Written by Steffi Trott - SpiritedDog Training
Backpacking can be a fun bonding experience for you and your dog – but only if you come prepared.
Planning is often the difference between an easygoing adventure and a stressful mishap. When you’re backpacking by yourself, planning is typically pretty easy. You only have to bring what you need! However, when your dog tags along, there is some extra planning that’s required.
Below, we’ll share our top tips for backpacking with your dog. Adhere to these, and your trip will go much easier.
1. Practice – and Then Practice Some More
We highly recommend taking plenty of time to practice hiking with your dog. If your canine has never been on an extended hiking trip, you’ll likely need to work them up to it. You can’t just throw your dog in the woods and expect them to be okay.
Plus, this also allows you to practice with your equipment. Often, you’ll realize that a piece of equipment you have isn’t suitable at all. It’s better to figure these things out when on a short trip than on a whole backpacking adventure.
If you only do one thing on this list, make it this tip.
2. Buy a New Leash
Sure, your leash may be fine for a walk around the neighborhood, but it probably isn’t suitable for a backpacking trip. Most commercially available leashes aren’t. They won’t stand up to the elements and often aren’t comfortable for extended use.
We recommend purchasing a heavy-duty leash. You don’t necessarily have to purchase one specifically designed for hiking – but it is often better.
While you’re at it, purchase a harness for your canine. Most dogs are okay with a leash on their collar for a short period, but you don’t want to be pulling on their neck all day.
You may be tempted to let your dog hike without a leash. However, this is often illegal in many areas. Plus, unless you’ve hiked with your dog extensively before, you don’t know how they’ll react when a deer runs across your path.
3. Stay on the Trail
When you’re hiking with your dog, it’s even more important to stay on the trail. While some exploration may be fun for you, it can be dangerous for your puppy. There are poisonous plants that your dog may easily have access to – especially when you wander off the path.
Furthermore, prey animals are more likely to be hanging out away from the trail. The last thing you want is for your canine to scare them off.
4. Expect to Go Slower
You may be able to hike long distances in short periods by yourself, but don’t expect this to be the case when you’re backpacking with your dog. Often, your dog will be the slower party member, especially if you have more backpacking experience under your belt than them.
You should go at your dog’s speed, stopping regularly to rest as your dog needs to. Don’t push your dog unnecessarily, or you may find yourself halfway to your destination with an injured dog.
You should plan on going shorter distances each day than you usually would.
5. Pack Enough Dog Food
You’ll likely need to pack more dog food than your dog usually eats. When hiking, your dog will expend a lot more energy than they usually would, which often means that they’ll need more food. In many cases, dogs will eat twice as much as they usually do when on the trail.
You should also plan on feeding them more often. One big meal followed by a long hike is likely to lead to sickness and may even cause more severe conditions – like bloat. Instead, small and frequent meals are always better.
You should also bring enough water for your pup. While they may be tempted to drink from a stream, this will often expose them to bacteria and other contaminants.
6. Bring a “Dog Bag”
If your dog is larger, they may be able to carry their own backpack. You’ll often need to pack quite a few extra things for your dog, so having them carry some of it can often be helpful.
Many dog backpacks are designed to be used alongside a harness, which is precisely what your dog should be wearing when you’re backpacking. Many different designs are aimed at dogs of different sizes.
Remember, your dog is likely much smaller than you – even if they technically fall into the “large” category. We do not recommend packing very much into their bag, just a couple of pounds in most cases. If your dog isn’t particularly active (or if this is their first hike), you should probably pack even less.
Monitor your dog while they’re wearing the bag to ensure that they aren’t struggling too much. After all, your dog can’t tell you when the bag is too heavy.
7. Dress Appropriately
While you probably have the appropriate hiking clothing, you also need to consider your dog’s clothing as well.
For instance, if you’re hiking in muddy or briar-infested areas, you might want to look at clothing to protect your dog from these hazards. For areas commonly used for hunting, we recommend a brightly colored bandana so that your dog doesn’t get mistaken for an animal.
In some cases, you may want to pack a raincoat for your canines- or even a jacket if it’s going to get cold.
Exactly what you should pack depends on the area you’re hiking, the weather, and your dog’s breed. Huskies likely don’t need a jacket – even if it is in the middle of the winter. However, a shorthaired pointer likely will.
8. Don’t Forget About Parasites
Ticks and fleas aren’t just something you have to worry about at home – the fields and forests often carry lots of them.
We recommend putting your dog on a high-quality, anti-parasite medication. However, even the best medication doesn’t work 100% of the time. For this reason, we also recommend checking your dog thoroughly at the end of each day to ensure that they aren’t carrying any hitchhikers.
Whenever you check yourself, you should check your dog as well. Be especially thorough with dogs that have a thick coat, such as Huskies, German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds and their mixes.
Be sure to pack dosages of their anti-flea and tick medication as well – if they need a dosage while you’re hiking. Don’t give them their first dose before you go out, though. They may have an allergic reaction, and most medications take a little bit to start working.
Taking your dog backpacking can be extremely exciting and fun. However, extra planning is involved if you want everything to go smoothly.
Our eight tips above cover much of what you need to remember when hiking with your dog. Many dog owners tend to forget these key points, making the trip go from fun to a disaster very quickly.
Most of these tips do require some planning months ahead, though. You can’t exactly get much practice if you plan on leaving next week, for instance. We recommend starting the planning phase as far ahead as possible for this reason. You need plenty of time to get you and your dog ready.
About the Author:
Steffi Trott is the owner and founder of SpiritDog Training. Originally training dogs in-person, she added online training in 2018 to her business. Steffi strives to provide game-based, positive training solutions for owners and their dogs.
When she is not training other owners' dogs she competes in dog agility or hikes in the New Mexico and Colorado wilderness with her own 4 dogs.
Read more from Steffi Trott here. And feel free to leave any comments or questions below, we always look forward to reading them!
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Hiking in winter offered me the feeling of being truly alone without feeling lonely: a feeling a lot of people can identify with right now.
Seasonal depression is real and practicing self-care is important now more than ever. Going on a hike in the winter is a great way to get endorphins flowing and get out of the house. Not to mention there’s no bugs, no crowds, and more views on trail; don’t let the winter scare you away, rather, embrace it and have a good story to tell.