Hiking with Dogs

The final days of summer are close at hand, but there is still plenty of time to fit in some great hikes while the weather stays warm. And what makes hiking more fun than it is already? Bringing along a canine companion, of course!

Some dogs love a good hike, and what's not to love? The great outdoors with your favorite person, lots of new smells and the chance to stretch your legs: it's fun stuff.

But along with the fun, owners should take care to make sure their dogs are safe on hikes. There are many ways a dog can get into trouble on a trail but with some preparation and vigilance, everyone can have a good time and stay safe.

Make sure your dog has ID:

Before setting out on a hike, make sure your dog has identification in the form of a tag, collar nameplate or microchipping, and the information is up to date. Dogs do occasionally get lost on hikes, and identification will make it much easier to reunite you with your pet if someone finds him. In that same category, all dogs should have an up-to-date rabies vaccination and wear a rabies tag anytime they leave home.

Don't let your pet off leash:

It can be tempting to let a dog roam free on the trail, but unless your dog is extremely well trained to come when you call, it's not a good idea. It's easy for a dog to lose its way in the woods, and there is no way to know what lies ahead on the trail. Unfriendly wildlife, people who don't like dogs and even other dogs who don't like dogs might be just around the corner. At best, it's inconsiderate and at worst, it could be dangerous for your dog and others. Another thing to consider is that most parks, national forests and other hiking areas don't allow dogs off leash, so it's a good idea to follow the rules.

Beware of wildlife:

The woods and fields are full of wildlife, some of which might not hesitate to defend against the threat a dog represents to them. In this area, bears and poisonous snakes are the biggest concern.

The rules for encountering a bear on a trail are similar for people and dogs. Remain calm and try to keep your dog close to you and quiet. Most likely, the bear will leave, but if it doesn't, walk away slowly and quietly with your dog as close to you as possible.

If you encounter a snake, give it space and keep your dog away from it. Rattlesnakes and copperheads are the most commonly seen poisonous snakes in this area, but they'd rather avoid biting if they can. If you see a snake, back away from it slowly and keep your dog in check. If your dog gets bitten, don't panic. Many snake bites can be treated if it is done quickly. Get to a veterinarian quickly with as little movement as possible.

Stay hydrated:

Lots of water is just as important for pets as it is for people when engaging in physical activity. Although much of the time a dog can drink out of rivers, streams, lakes and ponds without ill effects, these bodies of water can host parasites or toxins that could make your dog very sick. Try carrying enough water for you and your dog, and if your dog is up for it, get a doggie backpack and let your dog carry his own water.

Don't forget the sunscreen:

Just like people, some dogs are sensitive to the sun. If your dog has a light or white colored coat or a pink nose, apply sunscreen to the exposed areas to protect those spots from sunburn.

Check for ticks:

After every hike, check yourself and your dog for ticks. These tiny insects are not only irritating, but they can carry diseases, such as Lyme. If you find a tick on your dog, remove it immediately. Grasp it as close to the head as possible and pull it straight out. Don't use oil, butter or other substances on it and do not try to burn it off.

Know your dog's limits:

If your dog is more of a couch potato than an athlete, a long strenuous hike is not the best idea. Dogs that are unused to lots of exercise can easily strain muscles or become overheated and exhausted. If you want to start hiking with your dog, take it easy at first and then build up to longer, more difficult hikes.