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Dogs make some of the best hiking partners there are, and most of the time, they can outpace us mile after mile. But even for the most energetic dogs, trail time can be tough on their bodies. Taking your best friend on her first hike might seem intimidating; follow these tips to have the best adventure with your pup.
Build up to big hikes.
Start with lower-elevation hikes and gradually go for longer, higher trails. Know your dog’s normal behavior and watch for changes. If she’s limping or looking lethargic, she’s telling you it’s time to return home. Puppies generally aren’t suited for long or difficult hikes—ask your vet if your dog is ready to join you on trail adventures. Your dog’s paws may be sensitive to rough terrain, so gradually build up to walking on rough surfaces, too; a long hike on rocks, ice, or snow may be hard on dogs who are used to neighborhood strolls.
Respect other hikers.
Trail etiquette applies to dogs, too. You love your dog, but other trail users might not—and they might even be fearful. If your dog likes to bark or approach others, call ahead with, “she’s friendly, she just makes noise.” If your dog is aggressive or impolite with strangers (jumping, growling, etc), keep her close.
Keep dogs under control.
I use a leash clipped with a carabiner to my pack, keeping my hands free for trekking poles. Always abide by leash rules for the area you’re hiking in. If your dog doesn’t have perfect recall, keep her leashed at all times.
Bring the right gear.
A bright-colored dog vest helps you spot your dog from a distance, and is especially important during hunting season. Hiking in winter with your dog may require special equipment, as do long backpacking trips. Consider carrying a collapsible water dish and extra water. A multi-tool with folding pliers is useful for removing porcupine quills (make sure to brush up on canine first aid).
Keep your pup fueled.
Just like you, your dog needs snacks when working hard on the trail. You might be tempted to share your trail food with Fido, but don’t: Many human hiking snacks contain ingredients than can be lethal to dogs, such as raisins and chocolate. Pack your pup’s favorite dog treats or kibble, bring some peanut butter, or make your own treats at home.
Be mindful of elevation.
When it comes to scaling big mountains, it’s important to remember that altitude can affect your canine companion as much as it does you. Altitudes above 11,000 feet are considered extreme even for dogs. Because dogs can’t talk, it’s harder to see when they’re in trouble. Stop regularly and offer your dog water. If your dog has extreme symptoms—excessive panting, drooling, dry cough, vomiting, discolored (gray or blue-tinged) gums or tongue, or lethargy—get to a lower altitude and hydrate. If symptoms persist, go to your vet.