Keeping Your Dog Safe While Hiking

“The journey of life is sweeter when travelled with a dog.”

Bring a small, clean bowl to supply water to your pup. This helps prevent altitude sickness.

Do Dogs Like to Hike & Is It Good For Them?

The simple answer is, “Yes, dogs love to hike!” It is physical and mental stimulation, they get to see things they haven’t yet, and best of all, they get to use their noses! It can be a little worrisome to prepare a hiking trip with your furry companion, due to the risks involved with altitude, heat, and exhaustion, but if you read through these safety tips, you’ll feel more confident with your ability to take great care of your dog while hiking.

Helpful tip: carry a pup-medkit with you while you travel with your dog. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises can all present problems for you dog just as it would yourself.

Prevent Altitude Sickness In Dogs

Photo credit: Sarah Kurfeß

H2O: There are a couple of things to consider when thinking about preventing altitude sickness in your dog. Primarily, make sure you keep water with you! Dogs need to be well-hydrated or they won’t be able to fight off altitude sickness as well. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! I recommend setting a bowl out for hydration every 15 to 20 minutes when hiking. Your dog should intake at minimum 8oz of water an hour while hiking.

Altitude: Your dogs ears are much more sensitive than your own, so altitude can be more uncomfortable for them than what you’re experiencing. If you live at sea level or lower elevations, and that is what your dog is used to, then I wouldn’t plan anything higher than 5,000 to 6,000 feet. You can train with your dog at these levels to start acclimating toward the 7,000 to 8,000 feet range. Anything higher than that, and you’re going to need to seriously watch your dogs behavior.

Symptoms: Your dog may become confused or exhausted if altitude sickness begins to set in. You know your dog better than anyone, so make sure you keep a close eye on how your dog is acting. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to:

• Vomiting

• Exhaustion

• Shortness of Breath

• Drooling & Excessive Panting

• Lack of Appetite

If any of these symptoms occur, stop, hydrate, and return to your home so your pup can rest.

Keeping Your Dog’s Paws Protected While Hiking

Did you know that dogs actually sweat through their paws?

A dogs paw consists of the metacarpal pad, the claws, the dewclaw, and the carpal pad (the smaller pad in the back). They’re comprised of fatty tissue which protects them from extreme conditions in the cold, such as the need to walk on snow and ice. However, the fatty tissue does not protect against extreme heat, such as a hot metal grate along the sidewalk (which my dog always avoids walking on).

What does the heat do? It causes the same problems you would have with your feet in extreme heat. Blisters form, skin tearing happens, and burns occur. A good rule of thumb while out with your dog is if it’s something you wouldn’t want to touch, then they shouldn’t either.

If your dog is prone to foot injuries, there is a wax you can by to spread across your pups paws. “Paw Balm” or “Mushers Secret” are examples of this wax. This helps keep the paw slick and hydrated so that tough surfaces while hiking don’t crack the dogs padding.

Helpful tip: Don’t forget to carry some tweezers with you! It’s very hard to remove a deeply rooted sticker from in between your dogs toes without tweezers.

Protecting Your Dog From The Heat While Hiking

Help cool your dog down by carrying them when they seem like they are getting too hot. Wet their fur for extra cooling. Here, we’re carrying our trail buddy, Max, back to the car.

As stated above in the altitude sickness section, hydration is going to be your friend, here. But there are some extra steps you can take to help reduce the chances of your dog becoming overheated.

One thing you can use is a doggie “cooling vest”. Cooling vests work by providing a larger surface for evaporation, essentially retaining moisture, which then cools your pup down. These are normally effective for 1.5 to 4 hours and work much better in humid environments than in dry.

Helpful tip: Just like running through a water sprinkler, if you fear your pup is overheated. Sprinkle some water all over it’s fur. This is a quicker way to decrease body temp than a cooling vest.

Protecting Your Dog From The Cold While Hiking

It’s actually theorized that dogs evolved in colder environments, based on how their foot padding works, and so, many of them can thrive in snow and ice. Even so, it’s important for them to have proper protection. Just as you would gear up for hiking in the cold, you’ll need to think of the same for your pup.

Items that come in handy for cold weather gearing your dog are “paw-booties“, “heated dog beds (upon return to campsite)”, and “dog-fitted sweaters”. Dressing a dog up for a hike in the winter weather is a lot of fun, great for pictures with the family, and more than anything, protects him or her from the elements.

Helpful Tip: Ice will form in longer hair on dogs just like they would on your hair or beard. Trim the foot fur on your pup before heading out on a hike in freezing conditions. 

Keeping Your Dogs Energy Full While Hiking

Don’t take a long hike with your dog without taking some type of snacks. Your pup will thank you when you present a tasty treat on the trail. Some people are able to hike for hours without eating anything, but remember, it’s most likely after months (or even years) of conditioning for thru-hiking. Dogs are typically smaller than their owners, and aren’t capable of storing as much energy as we do. Many times, dogs have a low amount of body fat to store reserves.

It’s recommended to simply bring along your dogs usual kibble. Don’t feed a dog right before or right after a hike or they may get an upset tummy. If you plan to take a long hike (more than an hour), invest in some high protein kibble.

Can My Dog Carry Weight While Hiking?

You’ll want to spend time conditioning your dog for any pup-backpacking. Just going out on short walks, such as around the neighborhood, while your dog carries smaller amounts of weight, will help strengthen your dogs carrying capacity over multiple sessions of training. This isn’t something to rush into. That could be dangerous for your dog. Take time to train just the same as you would for yourself.

Photo credit: Wilderdog
Helpful tip: A dog should only carry up to 25% of his or her body weight. Anything over that amount becomes limiting and cumbersome.

What Age Can I Take My Dog Hiking?

It’s suggested to wait until at least 12 months of age. You may check with your vet on your pups specific breed just to be extra-safe. Some breeds, such as those with shorter snouts, have a harder time adjusting their oxygen intake per breath, so as a puppy, the hike could be too challenging.

Plants to Avoid While Hiking With Your Dog

There are many plants to take into consideration when hiking with your pup. Some plants are toxic to dogs and should be avoided if at all possible. These plants include, but are not limited to:

• Ivy

• Elderberry

• Foxtails

• Bleeding Heart

• Mushrooms

• Lillies

Helpful tip: acorn tree nuts can also contain tannins that are harmful to dogs. Do not let your dog play with or chew on acorns. These will cause severe upset stomachs, kidney failure, and possible death.

Water Sources For Your Dog While Hiking

It’s a best practice to utilize the same water you drink, whether it’s spring water, purified water or tap water. Many times dogs will drink out of creeks and rivers while we hike past, and, although their stomachs are much stronger than humans, they are just as susceptible to parasites and bacteria.

Avoiding Ticks While Hiking With Your Dog

There are specific smells that will help avoid ticks while you’re out in the wilderness with your dog. Here’s a list of scents that repel ticks:

• Lavender

• Peppermint

• Citronella

• Lemongrass

• Citrus

There are also ultrasonic tick repelling collars available on the market to help repel ticks even more.

Dogs are susceptible to tick bites and tick borne diseases. In many cases, these tick borne diseases are not able to be vaccinated against. It’s important to use a tick preventive product on your dog.


Hopefully, you feel pretty confident taking your dog hiking with you after reading through these tips. If you have other tips that could be beneficial to others, I’d love for you to share them in the comments section below. Stay safe and have fun on the trail!

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Founder of HykLyt. Backpacker. Mountain biker.

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