Let’s face it. The evening stroll around the block with your pup can start to get boring, especially if you’re taking the same route every single day. Have you thought about venturing out on a trail to get some fresh air? It’s a great way to build a better connection with your dog, get your body moving and blood circulating, give your pup a chance to sniff new smells and give you both an opportunity to share an awesome view.
A 15-minute walk in the woods decreases stress and blood pressure. In a study by Japanese researchers, Chiba University sent 84 subjects to stroll in seven different forests, while the same number of volunteers walked around city centers. The forest walkers hit a relaxation jackpot: Overall they showed a 16% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2% drop in blood pressure, and a 4% drop in heart rate.
While you might be reluctant to get your hiking boots on, your dog doesn’t need any convincing. Canines are a natural fit for joining you on the trail. Strength and stamina will vary among dogs, so it’s best to start slowly and take frequent breaks.
Here are some things to keep in mind before you venture out:
A short and sturdy leash. As much as we’d love our pups to run free, we have to respect that we are sharing nature with others. There might also be some wild plants and animals around, and while your pup’s recall is great in the backyard, it might not be in a very large open space with distractions. So to keep your pup safe, we recommend keeping them on a 6 foot leash. You might also consider a harness depending on your dog. (Read more about leashes vs. harnesses.)
Snacks and water. Hydrate hydrate hydrate. This can’t be stressed enough. The last thing you want to happen is have you or your dog collapse on the trail without water and no way to get back. Carry at least ½ gallon of water for every 2 hours of your hike for you and your pup; more if it’s hot out. Take breaks at least every 30 minutes. A collapsible water bowl is super handy. And don’t think you’ve got to carry the load all by yourself. You can find a nice fitting backpack for your pup to carry his own water on the trail and even their own poop bags until you get back.
Weather conditions. Your dog’s fur is there to regulate their body temperature, but it can’t always protect them from extreme climates. If it’s cold out, get a fitted coat to help keep their core warm. If it’s warm out, early morning hikes are best before the sun gets too hot; evening hikes are great if you’re on a clearly marked trail, but you might want to wait until morning if you’re not familiar with the area. Adding reflective tape to your pup’s collar or backpack can be helpful to keep them visible. Hiking in very hot weather can be hard on your dog - in addition to keeping them hydrated, a cooling vest can be especially helpful for dogs with undercoats. Unless you’re a very experienced hiker, hiking in the rain with your dog is just not a good idea.
Hiking boots. I know puppy paws are cute when they’re soft and squishy, but the truth is they are meant to protect your pup’s feet. With frequent walks and ask pups age, their paws will become tougher and more conditioned to handle varying types of terrain. If you plan on hiking on rocky surfaces or hot sands, you may want to look into dog boots like Ruffwear carries. You can also treat their paws before and after long hikes with a protective paw wax.
Ticks & Bug sprays. Know your trail before go. Being much lower to the ground, there may be plants and other wildlife your dog is more susceptible to that you are. If you’re in an area where fleas are rampant, be sure your dog is protected. There are both topical and oral prevention methods you can use - consult with your local veterinarian to determine the risk in the area you live in. You can always make your own natural flea repellent at home to spray onto your dog before you head out on the trail. A tick removal tool like this can also be helpful.
As you become more experienced, this list will change depending on the distance and type of hike, but here’s a starter list of hiking essentials:
- 6-10ft Leash
- Fitted collar with your contact info.
- Water: At least ½ gallon for every hour. Plus more for yourself.
- Water dish
- Dog food/snacks: Bring actual dog food and/or treats; high protein/fat and low carb treats are easier for dogs to digest.
- Spare rope or leash
- Poop bags
- Dog first-aid kit with the basics (Bandages, scissors, tape, nail clippers, disinfectant, topical antibiotic or colloidal silver, paw protector or vaseline, styptic powder or cornstarch, and gauze) and a tick remover.
Lastly, our dogs can’t always “tell us” when they’re hurt and they’re sometimes too resilient for their own good -- just trucking along the trail when they should be taking a quick breather. It’s up to us to look out for signs of dehydration, exhaustion or other injuries that may have suffered. Doing so, helps you treat your pup’s condition or find help sooner. Down the line, these experiences will help you build an amazing bond with your dog like no other.