A woman hikes with her dog in a backpack and on a leash

How To Hike With Your Dog

What’s better than going out for a hike? Going hiking with your dog, of course.

And though your dog is right at home on the trail, you’ll still need to do a little prep work to ensure both you and your canine companion have a good, safe time. A little planning, as well as a few critical pieces of gear, will set you up for success. Here are our top five tips for hiking with a dog. 

1. Choose a Dog-Friendly Trail

This is a twofold tip: One, make sure that the trail itself allows dogs; and two, assess whether it’s a safe environment for your pup, regardless of whether it’s permitted to be there or not. Always check to see if dogs are permitted on the trail you’ve chosen (check management agency websites or call the land manager) as well as any leash regulations. Next, assess whether it’s the right choice for your dog: How many miles can your dog handle? Does the trail have shade or access to water? How steep or technical is it? How excessively hot (or cold) is the trail? Keep in mind that steep, technical trails are harder for less agile, small, and old dogs. 

Key gear

Many trails don’t have enough access to water to meet your dog’s needs, so you’ll need to bring extra water and a collapsible bowl. Dogs can succumb to the same waterborne pathogens as humans, so do your best to prevent them from drinking standing water and, when in doubt, just bring your own. If your dog is panting rapidly, slowing down, or looking exhausted, then it’s time to hydrate, and it’s probably time to turn around. 

2. Do Some Training Hikes to Prepare

If you’ve never hiked with your dog before, or if you're unsure if it has enough fitness to tackle a certain hike, then take some practice outings. Start small, with shorter distances on flat trails, and then slowly build up in difficulty. If your dog passes out after a hike, then you’ve sufficiently met its exercise needs, but if Fido is still bursting with energy, then that’s a good indication that it’s safe to start ramping it up. Practice hikes are also a good opportunity to get your dog used to being on a leash and interacting with other trail users. 

Key gear

Consider a harness with a stretchy waist leash. They offer more control against pulling, aren’t jerky like static leashes, and give you a hands-free experience. A harness typically has a briefcase-like handle on top, which is great for giving your dog a physical assist over or through obstacles if you need to (like a boulder that’s just a little too tall). Be sure to keep your dog on a leash if you’re unsure how they’ll handle being off leash, or if you’re uncertain about local rules and regulations regarding leashes (remember, there are some trails that don’t allow dogs at all).

A woman smiles at her dog near the John Muir Wilderness along the McGee Creek Trail in the Inyo National Forest in California. Photo: Brett Holman/Tandemstock

3. Dial in Verbal Commands

The trail environment can be distracting for a dog (so many new things to smell!) so it’s important to make sure your dog has verbal commands or hand signals down pat and will respond immediately to your instructions. Many people can recount a negative experience with another hiker’s dog on a trail: sprinting at you uncontrollably, suddenly lunging while on a leash, or nipping at your heels (or your own dog!). An out-of-control dog can cause injury to another trail user or another dog. Plus, a dog running off-trail through the woods will probably find something to eat that it shouldn’t, so it’s good to keep it in sight even if you’re certain no one else is on the trail. 

Key gear

Practice commands at home in your backyard or at the dog park by using a training whistle or a bag of treats for recall training and positive reinforcement. Make sure your dog is wearing a collar with a tag just in case practice doesn’t go well and it runs off. 

4. Manage Waste

This is an easy thing to do—and a crucial one if you’re going to take your dog outside. Just like humans, dogs should practice Leave No Trace ethics, too (well, you should do it for them). 

Key gear

Bring plenty of poop bags so you can pick up dog waste and pack it out. You might think that dog poop is the same as deer poop, but it’s not. Dogs aren’t wild animals, so their poop isn’t natural like that of other animals. Nobody likes to carry poop, but it’s a necessary condition of taking your dog hiking. (You can always tie or clip it to the exterior of your pack.) 

5. Pack the Essentials

Just like you’d take a first-aid kit on a long hike, you need to pack supplies for Fido too. Take extra food or treats and water for your pup, especially if it’s a longer or more challenging day hike. When you take a water break, offer some to your dog as well. If it’s hot out, bring extra water, and remember that if your dog’s nose is dry, it could use another drink. We recommend taking roughly one-third of your dog’s daily food intake for a longer day hike (in addition to the usual breakfast and dinner). 

Key gear

In terms of first aid, pack duct tape and an extra sock in case you need to fashion a bootie for a paw injury. Dog paws can also be sensitive to certain trail surfaces, so if you know your dog doesn’t do well with gravel, ice, or snow, consider putting Fido in a pair of dog booties.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.