Summer on the dog trail: Guide to safe day hiking with your dog

Tails on the trails: How to keep your dog safe on the hiking trail

National Trails Day June 6 Guide to safe day hiking with your dog
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I love day hiking with my dogs! It’s a great way to bond with them and stay in shape. June 6 is The American Hiking Society's National Trails Day! Parks and trails are very stimulating for a dog and I find hiking in nature so relaxing. But the wilderness can be a dangerous place and it’s important to take precautions to make sure no one gets hurt- including wildlife you may encounter along the way.

Before you hit the trail, you need to make sure your dog is physically capable of taking the hike. If you have any worries or doubts you should consult your veterinary hospital team. It’s not recommended that you take a puppy hiking, and keep in mind that an in-tact dog is more likely to roam. I also recommend making sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations and medication to prevent fleas, ticks, ear mites, worms, and heartworm. Especially tick medications because ticks also love hiking with your dog. You should also make sure your dog has proper identification- tags or microchips- just in case you get separated. Prepare for emergencies ahead of time and be aware of your surroundings at all times!

When you go hiking with your dog make sure you bring some food and a lot of water- for both of you. You should bring a first aid kit too, with items for you and your dog. Planning on taking a swim? Don’t forget to bring a towel! 

National Trails Day June 6 Guide to safe day hiking with your dog

Always bring any medications your dog may need as well as sunscreen for dogs sensitive to the sun. Some large or deep-chested dogs are prone to bloat and shouldn’t exercise right after a meal. Know your dog and watch her body language. If your dog shows signs of pain or discomfort then it’s time to turn around and head back home.

Pick terrain that your dog can navigate easily. Sharp rocks, thorns, thistles, underbrush, or trails with too much of an incline may be tough on your dog. Some breeds are unable to swim due to the way their bodies function, so don’t pick a trail where you will have to cross water if your dog’s not a capable swimmer.

Some newborn wildlife, such as birds that have just left the nest, could be easily hurt by your dog. It’s only natural for your dog to want to investigate a moving thing it finds in the woods. Hazel loves hunting leaves! Part of learning and discovering the world for a canine includes smelling and ‘tasting.’ That can be dangerous in the woods when you’re hiking with your dog.

On the contrary, a larger, more dangerous animal may be forced to defend itself if it views your dog as a predator. Porcupines are bad news for your dog. Being quilled can is painful for dogs- especially if quilled in the face or tongue. This would result in an immediate and expensive trip to the veterinarian, so it’s important to try to control the variables that you can to make sure you can safely hike with your dog. 

National Trails Day June 6 Guide to safe day hiking with your dog

Because you never know how an animal- domestic or wild- is going to react, it’s advised to use a leash when hiking with your dog. This will give you maximum control over the situation. I’m the first to admit that I don’t follow this rule very well. You can try using a shorter leash so it doesn’t get tied up in branches or shrubbery. You can even put bells on your dog collar to ward off any nearby predatory wildlife.

It’s not just wildlife that can be dangerous when hiking with your dog. Some plants, flowers, and wild fruits and vegetables are toxic to dogs. Avoid mushrooms, grapes, milkweeds, oleander, nightshades, foxtails, and azaleas. Those are just a few of the plants that can kill; there are many dangerous things your dog can potentially eat on a hike. A little research can save a life. Learn the plants in your region and search online for photos so you can properly identify them.

National Trails Day June 6 Guide to safe day hiking with your dog

Make sure you know the area and never take your dog hiking in an area being used for hunting. Keep an eye out for hunting traps! Wear bright colours while out in heavily wooded areas. You can save yourself- and your dog- a lot of trouble by being aware of your surroundings at all times. Watch where you walk, sit to rest, and where you put your hands. I was hiking once and sat on a picnic table, not knowing that a hornet was inside a hole in the wood. It stung me right on my butt! Take it from me- watch where you sit…

Don’t forget that you are not alone out there. Listen for oncoming cyclists or horseback riders that may spook your dog. Allow plenty of time for rest and drink breaks along the way. Be courteous and cautious on trails and always clean up after yourself and your dog! Leave no trace! Be mindful that some trails don’t allow dogs, as sad as that is. Do a search in advance for dog parks near you. You can search ‘dog-friendly hiking trails near me.’

When you get home, do a tick check on your dog. Also, check for burrs and other nasty things that can stick to a dog’s fur. You may want to bathe your dog or at least wash the paws. After the hike, get some much-deserved rest and relaxation- a perfect way to end a long day in the wilderness! 

National Trails Day June 6 Guide to safe day hiking with your dog

What to bring for a hike with your dog:

I've made an easy reference list of things to bring on a hike with your dog. I've also linked to some great products you can purchase from Etsy to support small businesses! 

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National Trails Day June 6 Guide to safe day hiking with your dog

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