Originally written for the Bayside Dog Owner’s Group blog.
Hiking with your dog is a great way to get both of you active in the outdoors, but it can be a little daunting if you’ve never hiked before. Here are some handy tips to prepare yourself and your dog for your first hike.
Planning Your Trip
Find A Trail
A major issue with most people wanting to hike with their dogs is the fact that no dogs are allowed in National Parks. We are limited to State Forests and local parks. Thankfully, the Parks Victoria website has a search feature that allows you to find parks where you can hike with your dog. Be sure to research any trails you are planning on hiking online to ensure that dogs are allowed before you go. Our own hiking section also has a wealth of trails that are dog friendly.
Let Someone Know Where You Are Going
Regardless of whether you are hiking an area that has mobile reception or not, you should always let somebody know where you are going and a rough time you are expecting to return.
Pick A Trail That Suits You (and your dog’s) Ability
Some of us get excited by the idea of spending the day hiking to the top of a mountain for the spectacular views, but doing a long challenging hike when you’re not used to it will leave you feeling sore and sorry for yourself the next day. Your dog is no different. Start with small beginner’s hikes and work your way up to that 40km overnight hike.
What To Pack
Your packing list is going to look different if you are going on a multi-day hike compared to a four-hour walk in the bush. The below list is suitable for a day-long hike but you should alter it to suit your own needs.
For Your Dog:
On top of the water you need for yourself, you’ll need to pack some water for your dog. Some dogs tend to drink more than others depending on age, breed and general health – you know your dog best so pack as much what as you think they’ll need and then pack some extra just in case. You can buy drink bottles with a fold out attachment for your dog to drink from, or collapsible bowls are cheap and don’t take up much space.
If you’re planning on being out long enough to stop for a lunch break, be sure to pack something for your pooch too. Good hiking snacks for dogs – like for humans – are lightweight and don’t feel heavy in your stomach once you’ve eaten it. Jerky treats, dog biscuits or human food like hot dogs make great snacks on a hike.
First Aid Kit
A well-stocked first aid kit is essential when hiking with your dog. Many vets will sell premade dog first aid kits or you can buy a human first aid kit and supplement it with some dog specific gear. Some items I include in my first aid kit for human and dog use include:
Bandaids – for the accident-prone human
Heavy weight bandages – will stay on your dog out on the trail
Compression bandages – in case of snake bites on dogs or humans
Antiseptic – iodine antiseptic is safe for dogs and comes in a range of creams and liquids
Vet wrap – available at pet stores, vets and stock feed stores, great for wrapping injuries without sticking to the fur
Spare lead – not only useful if your lead breaks, but can be used as a muzzle in an emergency
Styptic powder or pencil – will help stop a bleeding nail
Tick Key – or any other tick removal device
Dog booties – very useful to protect cut paws out on the trail
Other miscellaneous items – tweezers, scissors, gloves, thermometer etc.
Don’t be that person. Pick up your dog’s poop when you’re out on the trail. Double bag it, pack it out and drop it in the closest bin. If for some reason you’re not able to bag your dog’s poop, try and encourage your dog to go off the trail and away from any water sources.
A backpack that is a comfortable fit will make you feel like you’re wearing nothing at all. You’ll want one that is big enough to fit all your gear in it but not excessively big. You’re only going for a day. Most hiking daypacks come with a built-in hydration system. Bonus.
A normal human being should drink approximately 2 litres of water a day. If you’re anything like me you definitely don’t drink that much and already know that you probably should. Hike Australia suggests you carry at least 3 litres of water per day on a hike to start with, or more depending on the terrain and weather. Remember, by the time you’re thirsty you’re already dehydrated so sip that water while you’re walking and keep yourself hydrated. Don’t forget to pack extra for your pooch!
Depending on how long you’re hiking for, you’re going to want some food. As with snacks for your dog, good hiking snacks won’t take up much room in your pack but will give you plenty of energy for the trail ahead. Trail mix, mixed nuts, beef jerky, tuna and crackers, or dried fruit all make great snacks while out on the trail.
Temperatures can change very quickly and a hike on a lovely 24-degree day can become hell once the clouds and rain roll in. Packing a lightweight outer shell (or a cheap rain jacket) will keep you comfortable in the changing temperatures. Similarly, be sure to pack a hat and sunscreen on cold days in case the sun makes an appearance. Slip, slop, slap!
Nobody likes talking about the dangers you might encounter while out hiking, but the more aware you are of the potential hazards the better you can prepare and the safer you and your dog will be.
Be aware of the trail conditions while you’re out hiking. Sharp rocks can easily cut or bruise a paw pad, especially on dogs that are not used to walking on such tough surfaces. In areas of rough terrain dog booties can help protect your dog’s paws from injury. Overheating your dog is easy to do on a warm trail with minimal shade. Keep a close eye on how your dog is going and make yourself aware of the signs of heat stress in dogs.
Dogs – like us – can pick up a whole lot of waterborne pathogens from drinking stagnant water including Giardia and Leptospirosis. Some dogs have guts of steel and won’t show any side effects from drinking stagnant water, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The last thing you want is to come home from a hike with a dog that has diarrhoea.
Fleas, ticks and leeches are easy to pick up while hiking outdoors so make sure you do a post-hike check of your furry friend. Although a flea and tick preventative should be given as part of your dogs regular health care routine, doing a full body check of your dog once you’ve finished your hike will allow you to get on top of any parasites pronto.
The weather is warm, the sun is out and so are the snakes. One of the easiest ways to keep your dog safe is to keep them on a lead and keeping them on a cleared path. Make sure you know what to do in an emergency if you or your dog are bitten by a snake.
You’ve finished your hike, you’re finally home and feeling that tightness in the muscles that you didn’t know were there. Chances are your dog is feeling it too. Some slow, gentle stretches after your hike can help ease your dogs sore muscles. It also keeps you familiar with your dogs normal range of motion so that you can more easily notice any problems in the future.