When You Say Pets You Really Mean Dogs
In any post talking about the joys and challenges of hiking with pets, let’s be honest. We’re really talking about hiking with dogs. Can you imagine trying to attach a harness to your pet squirrel, Billy goat, boa constrictor, or fuzzy tarantula to bring it out to enjoy the wonders of nature? And let’s not even discuss cats unless you’re willing to confine it to a cat carrier and trudge along with that in your hand. And your cat is not likely to be purring with delight as you bump over logs and boulders. It will more likely be yowling in protest.
So Hiking With Dogs
Dogs are natural explorers who love the great outdoors. They will bound along with your family, exploring every nook and cranny along the way, and barking happily as they go. Dogs can bring a lot of fun to a family hike, plus they can have the added benefit of protecting you from potentially dangerous wildlife you might encounter along the trail. This is especially true of larger breeds.
That said, there are preparations you can make before you go hiking with your dog to ensure that everyone, your family pet included, has the best possible time hiking, and returns home happy and safe, if a little worn out from all the fun and physical activity.
Breeds of Dog
The simple truth is that some dog breeds are by their size, natural instincts, and plain old DNA, far more suited to hiking than others. Breeds like border collies, shepherds, heelers, labs, and retrievers that are used to running, herding, hunting, or tracking will do well on the trail. But small toy or teacup breeds will have a much more difficult time keeping up with an active family hiking at a brisk pace. Other physical characteristics may also make it difficult for your family dog to enjoy a family hike. Think of a poor Dachshund with its short legs trying to clamor over a bumpy trail to stay with your family.
Think About The Dog’s Health
Take your dog’s age and physical condition into consideration when considering whether or not to take it with you on a hike. For example, a two-year-old Lab makes a great companion on a hiking trail, full of energy and curiosity to explore. But that same dog at age 14 might truly have a difficult and far from enjoyable time on the trail. Would you expect your 75-year-old Mom who suffers from arthritis to be able to hike at the same pace as your family? No? Then don’t expect such physical feats of endurance from your elderly dog either.
Are Dogs Allowed?
As you are planning your hike, don’t overlook the most important basic question…are dogs allowed on the grounds of the location where you plan to hike? You can save yourself time and protect your children’s tender feelings by making sure to select a hiking trail where dogs are welcome.
Why You Should Use A Leash
No matter the size of your dog, all state and national parks require them to be on a leash for the duration of your hike. It’s not only for the safety of other hikers, some of whom may have a natural fear of dogs, but also for your dog’s safety. How awful would you feel if you set out as a happy family unit with a dog but had to come home missing your beloved pet because it ran off into the woods after a squirrel or a rabbit and never came back? Using a leash can prevent your pet from getting lost in the woods.
Collar Or Harness
Now the question is whether to use a leash with a collar or a harness? Part of the answer has to do with what your dog is used to, but any families have switched to harnesses over the past few years because they provide better control over a dog’s movements and behavior, but are also gentler. When you need to pull on the leash to control your dog, the force of the pull is spread over a wider area, and not focused on the dog’s neck where such force can actually cause physical pain or even injury.
While Collars are fine and to many, even preferable for daily walks and explorations, using a harness on a hike can provide a safer, happier experience for you and your dog.
Water and Snacks
When planning hydration, meals, and snacks for your family’s hike, be sure not to forget your pet’s needs. Depending on your dog’s size, add one or more water bottles to your snack pack, but also be sure to include a collapsible bowl to pour it into so your pet can easily lap it up. Don’t allow your dog to drink from creeks, streams, puddles, etc., because you have no way of knowing if that water is safe and pure.
Be sure not to let your pet overexert itself and become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration including panting, a dry nose, and saliva that has become thick and sticky. If you see these signs, stop immediately and give your dog fresh water. If it doesn’t want to drink, encourage it with a small, tasty snack. Also include meal pouches and/or your dog’s favorite snacks in your preparations. Dogs get tired and need to take periodic rests just like humans. You can help them recover with a nutritious meal or snack and plenty of fresh water.
Carry It Yourself Dog
Depending On the age and size of your dog, you can also equip them with their very own backpack which doubles as a food carrier and a harness. That way they can carry their own water in one section, food and treats in another. Also any place to store used poop bags to carry back the trail.
Picking up Dog Waste
One thing that almost always happens on a hike is that your dog will have to do its business on the trail. Be sure to have dog waste bags in your pack, and pick up and properly dispose of any waste your dog leaves on the trail. Doing so is not only in line with park regulations, and a courtesy to other hikers, it is also a kindness to wildlife. Dogs leave behind a predator scent in their waste which can disturb local wildlife, and it can also contain disease-carrying pathogens like salmonella, so be sure to remove it and take it with you until you reach a designated disposal bin.
Bringing your dog on a family hike can turn an already enjoyable outing into an unforgettable family memory. Just be sure to make the proper preparations ahead of time to ensure your pet’s needs and safety are taken care of before you leave for your big adventure.