A Guide to Hiking With Your Best Friend
If you didn’t already know, NEMO loves dogs. Our four-legged friends frequent the office, giving us a nice reprieve from the daily routine. They pester Ollie, our Dealer Services Manager, for treats. They get us out in the sunshine when we get lost in our work. They provide a best-buddy footrest in long meetings. And they make us laugh when we need it most.
The office dogs know where the good treats are: Ollie's desk.
So could there be anything better than an office dog? The answer is yes — hiking dogs!
Moose's fluffy feet are naturally protected from the snow, eliminating the need for booties. But for other pups, booties really help prevent ice build up and cut pads.
Humans hike because it’s great exercise, stress reducing, and mentally pacifying. It’s no different for our four-legged counterparts. And while your pooch might not be concerned with a beautiful mountainscape, the stimulating trailside smells are more than enough to keep them interested.
Selfishly, trail dogs also make amazing companions, especially if you’re hiking alone. When deciding whether or not to take your dog along with you for your next hike, there are a few factors that should be considered.
We’re assuming that because you’ve read this far, you also love dogs. However, there are people who don’t feel the same way. Some fellow hikers become frustrated when owners allow their dogs to roam as free as wolves. For their sake, and for the sake of our environment, there are a few basic rules you should always follow when hiking with your dog.
Know your dog. Are they in good enough shape for the hike? Are they friendly with both humans and other dogs? Will they chase every rodent they hear? Understanding your dog’s tendencies and using your best judgement when hiking can make things less stressful for everyone. It’s the backcountry, but you’re not the only person on the trail.
To leash, or not to leash? If your dog is exceptionally well-trained and will stay within a close proximity to you, leashless is okay. However, when you run into other groups, you should always be considerate and leash your dog or grab their collar as hikers pass. If you let groups know that your dog is friendly, you’ll find that many times other hikers give you the okay to let them go.
Know the local regulations. Signs are often clearly posted letting you know if dogs are allowed and if they must be leashed or not, but it's best to do your homework ahead of time to make sure you're hiking a trail that allows canine friends.
Leave no trace. Either take your dog's waste with you, or if you’re below the alpine zone, bury it in a 6-8” hole 200 feet from the nearest trail or water source. We can’t stress this one enough. Stepping in dog poo sucks.
A few essential pieces of gear can make your friend's adventure much more enjoyable.
Trail Dog Gear Guide
Hiking with a dog means that you have to pack for two and should consider a few additional pieces of gear. It’s important to realize that your furry friend is assuming a lot of the same risks you are, and you need to be adequately prepared in case of an emergency.
Dog Packs. There are a lot of options for dog packs out there. Our friends at Ruffwear make some packs we love. Make sure the pack is the correct size and fits snug on your dog without restricting movement. Always consider the pack's weight (15% - 25% of their body weight) and make sure it’s distributed evenly. If your dog has never worn a pack before, ease them into it by taking short walks and slowly increasing the weight in the bags. Let them become accustomed to the extra baggage, don’t just strap one on and assume your dog will be comfortable right out of the gate.
Dog Boots. There are a few benefits to getting your dog boots for hiking. First, when you first put them on in the house, your stylish dog will almost certainly give you a good chuckle. Secondly, dog boots protect paws from sharp rocks, snow, and splinters. Be aware that dog booties do come loose, so either pack extras or be extra vigilant in keeping an eye on your dog’s paws. If you’re not going to use booties, make sure to slowly acclimate your dog's paws to the rigors of the trail.
Collapsible Water Bowl & Water. Don’t just rely on streams and other bodies of water. Waterborne parasites affect humans and dogs alike, so make sure your furry friend has their own supply. You may have noticed that not all dogs are skilled at sharing a squirt out of your own water bottle, so a bowl can help them stay hydrated.
Leash or Harness. Your lead should be at least six feet long for a comfortable hike. Using climbing rope with a carabiner on the end is a popular method for hikers.
First Aid Kit. Don't overlook the necessities for helping your pup get out of a thorny situation. You can build your own first aid kit and combine it with yours for convenience.
Don't forget these other essentials.
- Safety light for your dog to wear when it becomes dark.
- Food & snacks rich in protein.
- Blanket or jacket for your dog when the temperatures dip.
- Comfortable collar with contact information in case you get separated.
Photo by Elena Prespich @findmeoutside
Your pup might not always have the best judgement and when you're far from the vet's office and your buddy is panicking things can get squirrelly really quickly. Here are a few things worth watching out for.
Animals. There are a lot of different animals out on the trail. Obviously, predators like bear and mountain lions are not something you want your buddy to engage with, but depending where you are there are plenty of other critters that could cut a trip short. Porcupines are abundant. Snakes are often undetected. Skunks spray with no notice. And harmless animals like a deer can have your pup running for miles without any way of finding them. Keep an eye on your dogs attention and excitement level; if they are extremely distracted and excited it is likely there is something nearby.
Scat. Some dogs do it and some don't. For those with dogs who do — there is nothing worse than than the smell of a fishy muskrat skat smeared broadly across Buddy's back after he rolled in it right at the moment of discovery. It's impossible to clean off... and he has to sleep in your tent tonight.
Ticks. Ticks are everywhere and they carry some nasty diseases. And as temperature rise, their numbers are increasing to overwhelming levels. Paying attention to these critters is just as important for your dog as it is for you, because a tick on your dog is a tick crawling around in your tent and possibly biting and infecting you. Most likely you are already an outdoor person, so your dog will be sufficiently treated with a tick repellent method, and that helps greatly. But encourage them to avoid low brush whenever possible and check their coat as best as you can before bed.
The Golden Rule
In general, what's good for you is good for your dog. If you need to take a break on the trail, if you're feeling thirsty, or if you're more hungry than usual, the same goes for your dog. Treat them like another human on the trail with you and be sure to bring enough food and water for everyone. Hikes are a great opportunity to fulfill your dog's dream of that never ending walk — endless smells, fresh air, tons of exercise, and undivided time with their master. For a dog, it doesn't get much better than that.