10 Tips to Start Hiking With Your Dog

Backpacking with your best friend? Keep him—and others—safe with these tips.
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Backpacking with your best friend? Keep him—and others—safe with these tips.
dog face

Keep 'em cool.

1. Prep your pup. Acclimate him to things like your backpack and trekking poles by using them around the house for a few days. Give him at least a week to ease into carrying a pack (make sure it sits snugly between the nape of his neck and just shy of his hips). A dog can carry up to a quarter of his own weight.

2. A harness (or pack harness) is your best bet for stream crossings, since your dog can slip through a collar. Harnesses with handles are great for lifting or lowering dogs past obstacles.

3. Customize your first-aid kit. Duct tape and a spare sock make a good bootie to protect an injured paw. Typically, store-bought booties are only necessary for extremely hot, cold, or rough terrain. Dogs need bug/tick defense, too. Check with your vet for the best option.

4. Plan for the temperature. Cold: Make your pooch an insulated pad (cut one out of an old closed-cell foam mat). Heat: Choose a route with good stream or lake access for a cooling dip.

5. Pack his usual amount of food plus an additional 30 percent. Feed smaller portions more frequently and supplement with protein-packed treats.

6. Should your dog sleep in the tent or in the vestibule? Bring him inside if you’re concerned about warmth or wildlife (you don’t want him chasing deer in the middle of the night). For tent sharing: Use moistened wipes for a quick cleaning and lay a small towel at the tent’s entrance to use as a paw rug. Trim his claws beforehand to prevent tent damage.

7. Heading high with a dog accustomed to low-elevation? Prevent altitude sickness the way you do: ascend slowly.

8. Never let your dog chase wildlife or disturb other hikers.

9. Plan an appropriate first-time route. Distance matters less than distractions and terrain. Avoid crowded trails and places frequented by equestrians or mountain bikers. Dogs accustomed only to backyard play should stick to easy, dirt trails initially.

10. Just like humans, dogs need to stay hydrated (about 8 ounces of water every hour), but don’t let him drink too much at once—large dogs are especially prone to bloating from filling up on too much water while active. Dogs can get giardia, so have him drink the same stuff as you if you don’t want to risk it. Early signs of dehydration: a dry nose and mouth and sunken eyes.

The Expert
Linda B. Mullally is the author of BACKPACKER’s Hiking and Backpacking with Dogs ($13). She’s also written guidebooks about the best dog-friendly trails in California. “The outdoors expands young dogs’ worlds and sharpens their instincts, and it rejuvenates old dogs,” Mullally says.