Yellow Lab Retriever wearing a dog back and dog boots


How to Hike with your dog

Another activity that is very popular is hiking and backpacking with your dog. Hiking does require some preparation on your dog’s behalf. Hiking is probably not an activity you should consider for a puppy or an old dog. Hiking should not be considered for a dog with any joint problems.

Hiking would be a great activity for a dog older than 1 year and younger than 10 years. As with any physical endeavor, condition your dog before hand if your hike will include many kms or miles or involves some rough terrain.

Tenting may be a requirement if you are going for a  hike that will take more than a day. Practice at home first, having your dog share your tent with you, even if just to show your dog that the tent is a safe place and nothing to fear. You don’t want to find out on your first over night hike, in miserable weather, that your dog is afraid to come into or stay in the tent.

Even if the weather is ideal and your dog chooses to sleep outside, plans may need to change if the weather gets nasty. Some dog owners set up a separate tent or shelter for their dog but again, you need to practice at home first.

Since you will have to pack food for your dog

as well as yourself, it’s a great idea to teach your dog to carry his or her own backpack. A physically fit dog can carry up to 15%-20% of his weight, a super fit dog can carry 25% of his weight on his back. Therefore a 80 lb (x 20%). dog could conceivably carry 16 lbs on his back, including the backpack itself.

A very fit 80 lb dog could carry 20 lbs! An 80 lb at 20% of his weight could carry maybe 14 lbs of his own food, depending on how heavy the empty backpack is. The daily requirement of my 80 lb dogs is about 4 cups per day which weighs 1lb in total.

One of my dogs could almost carry 2 weeks worth

of just the kibble each but I might want to put other items into his back pack too, especially if we weren’t going for more than 7 days. It’s recommended though, to carry an extra 25% of food if your dog will be working extra hard in difficult terrain. See my page on picking the best dry dog food, because it’s even more important to feed your dog the best quality food if he or she has to work hard.

You will need a light weight collapsible water bowl or dog water bottle as well. A bowl for dogfood is optional as I see it, you can always feed your dog from your hand in smaller portions or place the kibble on the ground. Feeding your dog from your hand is a great way to bond with your dog and gives you another opportunity to teach him to Sit, Wait and Okay (Basic Manners) and then to eat with decorum 🙂 Of course you can teach this using a bowl as well. If you don’t like dog saliva on your hands, well, you can always pack an extra collapsible bowl for his kibble (dry dog food).

Depending on the terrain, dog boots might be required too

but again, teach your dog to accept wearing the dog boots at home, before you go hiking. Some dogs really hate wearing boots and will chew nice little holes in them within minutes.  There are a variety of dog boots but don’t buy just any cheap boots, they should be designed for rough use. You wouldn’t wear tennis shoes on your hike would you? No, I don’t think so. You would buy some tough but comfortable hiking boots for yourself and some equally tough and comfortable boots for your dog.

Depending on the season and the temperatures, consider a dog sized bedroll for your dog to lie on, as a barrier from wet or cold ground. A dog jacket too, if you are hiking in freezing weather, a waterproof dog coat if there is a lot of cold rain.

If it’s Tick season or insects like mosquitoes and flies are a problem, your dog will need some protection in the form of a repellant. Natural repellants like those found in online stores like… Natural Wonder Pets  are the safest to use. You might be able to use the same repellents on yourself too!

image of First Aid Kit list for DogsIt’s a great idea to pack a small First Aid kit for your dog.

Accidents happen as we all know. Here’s a quick list of what I would toss in if I had some room in my pack. A roll of velcro wrap, the kind used for horses (and most animals), peroxide, gauze pads, antibiotic cream, antihistamine cream, Benydryl, small sharp scissors, tweezers,syringe, antibacterial cleanser, Petroleum Jelly, Saline solution, clean rags and a roll of Duct Tape.

Packing all of this would require a secure plastic storage box which would add to the weight. TThe items in the list could be used for you as well, just toss in some Aspirin and you’re good to go! Make sure your dog won’t have free access to the items in the pack, because eating his or her First Aid would surely make him sick!

Vaccinations, make sure your dog has been vaccinated for whatever your Vet suggests for the area in which you plan on hiking. I would advise that if any vaccinations are needed, that you have this done at least 2 weeks ahead of time. Some dogs react poorly to vaccinations, and the last thing you need on a hike is a sick dog! . Lyme disease vaccinations are a good idea too, to prevent the tick borne disease. There is no cure for Lyme unless you catch it early.

You can hike with the same collar and leash that you would normally use for walking  your dog but you might want to upgrade to better equipment if you are planning a long hike or want to hike often. The Backpacks for dogs generally also have a loop at the base of the neck to attach to your leash but for many dogs, this is not enough control for a dog that has a tendency to pull. That being said, to hike safely, your dog should be trained to walk on a loose leash, tethered to your waist so you can keep your hands free for your own walking trail poles/stick.

Two boys wearing backpacks sitting with a Golden RetrieverTethered to your waist, there is no chance

of losing your dog at the worst moments by dropping the leash or having your dog pull your leash out of your hand. The leash should be sturdy enough that you can trust it’s not going to break. Snaps are usually the weak part of the leash so double check those.  Slip/choke or pinch collars have no place in a hike with your dog. Do the training first, teach your dog to walk safely on a loose leash. Some dog owners opt to let their dogs run loose, however, even if that dog is well trained, disasters can happen. Your dog might get freaked out by a bear, moose, deer or other wildlife and give chase or run away.

Other hikers, backpacking with dogs, might find find themselves in a confrontation with your dog or dogs, or the dogs might pick a fight with each other. As a horsewoman and a dog enthusiast, the last thing I want is to encounter is a dog hostile to my horse or my dog. Many parks, those that allow dogs, require dogs to be under control of their owners at all times via a leash.

As the owner of your dog, you will be held responsible for whatever actions your dog commits. My own dogs are used to horses, cattle, dogs, cats, chickens and people strange to them and are very friendly overall. However, I would never allow them off leash on a hike for their own safety… cause you never know…

Here’s a quick check list of what you need:

  • Your dog needs to be under control, so some basic training is a must.
  • Your dog needs a secure harness, preferably a Front Range harness with a loop on top for you to grab if needed.
  • Your dog needs a sturdy collar to which you can attach his tags, (vaccination and identity), and for tying him or her up.
  • Tether cable (ten feet or so) to leash your dog at your camp site, preferably chew proof.
  • If you have a larger dog, you might want him to carry his own dogfood and other supplies. A dog backpack harness is what you need then.
  • Make sure your dog has had the appropriate vaccinations for the area that you plan on hiking in. Lyme disease is very prevalent in many areas, so vaccination for that is crucial.
  • A first aid kit for your dog (and you)
  • a dog friendly water bottle to drink from and a light collapsible dish (for food or water)
  • Insect repellents, preferably all natural.
  • Boots, waterproof and or warming jacket for inclement weather, depending on the breed of dog.
  • A sleeping mat that can be rolled up
  • If your dog won’t be sharing your tent, he or she will need shelter as well. At the very least a canvas tied between trees to give shelter from rain.


brown dog wearing a blue backpackIt’s important to know how to hike with your dog in a safe manner. Backpacking with dogs is not as carefree as going hiking by yourself. Most experienced hikers know what to pack for themselves, but when you add a dog into the equation, everything changes. Prepare for the worst so you can relax and enjoy hiking with your dog!

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