How-To: Hiking With Dogs
Sometimes your best hiking companion is four-legged with a wagging tail. Dogs love the outdoors, especially new scents, rustling birds, and exciting terrain like fallen logs and muddy streams. The trick is finding dog-friendly trails. While most national parks have strict leash laws (you are usually okay if you stick to paved roads and paths), the majority of the trails in state parks, national forests, and BLM land are dog friendly. And many national landmarks and monuments also have dog-friendly trails. By doing a little research, you can even plan multi-day trips that involve backpacking. Intrepid hikers and their canine companions even frequently embark on epic adventures in places such as the Ice Age, Pacific Crest, and Appalachian trails.
Almost any dog can become a trail hound. Just use common sense—small dogs are better suited to shorter distances, and bigger dogs can cover more territory with their longer strides. Endurance is something your dog will develop, just like you. Dogs need to build strength, stamina, and trail sense, just like people. Start with a short jaunt, one or two miles at most. The abbreviated distance will give you and your dog a chance to gauge fitness, trail manners, and water and food consumption. While some dogs are well suited for leash less travel, keep in mind that they are safer on a leash—especially if you encounter wild animals, cliffs, or fellow hikers.
Essential gear includes a collar, leash, ID and shot tags. Dog packs are great if you have a mid-size to large animal, but the load shouldn’t weigh more than 20 percent of your dog’s weight. Pack enough food and water for both you and your dog. If there’s a chance of cold, rain, or snow, a dog raincoat or fleece-lined shell is a good idea. A doggie lifejacket can give you peace of mind if you’re boating or crossing fast water. Typically, dogs don’t need booties, but for travel over sharp volcanic rock, hot desert sand, or crusty snow, foot protection might be in order. Bring a lightweight water bowl, especially if you’re traveling along waterways. You probably won’t need medical treatment mid-hike, but a small backcountry first-aid kit with antibiotic cream, bandages, gauze, aspirin, and tweezers can be used for both you and your furry-faced friend.
Oh, and most parks have instituted a “leave no trace” policy for dog waste, so also bring plastic bags or a trowel.
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