Get the most out of time on the trail with your canine companion with The Trailmaster’s Ten Tips for Hiking with Dogs.

Many dogs love to hike and love the “quality time” with their owners. Hiking with a dog on a woodsy trail beats walking the dog around the block any day. For many hikers, a dog is man’s (and woman’s) best trail friend—particularly for those who hike solo.

A dog is an energetic hiking companion and, with a superior sense of smell and relatively low proximity to the ground, may notice things about the natural world that would otherwise escape human attention.

Take sufficient time to prepare a canine companion and you’ll discover that a well-equipped owner and well-trained dog will be the best of all trail buddies, each enhancing each other’s experience.

Dogs, like the pug on this pathway in Utah, can be marvelous hiking companions. (photo courtesy Discover Moab)
Dogs, like the pug on this pathway in Utah, can be marvelous hiking companions. (photo courtesy Discover Moab)

First, make a candid assessment of your dog’s energy level and condition. Not every dog is a good hiker. If your pooch is a canine couch potato, an “indoor” dog, or a chubby chowhound, he/she may not thrill to the call of the wild. Hint: dogs that pant like crazy on walks around the block are going to have a difficult time of it on the trail.

Many dogs love to hike, though, and, with some conditioning outings, will improve over time. If you have any doubts, ask the vet if your dog is sufficiently physically fit for hiking. Ask your vet if your dog is sufficiently physically fit for hiking. Ask your vet to suggest a canine conditioning program. Also ask if your four-legged friend might have any limitations that might restrict hiking abilities. Have your vet check your dog for hip, back, and joint problems.

Which brings me to the dog-hiking business I encountered in the Santa Monica Mountains on the west side of Los Angeles.

“The owners want the best for their dogs, and that’s hiking,” one of the professional dog-hikers told me. “Most of the owners wish they could hike, but they have stressful jobs. It makes them feel better, knowing that even if they can’t hike, the dogs are out there on the trail having a great time.”

The Trailmaster’s Ten Tips for Hiking with Dogs

  • Make sure your dog has up-to-date vaccinations and current identification tags.
  • Only hike where dogs are allowed. Heed leash laws. Contact park or forest offices to find out the rules and regulations for dogs on the trail.
  • If you use a dog pack, make sure it fits right, keep the weight light, and balance the load,
  • Help your dog out with some flea and tick repellant.
  • Bring dog treats, water and a collapsible bowl.
  • . Pick trails “easy on the paws”—softer dirt trails not rocky paths. Avoid trails with heavy mountain-bike use.
  • Don’t allow your dog to chase squirrels, deer or other wildlife.
  • Clean up after your dog. If your dog brings it into the park, you need to hike it out. Use zippered plastic bags for disposal of waste. If you are far from the trailhead, bury dog poop in a “cathole,” well off the trail.
  • You and your dog must yield to all other trail users including cyclists and equestrians. Leash up and allow other trail users to pass.
  • After the hike, check your dog for ticks and foxtails.