Tips for Hiking with Dogs

Tips for Hiking with Dogs

- by Whitney Brownie

Since getting a high-energy dog, our family has learned one thing the hard way: There is no skipping the calorie-burning exercise which he requires every day. Expending his energy is absolutely necessary to keep our dog happy and our furniture structurally sound. As an owner, I have had a new world of hiking in the woods open up to me as one big crash course. Not only is Biscuit my first dog, but I also moved to Vermont as a life-long New York City dweller shortly before he arrived into my life. In essence, it was a pressure-cooked learning curve covering the do’s and the don'ts of daily hiking. I can report it has been a win/win ever since our daily morning routine began!

Be overly prepared

As someone who feared my own shadow, I learned that any hang-ups about going into the woods can be eased by the power of preparedness. Learning about the appropriate reactions to various fearful situations helps a hiker feel in control. Depending on where you're located in the country (or world), these situations can vary greatly. In New England, rocky mountainous terrain, hunting seasons, black bears and cruel weather top the list of the worst-case scenarios.

In order to side-step any potential distractions from enjoying these routine hikes, I now have a small pack waiting at the door each morning. My pack is full of things what would be super helpful if I were faced with any of those scenarios.

What to pack for hiking with dogs

Be ready for aggressive/startled wildlife (you’re hiking through their living room, after all!)

This subject used to top my list of reasons to get nervous while hiking. I learned that a few easy additions to our routine would ease the thoughts of animal interactions:

First, put a bell on your dog.

What does a bell have to do with wildlife?

Dogs tend to move quickly, quietly and swiftly through forests: all great ways to set the stage for startling an unsuspecting animal (be it a stinky skunk or a hungry carnivore). 

A ringing bell on your pup allows for creatures ahead to know that something is approaching so that they can hide. It also make’s it easier for you to hear them if they’ve run a little bit ahead! If you’re using a bell you already have at home, grab a simple key ring or mini-S carabiner to keep it secure. With the combination of a bell and hi-vis piece of gear, your good boy will be noticeable by both sound and sight, no matter how fast, or in what direction, they’re moving.

Next, put a bell on you (yes, you this time!)

Let's be clear: your bell certainly does not have to be a huge cow bell! Find something that you know that your dog can hear – like a bear bell (which are also good to have on hand so other critters in the woods can hear you). Keep in mind that your pooch's hearing ability trumps yours by four times in distance. That's the difference between being able to distinguish a sound from 80 feet compared to your 20 ft earshot range!  Not only does your bell serve the same purpose of alerting wildlife to your approach, but it also helps Fido track where you are at all times, too.

Be sure to know the protocol for the specific wildlife you might encounter: for example, the correct reaction to an aggressive black bear is the exact opposite of the correct reaction to an aggressive brown bear. You should try and look up what lives in your neck of the woods (pun intended) and follow your state Department of Fish & Wildlife's suggestions.

If your dog has excellent recall and you typically let them go off leash, be sure to always carry a leash with you in your pack. Being able to leash your dog quickly (using strong, practiced recall commands) in the face of dangerous wildlife is the difference between a great day and a horrible day on the trails. If your dog does not have good recall or you haven’t practiced as much off leash training as you would have liked, keep them on leash (maybe using a 20 ft leash instead of your normal short one). This will make for a safe and happy dog + dog owner.

Other helpful and easy items to bring on your hike include:

  • Mini Air horn – these can be about the size of a coin roll and would help in scenarios where you need to startle an aggressive animal on purpose and in the case that you need to be heard by your dog or person from a great distance.
  • Mini bear spray – for the obvious reasons.
  • Walking stick – great for slippery slopes, situations in which you need physical lifting leverage and of course, gives you a tool to keep anything you don’t want near you at least your stick’s length away from you. Plus, this is an easy thing to find in the woods (and perhaps Fido can help you on your search!).

Let Everyone Know That Your Dog Is Not Bambi

Hi-vis (or Hi-Viz) colors are important year-round (not only during hunting seasons) since it increases your chances of being found from above (if for some reason you were to be unable to return from your hike on your own). It's a simple addition that you can easily throw on for your routine.

Biscuit, a vizsla, happens to look exactly like a baby deer in the forest, so we never hike without our neon Turtle Fur.

Some things I always have on hand for myself and Biscuit to help us be seen in the trails:

  • The Blaze Orange Turtle's Neck or the Pipe Dream are great options for you / your partner / your hiking companion. Both keep the chill at bay while being bright enough to be seen from a distance.
  • The Good Dog Bandana fits perfectly over your dog’s head and can sit right on top of their collar (which is great if your dog likes to get a little muddy and you don’t want the collar to get damaged). It comes in two sizes, so it will fit both the little guys and the big guys.
  • The Hat (Original Turtle Fur Fleece) in Blaze Orange. It’s perfect for colder hiking conditions, and is pack-friendly if rigorous activity calls for a lighter option.
  • The Blaze Orange Turtle Band is a great option for days when it’s not too cold, but you still want your ears covered and to have something bright on your head.
  • Another great light weight neon option to have on hand is a Turtle Fur Chelonia 150 headband. These are super light and warm products that keep you visible without overheating.

Expect the unexpected

It’s best to be prepared in case something will delay you from getting home (like a slip or fall). An easy step to take is to always have water on hand! Bring a full bottle, small or large - EVEN if it is just a “short” morning hike. Simply put, water is something you shouldn’t leave without if you’re traveling into the woods on foot. In the case of a slip and fall leaving you waiting for assistance, you will be happy you have it within reach.

Those tongue wagging pups want water too, you know! Drinking from streams opens avenues to ugly and expensive bacterial infections like giardia and leptospirosis for dogs, so making sure they have clean drinking water is always a smart decision.

Helpful hint: get a water bottle that you can share with your pup!

Never forget to bring water on a hike. Your thirsty dog will thank you, too!
Shareable water bottles let you lighten your pack with one source of water for you and a means to keep your dog hydrated, too!

Unexpected injuries would make you thankful for bringing a bell and/or whistle and for wearing bright colors in the case someone needs to come find you. Obviously, we’ll hope your cell phone works first.

  • In the case of a slip and fall resulting in any injury or wounds on either you or your dog, you’ll want to have a simple three piece mini-med kit in your pack:
  • A small keychain flashlight for pre-evening walks is a great mental safety net in the case that you needed assistance towards dusk. I keep it clipped onto my pack zipper with a mini carabiner all the time (I don’t even have to think about it)!
  • A lighter in the case that things get bad and you need to create a signal or a fire -because prepared for everything really means everything!

Where the heck did my dog go?

Another unpredictable element of hiking with your dog is, well, your dog!

Many dogs have instinctual prey drives, resulting in following anything that gives chase. If your dog is suddenly MIA – or if you worry that it might happen, hikes will not be as enjoyable as they could be.

Don't lose your blur of fur! Keep your dog bright safe and visible with Turtle Fur. Stay Visible during hunting season in blaze orange, Glostik yellow and other neon hi vis colors.

There are steps you can take to make this situation as unlikely as possible, and in doing so, increase your hiking confidence.

  • There's no replacement for a strong recall command with your dog - this takes practice, time and effort on both of your parts.
  • Have a whistle on hand (We covered this earlier)
  • Depending on your comfort level, an e-collar can provide a huge increase in trust between you and your dog. Not all e-collars are shock collars. There are many radio collars that simply perform the function of making a noise or a vibration to let your four-legged hiking partner know that it is time to turn around and find you.
  • Re-purposing on a hike? You bet! Remember all of the squeaky toys that Fido tore to shreds growing up? Well, one of those times, try and extract or pick up the squeaker- and don’t throw it out! Instead, put it in your hiking pack and you will have it as an option to use when getting your dog’s attention. If within earshot, you have a great chance of piquing their curiosity. What is making their favorite “squeak” out there in the woods?
  • Making sure that your dog is wearing bright colors (i.e. neon neck gaiter) applies here, too. Since our worst fears around dogs running off involve them getting on to roadways, bright colors are only logical. The more they stand out near or on roads, the better their chances of avoiding accidents.

Last but not least, bring some low-odor (dry) dog treats with you, and let your dog know at the beginning of the hike that you have them on you. He’ll want to stay close by and return to you when called in hopes of a reward.

Happy Hiking from Whitney & Biscuit!