The movement toward living a more active lifestyle means that there is a growing population of outdoor enthusiasts around the world. At the same time, the number of pet parents is increasing year over year. With numbers like this, we would be willing to bet that there are thousands of adventurous pet parents out there that are interested in taking their dogs with them on all of their adventures. From our experience, taking your dog hiking for the first time is not much different than taking an inexperienced person hiking for the first time. However, there are a few things you can do to make sure that everyone enjoys the adventure.
Getting Your Dog In Shape:
Just like us, our dogs need to be in shape to handle the physical component of hiking. If it’s your dog’s first time on the trail, try starting with shorter and less physically demanding hikes. As your dog starts to hit the trail more often, their physical conditioning will improve, and their footpads will toughen up. Once you find that the trail becomes a breeze for both you and your dog, you can work your way up to more challenging trails.
We have to remember that our dogs will not stop and ask for a break when they are fatigued. It’s our job as responsible pet parents to closely monitor our dogs and pay attention to the feedback they give us. The biggest sign of exhaustion to look out for is excessive panting and sluggishness. Humans are much better at regulating body temperature because we have sweat glands all over our bodies. Our dogs on the other hand, sweat through their paw pads and pant in order to cool down. Panting allows your dog to move the necessary air through its body in order to help regulate body temperature.
If you see that your dog is panting excessively and has become sluggish, you should stop immediately to allow your dog to cool off and rest. Move your dog into the shade, and give your dog some water while spritzing some water on their head. Remember that an extremely overheated dog is an emergency situation that may require veterinary attention.
Packing For Your Hike:
When we take our dogs hiking, they are burning calories and relying on their supply of water to stay hydrated. However, they wont be able to tell you when they are hungry or thirsty. Again, pay attention to your dog’s actions and be proactive to ensure that your dog can keep up with the adventure. So, what should you pack for your hike?
Hydration for your dog:
Water is one of the most important things to pack for all of your adventures. There are hundreds of portable water bowls on the market, and that makes it pretty straight forward when it comes to keeping your dog hydrated. Traveling light and saving space is crucial for most adventurers, so we would recommend investing in a good water bowl specifically designed for travel. From our experience, we found that the polyester “foldable” water bowls do not work particularly well for our dogs. They seem to be more easily spilled and for some reason our dogs act like they have never drank water out of a bowl when we use these. We did find success with Kurgo’s Collaps-A-Bowl. It’s far more sturdy than the fabric bowls, and it resembles our at-home water bowl. Whatever bowl you decide to go with, just make sure that you keep ample water around for both you and your canine companion.
Real Food for your dog (The OUT Bar):
Since your dog will be burning calories on the trail, it is crucial that you keep your dog adequately fueled. Keeping your dog fueled on the go will allow your dog to stay energized, regulate body temperature, and recover from the added muscle strain more easily. We personally do not recommend feeding your dog treats as a way to keep them fueled. Treats simply lack the nutritional value necessary to give your dog the nutrients it needs to stay active and healthy. Feeding your dog treats in place of a meal is like giving your kid candy. In this case, you are better off taking your dogs food with you in a zip-lock bag. Just be sure to keep at least 2 full meals worth of your dog’s food with you in case of emergencies.
Now, here is our shameless (but entirely relevant) plug. After speaking with hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts with canine companions, we learned that a lack of portable food is one of the biggest pain points. When we go hiking, space is one of our most valuable assets and traveling light is key. Taking your dog’s food with you requires you to give up valuable real estate in your backpack. That’s why we created the perfect meal solution for your adventurous canine companion. The OUT Bar was specifically designed to act as a complete meal replacement in a compact and travel-friendly shape. With an 18-month shelf life, you have the flexibility of storing a few OUT Bars in your car and in your backpack so that your dog can have access to real food any time you need it. The OUT Bar was designed to be completely interchangeable with your dog’s daily food, and it is made using only premium ingredients. Furthermore, the OUT Bar is higher quality than most leading dog food brands, so you never have to sacrifice quality for convenience. Just throw a few in your backpack and go explore! Navigate over to the OUT Shop to find out the details.
Trail Training Goods:
In most cases, we recommend always keeping your dog on a leash. It is the best way to ensure that your canine companion stays safe out there on the trail. Also, leashes are required in many outdoor recreational areas, so just be mindful of the rules. We must remember that every time we step foot into the great outdoors, we are sharing that space with other wild animals including moose, deer, bears, coyotes, and even mountain lions. Dogs love adventure and tend to chase after animals, and that could put you, the animal, and your canine companion in danger. Not too long ago, we read about a man whose dog was attacked by a mountain lion right outside of Denver. The dog came running back to its owner only to be followed by the mountain lion. Luckily they were both able to make it off the trail with minimal injuries. When we went to the Maroon Bells in Aspen, we were warned by the park rangers that moose see dogs as threats, and that the moose could trample your dog if frightened. These are just a couple real world examples that show the importance of being a responsible adventurer.
That being said, we know dogs love to experience the freedom of the great outdoors. If the outdoor recreational area allows it, and if you’ve taken the appropriate safety precautions, unlatch that leash and let your dog explore! This is where you will want to have some treats with you for recall. Just remember that treats are not food, but they can make great training aids. There isn’t one particular treat we personally like to use. Just about any small and low calorie treat will do the trick. A great training activity is to let your dog run off and explore for about 1 minute, and then call them back. Immediately reward them with a treat and keep them by your side for another minute or two. Then give them a release phrase like “Okay! Go!” and let them explore again. If you repeat this exercise over and over, your dog will quickly learn when it's time to play and when it's time to stay by your side. In no time, your dog will be an experienced adventurer.
First Aid Kit:
In the wild, it is inevitable that we will get a little dinged up from time to time. It’s no different for our dogs. Whether it’s that porcupine that resembles a plush toy, or that sharp rock that finds its way into your dog’s paw pad, you will need to be prepared. Orvis makes a great Canine First Aid Kit that we like to keep handy for all of our adventure "faux-paws". First aid kits are not very exciting, so we won't bore you with the details. However, there is no question that a first aid kit is perhaps one of the most important things you can pack, so don’t leave home without one.
As (hopefully) all responsible pet parents know, it’s important that we pick up after our dogs. Picking up after your dog is not only good etiquette, but it’s also necessary for keeping our planet clean. We personally like to pack a few Pogi’s Poop Bags in our dog backpack for all of our adventures. The earth friendly focus of Pogi’s is a major selling point for us since we like to help Mother Nature in any way we can. They are biodegradable (including the box) and they are scented which helps make this task a little less cringe worthy. However, don’t spend too much time thinking about the best outdoor oriented waste bag. Ultimately, a poop bag is a poop bag - just make sure you have some on you.
Dog backpacks are becoming increasingly popular these days but in many cases are more of a fashion statement than anything else. However, if you are a real outdoor junky, these backpacks can add some real value. A healthy dog can safely carry up to 25% of their body weight, so you can easily have your dog carry a water bowl, a few OUT Bars, some trail treats (for recall), poop bags, and a first aid kit. Our friends at Ruffwear and Outward Hound make some pretty impressive backpacks. We have used backpacks from both brands before, and aside from normal wear and tear, they hold up great. Overall, we like the Approach Pack by Ruffwear. Not only does this pack look great, but it also has all of the functionality your adventurous pup needs. With sizes ranging from XXS to XL, this pack will work for most dogs. The pockets are large enough to hold bulky supplies, and the bag fits our dogs perfectly with minimal adjustment. Just be sure to be mindful of the 25% body weight rule.
As we mentioned before, it’s generally recommended (and often required) that you keep your dog on a leash in most outdoor recreational areas. There is no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a leash. We believe that as long as the leash is strong enough to hold your dog, it’s a good leash. However, there are some very interesting leashes out there that are both durable and stylish. A great company we came across through our community of Instagram users is Kona Leashes. Specifically, their Climbing Rope Traffic Leash is a fantastic choice for trail training. It is short enough to work as a “handle” and long enough to function as a traditional leash. Using a leash like this allows you to walk your dog at a steady heal, and then simply let go and let your dog explore for a bit before calling them back.
Remember how we talked about your dog’s ability to regulate body temperature? Aside from ensuring that our dogs are properly hydrated and adequately fueled with the nutrients they need, there are a couple of products that can help as well.
For winter adventures in cold climates, we need to make sure that our dogs stay warm. Again, Ruffwear has a variety of coats that are designed for different climates. We won't go into the details of each one here, but we have tried many of them and we found them to be very high quality. Just be mindful that our dogs already have coats, and that many of us have a tendency to over do it when it comes to keeping our dogs warm. Personally, we live in Colorado where the weather can go from sunny and 75 to windy and 40 in the same day. Our recommendation is to always go a little lighter in the coat department than you think your dog needs. A lightweight overcoat is more than sufficient for most cold weather activities. Just be mindful of the type of natural coat your dog has and choose accordingly.
For summer adventures in hot climates, we also need to make sure our dogs are comfortable. The old school method of doing this is to hose your dog off with some cold water right before playing in the sun. However, this is not ideal because who likes to smell a wet dog all the way to the trail? It’s also probably not smart to waste all of your drinking water on this pre-adventure bath. Luckily there are a few products out there that can help. The one we like to use is the Swamp Cooler, also made by Ruffwear. Again, these come in a variety of sizes and are simple to use. Just soak the vest in water, wring it out, and put it on your dog.
Although these coats and coolers may be over-kill for most people, we figured that some of our readers might find them useful. Remember, it’s key to travel light. If we do everything we can to ensure that our dogs are hydrated and adequately fueled, we can get away without having to spend the money on all of these bells and whistles. If you search the web for outdoor gear for dogs, you will find a plethora of options ranging from dog hiking boots to fleece jackets. Although there are some of you out there that could use these miscellaneous items, we do not consider them to be critical hiking supplies for most people. For us, it’s more about developing good habits than it is about having the most gear on the trail.
So there you have it - a guide for all adventurers and their canine companions to prepare for the trail. We covered the basics of conditioning, hydration, food, packing, and gear. Remember that it’s always important to do your own research and learn as much as you can before heading into the wild. This guide is meant to point you in the right direction, and we hope that you will expand on these topics and become the expert. If you feel like we missed anything, or would like to keep the conversation going, please join the discussion. Until next time, keep exploring!