Hiking with your loyal canine friend will make the trail even more enjoyable. Before you head out the door to the trailhead however consider a few factors that will make your mountainous wanderings more enjoyable for him/her.
There is more to choosing a dog-friendly hike than simply identifying whether or not dogs are allowed on the trail. Just because dogs are allowed doesn’t mean the trail itself is dog-friendly. If possible it’s best to scope out the trail yourself before taking your dog along and keep your eyes open for the following:
- Shady Trails – Dogs enjoy shady trails! Paths with too much sunshine often also have hot rocks scattered along the trail which can hurt dogs’ sensitive paws.
- Soft Terrain – Your dog will benefit from packed or unpacked earth as well as terrain with soft needles and/or leaves. Rocky trails or trails with sharp needles are not recommended for dogs.
- Safe Hiking – Some trails require hikers to climb/scale ladders up steep inclines or over ravines and some have sharp drop-offs from high elevations. These trails are not recommended for dogs as dogs are not natural climbers and may become excited from the emotions and anxieties that come from approaching sharp drop-offs (dogs can often feel even the muted anticipation or anxieties of their owners).
- Space – Choose trails where there aren’t a lot of people (ideally) and try to find trails that don’t allow horses, mountain bikes, ATVs, and/or other motorized vehicles. Motorized vehicles and other large and potentially dangerous distractions can result in unwanted accidents for your dog or other hikers/bikers/adventurers.
The water of course is an essential consideration! Whether you and your canine friend are on a day hike or on a backpacking trip that lasts more than a few days it’s important to remember that your dog is just as susceptible to waterborne parasites (e.g, giardia) as you are. All water obtained on the trail should be purified if it isn’t sufficiently clear in its natural environment. Some amount of water can also be packed along the trail not only in your pack but in your dog’s hiking pack as well! If your dog doesn’t already have a hiking pack then it’s fun to shop for one. Simply measure the widest girth of your dog’s chest as this measurement will be required during your purchase. You may even choose to have your dog help you pack in water purification tablets or equipment for your use on the trail. The weight of a dog’s pack should weigh in at no more than one-fourth to one-third of your dog’s total weight and if the dog shows any sign of struggle while carrying his/her pack the weight should be decreased and the pack adjusted.
When planning a hike with your dog uses the following websites to read about trail information for hiking adventures across the United States!
In addition, consider the level of difficulty of each trail and if your dog is not accustomed to exercising daily (or better yet twice daily) then start with beginner and intermediate trails before tackling difficult or lengthy trails. And if your dog is older you may want to consider taking him/her only on beginner/intermediate trails as a rule. Older dogs tend to have stiffer joints and may prefer lighter walks or even staying at home!
If your canine friend tends to become anxious or restless during long drives choose a trailhead that is as close to your point of departure as possible. The hike won’t be nearly as enjoyable if the drive there becomes nerve-wracking.
Last but not least choose a hike that is more about enjoyment than a serious challenge. Dogs can often handle great physical rigor but most dogs’ personalities are more cohesive with a sense of playfulness, enjoyment, and carefree fun! So enjoy! Your dog will love you for it!