The Hiking with Dogs Guide: Essential Tips for a Safe Adventure Together

9 September 2021

A safe and successful hike with dogs requires planning. Is your dog fit enough for the trail? What about hiking etiquette and gear? Find out everything you need to consider while hiking with your dog(s) here.

two people hiking with dog on a mountain looking out

Ready to get out there and go hiking with your dog? Great idea! But before you set off on your hike, make sure you’re prepared. You’ll need to have the right equipment and proper training, and know the right safety tips and precautions before and during hiking with dogs. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to hike with your dog, including dog hiking essentials and the gear you’ll need to go hiking with dogs. Considering a bit of trail running? Check our guide of best running dogs to see if your buddy would be a fitting companion.

Do’s and don’ts of hiking with dogs

  • Keep your dog on a leash ✅
  • Bring plenty of water and food ✅
  • Make sure your dog is fit enough to hike ✅
  • Equip your dog with a GPS dog tracker in case they run off ✅
  • Don’t let your dog out of your sight ❌
  • Don’t push your dog too hard – keep an eye on their energy level and behavior ❌

Why dogs make great companions on the trail

For dog and nature lovers, few things are more fun than sharing an outdoor adventure with a furry friend. Namely, dogs, which make for the best hiking buddies. Why? For one, they tend to boost (and lighten) the mood. They also (apparently) might make you more attractive and approachable… in case that’s something you care about 😉

In general, your dog is literally good for you. According to the American Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular activity with pets can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. In fact, just being a pet parent may boost your happiness, decrease feelings of loneliness, and help reduce stress.

Discover more benefits of having a dog

dog running down a path in the woods with a person running behind

Is your dog ready for a hike? Things to consider:

Just as not all dogs are born to run, some dogs are better suited to hiking than others. Consider the following factors when it comes to which dogs are suited for hiking (and which are not).

Health & fitness

First, consider your dog’s health and physical condition before attempting to hike together. If your dog is sick, in pain, disabled or suffering from allergies, then avoid tiring, long hikes. A short walk outside or a romp around the dog park (if they are able) might be a better alternative.

Similarly, if your dog has a smushed face – for example, if you have a French Bulldog – remember they might have more difficulty with breathing, which might mean it’s better to avoid exhausting hikes. Likewise, overweight or underweight dogs will have their struggles on the trail.

If your is trained and in good shape, they might be ready to hike.

Age & size

Age and size are other important factors to consider when hiking with dogs.

Almost any breed weighing over 33 pounds can be a good trail dog. This doesn’t mean small dogs can’t join you on a hike. However, small dogs have to take a lot more steps to cover the same distance, and with their small legs, may need a lift where a larger dog would not. There are some trails that any dog can handle, of course, and others that only “real mountain dogs” should attempt. For everything in between, it’s up to you to decide whether or not your dog can do the hike.

Elderly dogs may have stiff joints or illnesses that could reduce their physical abilities or energy levels, and make it tougher to get around on the trail. For dogs older than 10 years, keep the route easy and stick to shorter hikes (if they do any hiking at all).

Puppies and younger dogs need special consideration too. Too much exercise can actually be harmful for puppies1. Lack of obedience training aside, hiking up and down steep, uneven trails can affect the development of a growing puppy’s hips, shoulders, and other joints. Plus, puppies might get over-excited on the trail and have trouble focusing. So a half-day hike is generally all that is recommended for a puppy.

Behavior, training & recall

Make sure your dog displays good behavior towards others (especially towards children), has a handle on their prey drive, and follows your command before hiking together.

If your dog is completely untrained, does not follow basic commands or know how to walk on a leash, they’re not really ready for hiking. Likewise, if your dog is not neutered and chases every female dog he sees, or bolts at the sight of a squirrel, you’ll need to be extra cautious when considering hiking. Same goes if you have an especially fearful dog. In any case, a GPS dog tracker can be a lifesaver on any hike with your dog.

Here’s the story of Happy, the dog who got lost (and found thanks to Tractive GPS) in the mountains:

Whether this happened because he went after a deer or not is still not clear to me. What is clear is that he was gone. Then I remembered Happy had his GPS tracker on. I immediately switched on LIVE Mode and started breathing more easily the closer I got to his position… there Happy was, sipping water from the source on a mountain’s edge.

Get peace of mind

The best hiking dogs by breed

Keeping in mind the factors above and the individual nature of each dog, the best hiking dogs by breed are said to be:

  • Alaskan Malamut
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Beagle
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Border Collie
  • Dalmatian
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • German Shepherd
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Fox Terrier
  • Jack Russell
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Portuguese Water Dog (also a #1 water loving dog breed)
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Saluki
  • Siberian Husky
  • Standard Poodle
  • Vizsla
  • Weimaraner2

Do you have one of the dog breeds above? Are they up for a sporty hike, or do they rather shy away from adventures? Connect with us on Instagram, and let us know! ⛰️🐕

How to prepare for hiking with dogs

Vaccinations & check-ups

You never know what you’ll run into on the trip, so make sure that your dog’s vaccinations are up to date before you hit the trail. It’s also a good idea to have your vet give your dog a health check to make sure they’re fit for hiking.

Questions to ask your vet:

  • Is my dog physically ready to hike? Is their immune system ready?
  • Do they need any vaccinations or preventative medicines?

We’ll get deeper into potential hazards on the trail below, but for now, it’s important to know that dogs could be exposed to parasites like ticks, which can make them sick. Dogs are also susceptible to infections like leptospirosis and giardia on the trail, which in the worst cases could be deadly3. So be sure your dog has all the necessary vaccines and medications before you set off.

Obedience training

  • come when you call them
  • stop, stay or sit when you tell them to
  • walk by your side as needed (heel)
  • remain calm around wild animals

However, even a well-trained dog might ignore commands and chase a squirrel from time to time. So make sure your dog is comfortable on-leash as well as off-leash, and equip them with a GPS tracker so you can follow their every step even if they run off.

Socialization

We’re sure your pup would make an epic guest at any party. But with all the narrow (and potentially dangerous) trail sections you might end up sharing with fellow hikers, it’s you it’s key that your dog is super-socialized and knows how to behave around other dogs and humans. If your dog is aggressive or overly protective, they probably won’t make a good hiking buddy.

Endurance training

Just like you, your dog’s physical fitness level should be on par with the difficulty of your planned hike. Ease into your new hiking habit with a small, easy hike of an hour or so, and gradually increase the time on the trail. Always watch your dog’s behavior for cues. A high energy level after a hike is a sign you can go for longer next time.

If you’ve mapped out a 6 mile hike but your daily dog walk consists of a casual stroll around the block, you might want to reconsider the route. If your dog is not used to long treks, start with shorter hikes before attempting longer, more difficult ones.

Dog friendly trails

Fit dog? Check. Well-trained dog? Check. Now you just need to find the perfect dog-friendly hiking route. In the US, dogs are not allowed on many hiking trails, so read up on local regulations before your trip.

Good to know: These National Parks are dog-friendly.

Bonus tip – choose trails with soft, leaf- or needle-covered terrain. These are best for sensitive dog paw pads. Avoid paths with sharp rocks, off-trail routes with steep drops, or any surface that gets very hot.

GPS dog tracker

dog outdoors wearing GPS trackerr

Last but not least, before hiking with your dog, we recommend investing in a Tractive GPS Dog Tracker for peace of mind. Even if they run off after something, you’ll be able to find them in no time – and not have to worry about them getting lost.

Here’s a few stories from pet parents who trust Tractive GPS to keep their buddy safe on hikes:

Lifesaver! I have a deaf dog, almost 1.5 years old who was unleashed during a hike. This was the first time that she roamed off into deep woods and could not find a way out because of the snow being quite deep, and thick bushes and branches. Luckily, network and GPS coverage was fantastic and the battery lasted while I live tracked her (1 hour 20 minutes.) With the help of a mountain rescuer and his friend we were able to get her out. Without the tracker, it would have been near impossible to find her. Truly greatful for this device and can honestly say it is a quality product.

Tractive Trustpilot review by Winny

Lost dog found: My dog ran away chasing a deer while we were hiking. I doubt I’d have found her without Tractive. Thanks Tractive

Tractive Trustpilot review by Fergus

Try Tractive GPS

Essential dog hiking gear

You wouldn’t head out for a hike without your boots, water bottle, or rain jacket. So why should it be any different when it comes to hiking gear for your dog? Here’s a list of important dog hiking gear to consider:

Safety gear

  • Collar & ID tag: Along with your dog’s collar, always make sure your dog can be properly identified with ID tags – your phone number should be easy to read so someone can call you immediately if they find your wandering dog.
  • Harness & leash: depending the trail, you may need to keep your dog leashed most of the time. Choose a lightweight yet durable leash or consider a hands-free waist leash. A harness will make walking on the leash more comfortable for your pal.
  • GPS dog tracker: when you’re out in the wilderness, don’t rely on a Bluetooth item finder like AirTag to help you locate your lost dog. It probably won’t work. You can instead follow your buddy’s every step in real-time with a Tractive GPS Dog Tracker ($49). Plus, with activity monitoring, you’ll be able to set fitness goals, and compare your four-legged hiker’s activity with other dogs.
  • Safety light: this often-overlooked item can help you keep an eye on your dog at all times, whether it’s after sunset or during a night-time potty break. You might also want to use a reflective dog collar or vest to increase visibility.

Health & nutrition

  • Water & bowl: carry fresh water on you (at least 8 ounces per dog per hour of hiking4), and a lightweight, collapsible water bowl. Alternatively, you can train your dog to drink as you pour from a bottle. Either way, make sure your dog stays hydrated. You can also find out how much water your dog needs in a day.
  • Food: carry healthy snacks to offer your dog. Feeding them in small amounts regularly will help keep their energy high and avoid the discomfort that can come from a full belly.
  • First aid kit: this must-have should include tweezers, wound disinfectants, bandages, tape and any special medications your dog may need. Consult your vet (or the Red Cross’s First Aid Kit for Pets) for advice on what to pack.
  • Dog booties: these can help protect your dog’s paws when the terrain is rough, hot or icy. Dog booties will minimize the risk of injury to your dog’s feet during a hike. They will also prevent sore paws, especially when your canine is new to hiking. Make sure your dog is used to wearing them, and get dog shoes with good grip.
  • Dog (rain) coat: a dog raincoat might seem silly at first, but it can play an important role in preventing frostbite during rainy weather.

Other important gear

  • Dog pack: this is like a dog backpack your furry friend can wear on the hike to help carry some of the gear. Be sure to get a pack that fits your dog correctly and has a top handle (for keeping your dog closeby as needed).
  • Dog towel: on your hike, your canine buddy is very likely to get muddy, wet or both. Have a hiker towel on hand to clean muddy paws and at the same time, keep your tent clean.
  • Dog bed: if you’re camping overnight in the woods, consider what the best sleeping for your dog is. You might need to invest in a larger tent or a comforter for your doggo.
  • Nail clippers: trim dog nails regularly, so they won’t destroy your tent or other hiking gear.
  • Toys: these are optional, but may come in handy on a long journey with your furry friend. Consider brining a ball, frisbee, cloth toy for tug-o-war or chew toy for some fun.

Hazards on the trail

dog running loose in forest

Just like you, your dog might face dangers on the trail. And while you may know better, your dog is probably not aware of potential hazards. So it’s best to know where your dog is at all times, and protect them from these hiking dangers:

😮‍💨 Exhaustion: This is one of the most common dangers of hiking with dogs. Watch your dog’s breathing, heart rate, and behavior to make sure they’re not pushing it too hard. Limping or rapid heart rate may be a sign that you need to take more breaks or end the hike sooner than later.

blue info icon blue info icon Pro Tip: Use a Dog Activity Tracker to find out your dog’s average daily physical activity level in minutes. If you exceed this number by a long shot, chances are that your dog may be stretching beyond their physical capacities and need a break.

⛈️ Weather: Winter hiking weather like snow and ice can be hard on dog paws, and could even lead to hypothermia (freezing) in extreme cases. High temperatures and direct sunlight also pose risks such as heat stroke and sunburn. And if your dog is spooked by lightning or thunder, you’ll want to be prepared in case of emergency (a GPS dog tracker can help you retrieve your dog immediately, should they run away). Bring a towel and/or dog rain jacket to keep your dog dry in case of rain.

🌿 Wild plants: Although they may seem harmless, remember that some wild plants can pose a serious risk to your dog. From grass awn danger to poison ivy and other toxic or irritating plants, do yourself and your pup a favor and don’t let your dog chew wild plants.

🍄 Poisonous mushrooms: Just like plants, some mushrooms can be poisonous for dogs. In order to prevent your dog from eating wild mushrooms, you’ll need to keep an eye on them at all times. That, or train them to be a very well-behaved boy or girl before your hike.

🥵 Heat stroke: Heatstroke in dogs occurs when their body temperature reaches 105°F or above, and they can’t cool themselves down. This can be fatal, so make sure to:

  • choose a cool day to hike with your dog
  • pick trails which offer shade
  • limit sun exposure
  • provide breaks
  • give them plenty of cool water

Get more tips for keeping your dog cool in summer

🐍 Wildlife: This include wild animals, such as bears, venomous snakes, mountain lions, coyote, and rabid raccoons (depending on your area). It also includes small pests such as fleas and ticks. Protect your dog from disease or injury by keeping them leashed and on the trail.

🦠 Water dangers: Bodies of water may present a risk to your dog too. Can your dog swim? Are there strong undercurrents? Bacteria in natural bodies of water can be source of infection in dogs, and symptoms often show up weeks later. To be safe, treat backcountry water before letting your dog drink it.

🏔️ Cliffs and dangerous trails: If you love hiking like we do, you’re probably no stranger to some serious heights. Chances are, your dog is not going to be as aware and careful as you are. So always keep your dog leashed if there is a chance that they could fall – which on a mountain hike, is more often than you might expect. Similarly, never attempt rock climbing with your dog.

🪤 Baited wildlife traps: Your dog may encounter traps set for wild animals if they venture too far off trail. Similarly, keep your dog by your side to avoid encounters with hunters in the hunting season.

person and dog wearing GPS tracker in nature

Etiquette & final tips for hiking with dogs

Here are some final things you may want to consider, including trail etiquette when hiking with dogs:

  • Make sure you choose a hiking trail that dogs are allowed on.
  • If your dog is new to hiking, start with short trips to avoid overwhelming them.
  • Follow leash laws and be mindful that unleashed dogs may frighten other people on the trail.
  • Give way to fellow hikers, keep your dog by your side while you let them pass – you never know who might be afraid of dogs.
  • Avoid dangerous trails with steep cliffs or climbing required.
  • Break often for water and snacks.
  • Use a Tractive GPS dog tracker to see where your dog is at all times.
  • Steer clear of areas heavily frequented by horseback riders and mountain bikers.
  • Tread gently – don’t let your dog’s curiosity cause damage to local wildlife.
  • Take any trash you create with you; pick up after your dog’s waste or bury it. (Never leave plastic bags or packaging in nature).
  • Leave only paw prints, take only pictures.

So, now you know all you need to know about hiking with dogs. We covered the most important tips for hiking with your dog, essential dog hiking gear, how to prepare for your trip, trail dangers and more. The only question left is…when’s your next hike with your buddy gonna be?

P.S. Use the hashtag #tractive to share your hiking adventures with us on Instagram, we’d love to see where you go together! 😍


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