This is one of those things that is like politics or religion. You’ll get people on one side of this issue or another, and they will be passionate in their view or opinion. If you go to a popular forum dedicated to
making money the Appalachian Trail, and start a thread about hiking with your canine friend, you will start a brawl. That said, I am not here to debate the merits of hiking with a dog; my blog, I am right, you are wrong.
Hiking with a dog requires more than just grabbing Fido and bringing her along while you walk. Not only do you HAVE to bring along some supplies for her, you also need to ask if she is physically and mentally ready for the hike you are undertaking.
- Does your dog have the legs to make the distance you are planning to hike? Has she ever done that distance?
- What is the temperature going to be? Not just when you start the hike but throughout the hike. How about overnight if it is a multiple day hike? Yesterday, July 12 2017, a dog died and 3 people were hospitalized in Arizona due to heat after hiking in Arizona.
- If your dog is carrying a pack, how much weight can she comfortably carry for the distance you are hiking? Most “experts” say an adult dog should carry no more than 15-25% of their body weight. My dog Faith weighs about 85 pounds, and she usually carries 10-15 pounds MAX. A heavy load for her is 2 one liter water bladders (4.4lbs total), a couple bags of dry food (about a pound of food per day), her fleece coat if it is cold (1/2 pound), her dog sleep pad (13 oz 3/4 length Klymit Static V pad). This load is about the heaviest she will carry and is well within her weight limit.
- Will there be enough water available? Faith carries up to 2 liters and I carry a liter or 2 for myself, then i carry a filter. If we cross a flowing water source, I generally let her drink her fill at every crossing while I drink my carried water then fill up my containers. Her containers are used if we go more than a mile or 2 without coming across a water source.
- Where will she sleep if it’s an overnight? I hammock camp but don’t want an 85 pound furball sharing my hammock while I sleep after a long day of hiking. Until recently, Faith generally slept under my hammock on my ground cloth. In colder weather she carried a small blanket to keep her off the cold ground. Recently I bought her a 3/4 length Klymit pad. It weighs less than a pound, provides insulation under her to keep her warm and dry and is easily carried by her on her pack. I still need to make a Hex 70 pillow case for it so she doesn’t puncture it, but that is on my lengthy to-do list.
- Is your dog physically developed enough for the hike? Don’t take a puppy on a long hike. In experience with bigger dogs (60-100 pounds is the weight range for all my dogs I have had as an adult) you shouldn’t take them on a REAL hike if they are younger than a year. This is advice from all the vets I have had and is sort of conventional wisdom on the interwebs also. Under a year, your dogs bones are still developing to the point where you can do lasting damage if you go to far too young. Most people consider their dog an “adult” after a year or so, just wait til that milestone before you take them hiking.
- On leash or off? Faith generally hikes off leash. Her voice control is pretty good and she doesnt tend to wander off. Usualy when hiking, she stays within 20 feet of me, in front of me on the trail, stopping when she comes to a bend in the trail. She will stand there and look back, waiting for me catch up. Occasionally her prey drive will kick in and she will chase a rabbit bu generally only a VERY short distance and will come back when called. In crowded areas, she will go on leash. I wear a riggers belt with a D ring, I just clip her leash to that and we are good to go.
- Does your dog even like to go on hikes? Start small. Faith’s first real hike was in winter in south Texas. It was abut 5 miles on the first day, long enough to be a real trial, but short enough make it easy to bail on if necessary.
- How will the weather affect your dog? Faith is a thunder chicken. Guns are ok, but thunder makes her a quivering mess. I love taking her camping with me, but if storms are in the forecast, I think real hard before I take her along.
- Does your dog behave well around people/other dogs? If your dog is going to growl aggressively at every other person or dog they come across, do everyone a favor and leave them at home.
- Collar. Does it have your name on it? Is it reflective or does it light up?
- Leash. I prefer a leash that is 6-12 feet long. Non retractable. If your dog is a lunger, think twice before getting a bungee leash. Consider getting a leash with a traffic handle ( a handle close to the where the leash attaches to the dog, for positive control in traffic/crowded environments). A leash that can reattach to itself to make a belt is convenient for attaching to yourself while hiking or to a tree at night to secure Fido. Below is a popular option that has bungee, a traffic handle, and converts to a belt. An added plus is the latch is VERY easy to engage/disengage.
- Dog Booties. On the LoneStar Trail in Texas where I hike the most, the ground is generally soft so boots are un-necessary, but if you hike where it is rocky, you might consider a good pair of boots like
- Dog eye protection. Don’t laugh, this is serious. You wear sunglasses to protect from the bright ball of fire in the sky, don’t you care about your dog? They also protect from branches and other crap getting in your dog’s eyes. I swear by RexSpecs. If it’s good enough for our Military Working Dogs, then it’s good enough for me.
- Pack/Harness. The Ruffwear Palisades is a VERY nice option, as the packs separate from the harness for versatility and includes 2 one liter water bladders. another good option is a working dog harness with MOLLE panels, this allows you to add pouches that fit your needs.
- Clothes. Rain coat. Cold weather coat? When it gets cold, Faith wears
- Bedding. Faith uses the 3/4 length
- Food. Carry enough for at LEAST one extra day, just in case.
- Water. Don’t be a jackass, keep your dog hydrated.
- Food/Water bowl. Like humans, dogs need water and food to survive. Dogs are often fine drinking out of a stream or lake, but you might need a bowl at other times.
- First Aid- I recommend the following:
- EYE WASH/SALINE
If your dog is sprayed by a skunk or a seed, insect, dirt or other foreign object gets lodged in its eye, rinse it with saline. The saline bottle should squirt so that you can get the liquid into the corners of your pet’s eyes if you need to. Available at most pharmacies.
Carry it in a capped 10ml syringe, used to induce vomiting.
- BENADRYL (DIPHENHYDRAMINE)Like humans, dogs can have allergic reactions to plants as well as bites and stings. Give your dog Benadryl orally if he shows hives or a strong allergic reaction. The rule of thumb is 1-2mg of Benadryl per pound of body weight every eight hours—more than a normal human dosage. Benadryl is also recommended for snakebites (worked wonders when uor youngest dog Lady was bit by a copperhead)
- STRETCHY BANDAGES/GAUZE PADS If you need to bandage one of your dog’s legs, stretchy wrap will make it possible. Stretchy bandages can also be used as a tourniquet in case of a snakebite or a heavily bleeding wound. Check your wrap job to be sure it isn’t so tight it causes paw swelling. Can be used for a muzzle in an emergency.
- STYPTIC PENCIL
Certain minor dog injuries, like badly broken nails, bleed a lot. A styptic pencil, often used to stop shaving cuts, is generally made of powdered crystal from an alum block and a waxy binder pressed into a pencil shape. Dab it on, and it seals small cuts and nicks, usually in a few minutes.
- MULTITOOLThere are a hundred possible uses for a multitool in the field, and you probably already have one in your pack. When traveling with your dog, make sure you carry a tool with a good pair of pliers. You’ll need them if your dog has a run in with a porcupine. Quills need to be pulled as soon as possible—left alone, they work their way in deeper and can get infected. Multitool pliers can also be useful for pulling thorns, and for removing a hanging toe nail or dew claw.
- SLIP LEAD OR MUZZLEMost dogs, when injured, frightened or in pain, revert to animal instincts—they bite, even their most beloved owners. If you need to pull porcupine quills, staple a wound or treat a significant injury, it’s important to have something you can fashion into a muzzle on hand. Try carefully laying the lead over the bridge of the nose, tying an overhand knot under the chin and then tying a knot at the base of the dog’s head on its back. A lead is also essential for walking your injured dog out of the woods in a controlled manner.
- MYLAR EMERGENCY BLANKET
In an emergency, this compact and nearly weightless sheet can be your most important tool for helping an injured dog (or human) maintain body heat. Also called a space blanket, wrap it around an injured dog to help it stay warm, and if your dog has open wounds, lay him on the blanket to keep him from getting dirt in his cuts.
- MUSHER’S WAX
Another way to prevent snow build up between pads in winter is musher’s wax—the stuff that sled dogs use. It also moisturizes cracked pads without interfering with your dog’s sweat glands (dogs only sweat through their feet and their mouths). $15; musherssecret.net.
- PAIN MEDICINE/ANTI-INFLAMMATORYFeed your dog over-the-counter human anti-inflammatories like Aleve (Naproxen), Advil (Ibuprophen), Tylenol (Acetaminophen) and you can cause cause bleeding ulcers, kidney damage or worse. Buffered aspirin is the safest non-prescription anti-inflammatory pain medicine for pets. CONSULT YOUR VET!!!
- TICK TOOL
Dogs, like humans, can contract Lyme disease. The sooner you get a tick off your dog, the better.
- GUIDE TO DOG FIRST AID
It’s easy to panic when you’re in the field and your pet has a problem. Carry a quick guide to ailments with detailed directions on how to treat the most common ones.
- EYE WASH/SALINE