Hiking With Dogs: Tips For A Stress-Free Adventure
Hiking with dogs can be one of the most fun activities ever - until your buddy runs off after a deer, gets a paw snagged in a bush, or eats something poisonous in the woods. So here's everything you need to know to bring them along on your next hiking trip, stress-free.
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. The outdoors can come with its dangers – and if you’ve got a high-energy dog breed, hiking with dogs can be as fun as it can be freaky.
For starters, 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. Because with all the reasons why dogs run away, you always to ensure your buddy’s safety at every step.
So 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. Also, why a dedicated dog GPS tracker built for rough and tough dogs can be your second best friend when out in the wilderness.
Table of contents
- Essential do’s when hiking with dogs
- Why dogs make great companions on the trail
- Is your dog ready for a hike? Things to consider:
- The best hiking dogs by breed
- How to prepare for hiking with dogs
- Essential dog hiking gear
- Hazards on the trail
- Etiquette & final tips for hiking with dogs
Essential do’s when hiking with dogs
Keep your dog on a leash
Besides being a legal requirement in some countries, hiking with dogs on a leash can help prevent them from bolting. Some active dogs, for example, tend to have high prey drives. So they’re more likely to run off into the woods after a squirrel or a bird – and away from safety.
But with a leash, your dog at least has some idea that they should toe the line and stay within sight. In case yours is still unfamiliar with them, check out our post on leash training a dog.
Bring plenty of water and food
Another reason your dog might run away? They got the munchies. And in the wilderness, there’s no shortage of poisonous plants like mushrooms which might be fatally toxic for your dog if they take a bite out of them by accident.
So make sure to carry along healthy snacks your dogs can safely eat – and avoid any foods that should be off-limits for them. Here’s a list of foods that are toxic for dogs.
⚠️ Your trail mix might include bits of chocolate that can poison your dog – or nuts that might be too high in fat for them to safely eat. So consider carrying safer food options like kibble instead. (And keep your trail mix away from them, no matter how much they whine or beg.)
Carry along a dog first aid kit in case your buddy gets injured
If your dog runs off to investigate a far-off sight, sound, or smell, there’s always the risk they might snag a paw on a rock or crash into a bush – or pick a fight with the local porcupine population. (If not a boar, wolf, stag, or even a bear!) So in general, a first aid kit is always a good idea for you and your hiking buddies. But when you’re hiking with dogs, it makes sense to consider their needs as well.
The good news is, a dog first aid kit isn’t much different from a regular one. Including equipment like:
- Medical tape
- An antiseptic product
- Hydrogen peroxide
- A thermometer
Besides these, pack along your dog’s medical records and any other information a vet might benefit from knowing.
We’d also recommend not pushing your dog too hard. Keep an eye on their energy level and behavior – and adjust your speed or take a break if you notice they’re getting tired.
Plan ahead for your dog running off
Which sounds pretty cool – until you realize you might end up chasing them half the time you’re out hiking.
That’s why we’d always recommend equipping your dog with a microchip and a dedicated dog GPS tracker before venturing outdoors.
- A microchip is like a permanent ID tag for your dog. It’s a tiny implantable electronic device containing your contact information. A vet can quickly and painlessly insert it between your dog’s shoulder blades. So if your dog gets lost and someone finds them, a vet or animal shelter can scan their microchip to identify and get in touch with you.
- A dog GPS tracker can help you track your dog’s movements in real-time – with just a glance at your phone. And if you’ve invested in Tractive, over an unlimited range.
Besides, the Tractive DOG XL Adventure Edition is bite-proof and built for all the rough and tumble activities that come with hiking with dogs. So you can hike, stress-free, knowing you can follow your buddy’s every step – no matter how far they’re off roaming.
Always know where your dog is
Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your dog too.
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, who 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 – especially when it comes to the health benefits.
- According to the American Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular activity with pets can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.1
- In fact, just being a pet parent may boost your happiness, decrease feelings of loneliness, and help reduce stress.
- Being in nature tends to have a ton of perks for your physical and mental health. So what better than heading out in nature with your furry friend by your side?
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 is a brachycephalic breed – like a Pug, Boxer, or 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.– Francesca, Italy
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:
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Border Collie
- Doberman Pinscher
- English Springer Spaniel
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- Fox Terrier
- Jack Russell
- Labrador Retriever
- Portuguese Water Dog (also a #1 water loving dog breed)
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Samoyeds (including Sally, the off-leash Samoyed whose mum Claire tracks her, stress-free, with a Tractive GPS tracker)
- Standard Poodle
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.
- 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
💡Clicker training for dogs is a fun, practical way to train your dog through positive reinforcement. What’s better, dogs of all ages and temperaments respond pretty well to it!
However, even a well-trained dog might ignore commands and chase a squirrel from time to time. You’ll need to train your dog painstakingly and for years to help them overcome their instincts.
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.
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 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.
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.
Pick a dog-friendly hiking trail
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.
Equip your dog with a GPS dog tracker – for max security
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 are even more stories from pet parents who trust the Tractive GPS to keep their buddy safe on hikes:
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:
- 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
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.
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.
| 💡 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.
Stay on top of your dog’s wellness
See how they’re doing at a glance with Wellness Score. Set goals. Compare with dogs like yours. Monitor sleep. Detect issues and keep them healthy.
Winter hiking weather like snow and ice can be hard on dog paws, and could even lead to hypothermia (freezing) in extreme cases. Make sure to check how cold is too cold for dogs before planning your next winter hike.
On the other hand, high temperatures and direct sunlight also pose risks such as heat stroke and sunburn. 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
Finally, if your dog is spooked by lightning or thunder, you’ll want to be prepared in case of emergency/ Bring a towel and/or dog rain jacket to keep your dog dry in case of rain. Also, consider equipping them with a GPS tracker in case they run away because they were spooked by lightning.
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.
Another potential danger in the woods or mountains are wild animals – which you want to avoid your dog picking a fight with. Including:
- Venomous snakes
- Mountain lions
- Rabid raccoons
- and more
Even worse, hiking with dogs always raises the risk they’ll be infected by fleas or ticks. Protect your dog from disease or injury by keeping them leashed and on the trail.
Bodies of water may present a risk to your dog too.
- Can your dog swim? Some water-loving dogs might run off at the first sight, sound, or smell of a stream, lake, or river nearby.
- Are there strong undercurrents? You want to ensure your dog is strong enough to swim to safety.
- 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.2
💡Tractive is one of the smallest waterproof GPS trackers for dogs and cats alike. It’s specifically built for water-loving dogs who like to splash around and dive from time to time.
“You don’t need to worry about the Tractive tracker while you’re enjoying a walk in the rain or jumping in the water along with your pet. According to IPX7 standards, Tractive devices can be immersed in water up to 1 meter (or ~3 feet) depth for about 30 minutes. Which makes them the best choice for daily use – or if you’ve got a dog who loves their daily swim.”– Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive since 2016
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.
Etiquette & final tips for hiking with dogs
Here are some final things you may want to consider, including trail etiquette when hiking with dogs:
- Follow the local laws. Make sure you choose a hiking trail that dogs are allowed on. Also consider microchipping your dog – since most countries and some US states mandate them for all dogs. Similarly, check whether your area requires you to walk your dog on a leash.
- Start slow. If your dog is new to hiking, shorter trips might be better to avoid overwhelming them. Plus, tread gently – don’t let your dog’s curiosity cause damage to local wildlife.
- 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. Similarly, steer clear of areas heavily frequented by horseback riders and mountain bikers.
- Break often for water and snacks. Keep an eye on your dog’s activity and how quickly they tire.
- Take any trash you create with you; pick up after your dog’s waste or bury it. As a rule of thumb: leave only paw prints, take only pictures.
And finally, consider attaching a GPS dog tracker to your dog’s collar. So you can see where your dog is at all times, allow them the freedom to roam, and enjoy your hike, stress-free.
So, now 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! 😍
And to wrap up, check out how the Tractive DOG XL Adventure edition works in practice in this quick video:
Did you find this guide useful? Then share it with a trail-loving friend!