Apr 28, 2020
I've been hiking with my canine companion for nearly a decade. I'm always trying to find new and interesting ways to improve our treks so I can share them here. Below are a few things that work for me. I hope you find them useful as well!
1) Go Hands Free
One of the best things I ever did was get the leash out of my hands. The only reason I thought to do this is because I took up canicross. If you've ever ran with a dog while holding a leash, you know how difficult it can be. I currently use the joring system from Ruffwear. They also make a belt for runners if you want something more low profile.
Going hands free has helped me better keep my balance while hiking. It's also nice to have both hands free to open a water bottle or grab a poo bag.
2) Brush your dog when you get home.
I live in a heavily tick infested area. My dog gets her monthly oral flea prevention, in addition to using a flea collar, and I do my best to get the ticks off of her as we go. Inevitably I miss a few. As soon as we get home from a hike, I take her out on our back porch for a quick brush out. It helps remove any ticks that have managed to nestle down in her fur. The goal is to remove them before they get a chance to attach.
This step is doubly important if you have a dog with a dark colored coat. My dog has a white and grey coat and I still miss some of the ticks on her. In addition to a brush out, be sure to rub your fingers through your dog's coat to locate any ticks by feel. Taking all of these precautions is important since ticks can transmit Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and a laundry list of other diseases.
Don't forget to check yourself for ticks as well!
3) Invest in a pack for your dog.
Have your pup carry their own water, bowl and poo bags. I actually haven't started doing this myself yet. When I found out that friends of mine do this, I thought it was brilliant! I have my eye on the Ruffwear Approach pack. If you're interested in the Rolls Royce of dog packs, a lot of folks recommend Ground Bird Gear. Some packs even come with hydration bladders. This is handy since I always worry about carrying enough water. Having an extra vessel that's made to fit in the pack would help ease my mind.
If you're like me, you probably tend to get stuck out in the middle of the woods carrying a full poo bag without a trash bin in sight. Having my dog pack it out herself would be a big help. Not to mention that having a pack to stash it in will encourage us to pick up our dog's waste instead of just leaving it to possibly affect nearby water sources.
Most dogs have to get accustomed to wearing a pack, so plan on introducing it gradually. Condition your dog to the weight of the pack over time. A pack should weigh no more than 25% of your dog's body weight. Always be sure to consult your veterinarian before having your dog carry any weight on hikes.
4) Go regularly to increase fitness levels.
One of the worst blunders we can make for our dogs and ourselves is to not take our current fitness levels into account. Spending a few months as a couch potato and then heading out for a day hike is a great way to sustain an injury. If you can't get out to hike very often, at least keep up the walks around your neighborhood and local parks to stay in shape. Be sure to log your mileage (try using your smartphone) to get an idea of what distance you can handle. Consulting your veterinarian about your dog's fitness is the best way to avoid injury.
5) Have a back-up plan.
There are a few safety items I recommend for your pack. At the top of the list is a first aid kit. You can purchase a kit made specifically for dogs or read up on the necessary components to assemble your own.
One great safety item I recently discovered is the Pack-a-Paw Rescue Harness from Mountain Dogware.
I plan on investing in one of these in the near future, especially now that my girl is getting older. I never want to be one of those folks who are forced to leave their dog in order to get help. I know it isn't fun to consider the worst case scenario, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Taking the appropriate safety precautions will help you better enjoy your hike, knowing that you are prepared should something happen.
If you've enjoyed this list, please pass it along to your hiking pals and keep an eye out for more on this topic in future posts. I love sharing what I learn with the canine hiking community!