A day spent hiking is never wasted. At the very least it's healthy exercise, and on a good day, being up in the mountains or in the woods can make you feel like the luckiest person alive.
If you have an active dog of medium to large size there is no reason why you can't hike with them (although it pays to be careful about where you go and when). Smaller dogs can usually handle shorter rambles but a day in the mountains can be a little too much to ask from a pair of short legs. The first step is to find a location that welcomes dogs.
How easy that will be depends on where you are. In Australia, dogs are almost never allowed in national parks but in the UK, for example, they're usually perfectly welcome to come along. In the USA, some parks allow dogs on trails (Arcadia National Park and Grand Canyon National Park, for example) and some permit them only close to campsites and roads. The internet is your friend no matter where you live, but if you can't find a dog friendly national park or a state forest nearby, try asking at your local outdoor store or sending an email to the nearest hiking club. Either one will usually be able to point you in the right direction.
Before taking your dog for their first wild walk, make sure that you can put a tick next to all these training goals:
1) The dog is comfortable on the leash
2) They're socialized enough to interact with other trail users
3) They'll come when called, even when animals are around
Number three is usually the most difficult, especially if you own a working breed like a collie or springer spaniel. The chasing instinct is deeply ingrained and it may take a lot of practice on the leash before they're able to relax around livestock. A dog that runs after deer or other animals on a hike is not just a disturbance- they can also put themselves in serious peril. If in doubt, keep the leash on.
It's worth taking particular care with puppies and young dogs. Their bones and joints are still growing and the stress of a long, steep hike can cause lasting damage. Your dog should be fully vaccinated before you take it hiking- other dogs, both wild and domestic, can harbor contagious canine diseases. In summer it's also a good idea to comb their coat after every hike, to remove grass seeds and burrs. You can check for ticks and other nasty hangers-on at the same time.
Start with shorter, more level routes and work your way up to bigger challenges. Most dogs love a good walk and over time both of you will improve your fitness and learn valuable trail skills. You'll be able to go to new places and see new sights (and smell new smells- very exciting for your pooch). Some dogs even end up scaling mountains with their masters, but even if your goals are more modest, hiking with your dog can be great fun.
Post by Jess Spate, a long-time hiker and dog owner. She writes for Appalachian Outdoors and edits outdoorequipmentonline.co.uk. Her dog Batty is featured in the photo above.
Want to get more practical tips for living with dogs? Get weekly updates from the Big Dog Blog. Just enter your name and email in the green box at top right.
If you liked this, you may also like:
Dog Hiking Boots - Perfect for protecting your dog from hazards on the trail.
Travel With Dogs: Making A Doggie Road Trip Successful - Want to hit the road with your dog? Here's how to make it go smoothly.
What You Should Know About A Microchip For Dogs - They're highly recommended by pet professionals. What do you need to know about getting your dog microchipped?