Hiking with your dog can be a great way to enjoy nature with a loyal companion by your side. You might even feel a wave of ancestral pride to be tackling the wilderness alongside Man’s Best Friend, the noble canine. 

However, there are some considerations you need to be aware of before you pack your pup into the car and set out for the nearest trailhead. From assessing your dog’s ability to handle a hike to making sure your pup is equipped with dog ID tags, these are six things you need to keep in mind when hiking with your dog.

Always check whether your hiking spot is dog-friendly.

Not all national and state parks allow dogs on the trail, so the first step you should always take is checking the regulations at the place you’re planning to hike. Some parks are concerned about the effect of dogs on the local ecosystem, so be respectful of the guidelines issued by professional ecologists and natural space managers. 

While you’re at it, check the specific regulations and accommodations for dogs at your hike spot. Take note of key info such as: 

  • Areas within a dog-friendly park where dogs may not be allowed
  • Placement of clean water sources and waste disposal sites
  • Extra admission fees for bringing dogs
  • What kind of wildlife is common in the park
  • Maximum leash length for dogs

Consider whether your dog is physically able to do the hike you’re attempting.

Some hikes might not be appropriate for your dog’s level of physical fitness. If your dog hasn’t done much or any hiking before, start off with short day hikes. Observe how your dog reacts and whether they’re exhausted by the end of the trail or begging for more. 

Your vet can give you a ballpark estimate of what kind of physical exertion your dog can handle. In general, more athletic dog breeds (such as an Australian shepherd or Labrador retriever) will be able to handle more strenuous hikes as long as they’re in good shape. Brachycephalic dogs like pugs and bulldogs, on the other hand, often can’t handle the exertion of a hike. Age also plays a role, as young puppies and very old dogs may not be able to hike at all. 

Bring plenty of water and snacks.

Since dogs don’t sweat, they can get overheated very easily if they don’t have water to drink. That means that it’s on their owners to bring a supply of fresh drinking water to keep the pup hydrated. Don’t just assume that a dog can drink from a nearby water source, as it may or may not be contaminated with parasites that can harm your dog. 

Snacks are also key if you’re going for a longer hike. Simple dry kibble makes a good on-the-go snack, and some experts recommend mixing in a little bit of puppy food for more calories. (Doggie trail mix, if you will.) A bag of treats is also a must-have not just for training purposes, but also for emergencies if you need to lure your dog away from something dangerous. 

Be courteous to others and follow the B.A.R.K. rule.

The B.A.R.K. rule is a four-part rule that gives dog owners an easy way to remember the right etiquette for hiking with a dog. The rule goes like this:

  • Bag your dog’s waste
  • Always keep your pet on a leash unless specifically allowed by park rules
  • Respect and keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter
  • Know where your dog is or is not allowed to go

These simple rules are the minimum courtesy that you should extend to other park visitors and their pets. And if there are areas where your dog is allowed to roam off-leash, make sure your dog stays within your line of sight and is able to consistently follow recall commands. 

Keep your dog current on vaccines and anti-parasite meds.

Your dog should be thoroughly protected from the hazardous organisms it can encounter on a hike. First, make sure that your dog’s vaccinations are current. Wild animals and other dogs can be unpredictable, and you never want your dog to be unprotected against a potential virus exposure (or to itself unknowingly expose another animal to a pathogen). Make sure that your dog’s dog ID tags include their current rabies tags.  

A dog makes an ideal target for tiny blood-suckers like fleas and ticks, as well as for mosquitoes that carry heartworms, tapeworms and other nasty parasites. These critters will be out in force in many park areas, particularly more wooded or swampy ones. Thus, your dog needs to be regularly taking whatever parasite prevention drugs your vet recommends.  

Make sure your dog has identification tags.

While you should be keeping your dog on a leash at all times except in off-leash areas, there’s still the chance that your dog could get away from you in their enthusiasm to chase down an intriguing scent. In such cases, it’s critical to have your dog equipped with the tags that will enable rescuers to reunite you. 

The two most important things to have on your dog are a collar with dog ID tags and an ID microchip. A collar tag is the first thing most people will look for when they find a stray dog, so make sure that your dog’s tag contains your contact information. Should the collar get loose, your dog’s safety may depend on whether it has a microchip ID. If you don’t have one, get one as soon as you can. They’re cheap, safe and highly effective at getting a lost pet home. 

Hiking can be an incredibly fun and rewarding activity for dogs and humans to do together. By being careful to consider the things we’ve talked about here, you can help keep your furry friend safe on the trail and have a tail-waggingly great time together.