Backpacking with Dogs
It’s only natural to want to get your pup in on the action when backpacking season rolls around again—after all, adventures with dogs are way more fun! But hiking can be a lot more strenuous than your average stroll through the neighborhood. There are a lot of other packing considerations and trail regulations to keep in mind, too. Just use these tips for backpacking with your dog to make your time in the wilderness feel like a walk in the park!
Make Sure Your Dog is Up to the Challenge
Before you load your dog into the car and head to your favorite trail, you need to consider whether your pal is ready. If you have a puppy, you’re probably eager to start training him on proper trail etiquette and building his stamina. However, it’s best to wait until your dog is out of puppyhood.
Puppies may have tons of energy, but they may not be trail-ready until they’re a year or so old, depending on what age is considered full-grown for their breed. Until then, their bones and immune systems haven’t fully developed, which could lead them to contract a virus or get injured. You should at least wait until your pup has received important vaccinations like the rabies shot before heading to the woods. Besides, it’s best to hold off until your dog is mature and fully trained to avoid unpleasant or dangerous interactions with fellow hikers or nearby wildlife.
Pro Tip: Let your vet know that you plan on backpacking with your dog so they can recommend other helpful vaccinations and teach you some doggie first aid in case of accidents on the trail.
Even if your dog is an adult, certain breeds can have a tough time on strenuous hikes. Brachycephalic (short-muzzled) dog breeds like pugs, bulldogs and boxers will have a harder time breathing and keeping cool during long, difficult hikes simply because of their anatomy. Pushing them too hard could be dangerous.
Older dogs can struggle on backpacking adventures, too, even if they used to breeze through your favorite route. If they have conditions like arthritis, older dogs may wind up hurting more than having fun. And, just like people, dogs’ immune systems can start to falter with age, making them more susceptible to pathogens they could encounter on the trail.
Finally, your dog has to be physically fit for the trails you want to tackle. Start by building his stamina for the distance you plan on hiking. Then, you can choose easier paths in your area of choice and work your way up to the biggest challenge. Just keep an eye out for these surefire signs that your dog needs a break:
· Rapid panting
· Excessive drooling
· Taking longer than usual to for breathing and heartrate to normalize on breaks
· Glazed eyes
Brush Up on Your Trail Etiquette
Just because your dog is ready for the trail doesn’t mean the trail is ready for your dog. Always look up trail regulations before heading out with your pooch. Many National Parks don’t allow dogs on their hiking trails. If a trail allows dogs, stick to their leashing guidelines. Most will require your dog to be leashed at all times while others could be laxer. Either way, you should leash your dog according to your best judgement—you wouldn’t want your pup jumping on another hiker or taking off after wildlife.
It’s always a good idea to practice obedience before hitting the trail. Training your dog to be calm around other hikers and stay at your side will keep your dog and others safe. Your dog should also listen to your commands to stay or come back if he happens to take off after something.
Pro Tip: Consider recall training for your dog using a dog whistle, which can be heard much further away than shouting or regular whistling.
Lastly, you should always hit the trail with the Leave No Trace rule in mind. Obviously, if you and your dog stop for a snack, you shouldn’t leave any wrappers behind. But it’s also important to follow pet waste guidelines. If possible, take your dog slightly off-trail and away from water sources to pee. If they poop, either tote it along with you in a poop bag or bury it in a 6- to 8-inch hole (aka cathole). The hole should be at least 200 feet away from campsites, water sources and trails to avoid disturbing the natural rhythms of the environment…or causing another hiker to stumble upon your mess.
Gear Up Your Pup
Hiking with dogs will involve bringing along supplies, even if you’re only taking a day trip. Consider this next section your checklist for backpacking success!
- Food & Treats
Backpacking is a serious workout, so your dog will need a delicious and nutritious recharge at some point in your adventures. Bring along your dog’s favorite dry food from Nature’s Recipe®. Our grain free dog food recipes help give your pup the fuel he needs to finish your trek. Each natural food packs protein from real chicken, lamb or salmon along with added vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Treats can also be handy for redirecting your dog’s attention or rewarding him for good behavior on the trail. But you don’t just want to feed your dog empty calories. Rachael Ray® Nutrish® Real Meat Treats are made with real meat or poultry as the #1 ingredient and contain no artificial flavors or meat or poultry by-products. They’re the perfect on-the-go pick-me-up!
Access to fresh, clean water is just as important as food. You should try to keep your dog from drinking out of any old puddle or body of water, especially stagnant water. Even running water can contain pathogens that could make your dog very sick. Bring a few water bottles along from home or have a water filter handy. That way, you can scoop water from a pond, lake or stream and filter out any yuckiness before giving your dog a drink.
Pro Tip: Bring collapsible bowls for both water and food. They tend to be lighter and take up less space in your backpack.
- Leash & Collar
Many trails will require your dog to be leashed at all times. A sturdy, short leash that will keep your dog close to your side is a great idea. If you’re exploring an area that doesn’t require leashing, make sure your dog is wearing his collar and ID tag. If you happen to get separated, other hikers could use your contact info to get your pup back safely to you.
- Dog Pack
If you’re going on a longer trip over multiple days, it’s a good idea to have your dog help carry the load. Equip your dog with a dog hiking pack so he can carry collapsible bowls, food, poop bags and any other small supplies. Just be sure not to overload him—a good rule of thumb is to keep the pack between 10% and 25% of your dog’s body weight. Chat with your vet about how much weight would be a good idea for your dog to carry.
Test out the pack at home to see if your dog is comfortable wearing it. You can tell if a pack is the right size and worn securely if you can fit two fingers beneath the straps. If it’s too tight, your dog might have trouble breathing; too loose, and it could cause chafing or slip off altogether. Once the pack is properly fitted and your dog is used to wearing it, add supplies and take him on a few walks around the neighborhood. It will help him get used to carrying additional weight.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to be crossing water or climbing difficult terrain, choose a dog pack with a handle on top so you can easily grab, lift and pull your dog if he needs assistance.
- Protective Clothing
Just like people, dogs can benefit from special clothing to help protect them from tough terrain. If you’re crossing jagged rocks, ice and snow or stones that have been baking in the hot sun, booties can protect your dog’s sensitive paw pads. Make sure your dog is okay wearing them—some pups go a little nuts when their feet are constricted!
Pro Tip: Use paw wax to help protect your dog’s paw pads if he isn’t a fan of booties. Talk to your vet about trustworthy brands.
You should also prepare your dog for extreme temperatures. Collars and even some dog packs have cooling features to help your dog dissipate heat. Getting them a cozy coat is a good idea for chillier hikes, especially if your dog has a shorter, thinner coat.
- Poop Bags/Shovel
Always bring the necessary tools to leave no trace! Use poop bags if you’re in or heading to an area with proper receptacles. If not, use a small shovel to dig a cathole and bury the evidence.
- Doggie First Aid Kit
If you’re backpacking through rough terrain, there might be some injuries along the way. Having a doggie first aid kit and knowing how to use it is crucial for completing your adventure safely. A good doggie first aid kit should include:
· Tweezers for removing ticks, thorns and anything else stuck in the skin
· Nail clippers and file in case your dog breaks or tears a nail
· Styptic pencil to help stop bleeding quickly
· Dog-friendly antibiotic cream for cleaning wounds
· Gauze for wrapping wounds
· Vet-recommended medicines in case of allergic reaction, bloating, diarrhea, etc.
Pro Tip: Talk to your vet about common issues dogs can run into while hiking. They can help you build the ultimate first aid kit and give you tips for treating cuts, bites and other ouchies.
All sorts of stuff can hitch a ride on your dog during your hike. Whenever you take a break or stop for the night, check your dog over and brush him out if he picked anything up. Things like burrs and foxtails can be uncomfortable and even dangerous if your dog inhales or swallows them. And ticks can carry many dangerous diseases. Use tweezers to remove ticks, but don’t dig around and irritate or damage your dog’s skin if the head stays behind—it should come out on its own in time.
Pro Tip: If you have a bag or container handy, save any ticks you pull off your dog. Take them to your vet to be tested for Lyme disease or other diseases so you can get the jump on treatment for your dog.
If your trail crosses water or your water-loving dog has the chance for a swim, be sure to have a towel ready. Getting your dog as dry as possible will keep them from losing heat if temperatures drop overnight. You can also use it to wipe off muddy paws before he comes into the tent and covers your sleeping bag with paw prints.
- Tent Supplies
Camping with dogs means building a dog-friendly campsite! Make sure your tent is big enough for you and your dog and sturdy enough to handle doggie claws. Putting down an extra blanket or cushion can help solve this problem. A foam cushion or a few extra blankets also make a comfy place for your backpacking partner to curl up at night.
Your dog may also want to explore your campsite while you set up. Bringing a cable that you can run between trees will give your dog a decent radius to explore. If you let your dog loose, putting a bell or light on his collar will help you keep track of him even if he gets out of sight. However, it’s always best to keep your dog as close as possible so he doesn’t get into something he shouldn’t.
Find Dog-Friendly Trails Near You
The easiest way to find dog-friendly parks and trails near you is to use the Nature’s Recipe® Where to Wag tool. Just enter your zip code and use the drop-down menu to choose what you’re looking for. Our database includes everything from dog parks to pet training. Now go have fun, and don’t forget to bring along your dog’s favorite recipe to fuel the wag!