We love our dogs like family. So it’s only natural that we want to share our outdoor adventures with them. While hiking with your dog is pretty straightforward, other outdoor activities like backpacking, kayaking, and rock climbing require a bit more preparation. So I wanted to share what we have learned about backpacking with your dog to make sure everyone (dog included) has fun and stays safe!
There are a few things to consider before you embark on an overnight trek with Fido. These things include your dog’s fitness level, the trail conditions, the trail regulations (many trails, especially in National Parks do not allow dogs), your particular dog’s manners and experience, and carrying the extra items your dog needs, such as food, water, and insulation during cold weather.
Our dogs often surprise us with their stamina. This doesn’t mean they are fit for the trail though. Your dog wants to be with you more than anything, so they will often push themselves beyond what they are physically prepared for, which can result in injury. Before attempting long miles or multiple day treks, you should be spending time getting your dog (and yourself) physically fit for the effort. Us humans have to train, so why not make it a group effort? Your dog should be able to comfortably hike at least 75% of the distance you will be covering per day under similar conditions. Be sure to train your dog on hills, get them comfortable with water crossings, and improve their trail manners if needed during these training hikes. This will also help to ensure that the pads of their paws are tough enough to handle the trip without causing them soreness or pain. If you have a dog with sensitive paws, you might want to bring along booties to help protect their feet if they start showing signs of soreness. Make sure to get them used to the booties at home before the trip so that they will be able to keep up without missing a beat. There are many other physical considerations, so get the green light from your vet before attempting a long trek.
If you will be covering very rocky terrain, or extreme weather conditions, make sure you dog is familiar and will be able to handle the conditions for extended periods of time. Unlike humans, they can’t always tell or show us when they are in pain or need to rest. Keep an eye out for signs of distress. These can be things like your dog shaking as if to dry themselves off when they aren’t wet. This means your dog is trying to “reset” himself or get back to normal. Take a break, offer your dog some water or a little bit of food and see if they relax. Excessive panting can also be a sign that your dog is overheated. When this happens, get your dog to a shady spot and allow them the rest. If possible, cool him down with wet towels or have him stand or lay in some cool running water until he cools off. Make sure you give your dog plenty of water breaks BEFORE they get too hot. Heat exhaustion is as dangerous for dogs as it is for humans, so prevention is key.
When planning your trip, check the regulations for the areas you will be backpacking to ensure that dogs are permitted. If all is good, be considerate and keep your dog under control and follow the rules to ensure access is not denied in the future for others.
Before deciding to bring your dog along, consider their temperament and manners. If your dog is aggressive toward other dogs or humans, it’s probably best to leave them at home. If your dog constantly pulls on the leash, you will want to improve their leash skills before bringing them. Having a heavy pack on uneven terrain is hard enough without your dog pulling you face first down a hill. Being yanked and pulled for miles and miles will not be fun for you and will stop being fun for your dog when you get pissed. The same thing goes for barking. Trying to sleep outdoors with a dog that barks at every moving object or new sound will keep you up and may disturb others camping near you.
Your dog will need their own food and water for the trip, so you will either need to factor that into what goes in your pack or get your dog accustomed to a dog pack (Mountainsmith makes a great one!) so they can carry some of their own stuff. Your dog will probably eat more than usual due to the extra calories burned from hiking. My rule of thumb is to bring 1.5 times the amount of food he would normally eat in the time period we will be gone. We also tend to give him lots of water and snacks whenever we stop to snack. He likes beef jerky as much as we do (probably more!) We bring lightweight collapsible bowls that easily clip to our packs for quick access.
If the weather is cold, you may want to consider bringing an extra pad or blanket for him to sleep on to insulate him from the ground. Even in a tent, the cold ground can make even the hardiest dogs shiver. And the last thing you want is to try to share your sleeping bag with your dog (believe me, I learned this the hard way). We got an inexpensive Thermarest Ridgerest and cut it in half for Bear. It only weighs about 7 ounces and is easy to attach to one of our packs. It goes in the bottom of our tent and gives him padding and insulation from the cold. He also has a dog jacket that is waterproof and fleece lined to help on those extra cold nights.
Really, the whole point of bringing your dog is to make things more fun. By preparing before your trip to make sure your dog will be physically and mentally ready, everything should go pretty smoothly and you will have a backpacking buddy for many years to come!
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