One of the Best Canine Boredom-Busters Ever

hiking with dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • While any dog can hike, his size, health status and personality will dictate whether he’s up for an extended day of hiking or hitting a more challenging trail
  • Before you set out, make sure the trails you’ll be hiking are dog-friendly — many are, but some are not
  • You’ll want to pack poop bags, a water bowl and plenty of water as well as a small first-aid kit containing items like gauze squares, butterfly bandages, bandage wrap, tweezers and bandage scissors
  • Even if you plan to let your dog off-leash in some areas, a harness and leash should be part of every hike and can be invaluable if you’re hiking near steep or rugged terrain or fast-moving water
  • As you’re hiking, stop for frequent water breaks (for you and your dog) and try to keep your dog from drinking out of ponds, streams or rivers, which can be contaminated with parasites like giardia

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

If you love to hit the trails on the weekends, there’s good reason to take your dog along with you — he just may make the perfect hiking buddy. Many of the benefits you glean from long hikes in the woods or mountains can also be enjoyed by your pet — including physical exercise, mental stimulation and communing with nature, just to name a few.

A hike is also a great cure for boredom for both of you, which means that if your dog has been acting out because he’s been cooped up indoors for too long, a hike might be just what the veterinarian ordered.

There are some considerations to keep in mind before you head out, though. For starters, certain breeds are more suitable for long hikes than others. While any dog can hike, his size, health status and personality will dictate whether he’s up for an extended day of hiking or hitting a more challenging trail. Breeds known for their hiking prowess include Labrador retrievers, Vizslas, Bernese mountain dogs, Siberian huskies, Australian shepherds, border collies and many mixed breed dogs.1

Smaller dogs, like miniature Dachshunds and Yorkies, can also get in on the hiking fun, just be sure to choose a trail that matches their ability level. It’s also a good idea to get a check-up before you start up any new type of physical activity; senior dogs, overweight dogs, and dogs with arthritis or other mobility issues may need to choose a less intense activity (or at least a less intense trail).

Only Certain Trails Allow Dogs

Before you set out, make sure the trails you’ll be hiking are dog-friendly — many are, but some are not. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for instance, dogs are allowed only on two walking paths (the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail), and they must be kept on a leash that doesn’t exceed 6 feet in length.2 At Red Rock Canyon in Nevada, in contrast, every one of the trails is open to pets (although leashes are recommended).

Once you find out the best dog-friendly hiking spots in your area, be sure to abide by their rules — and bring plenty of poop bags to clean up after your pet, even if you’re in a remote area. As the National Park Service (NPS) reminds pet owners, “Pet excrement must be immediately collected by the pet handler and disposed of in a trash receptacle.” If you’re wondering why not all trails are open to dogs, NPS explains:3

Dogs can carry disease into wildlife populations

Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife, keeping them from nesting, feeding and resting sites

A dog’s scent left behind may disrupt or alter the behavior of wildlife in the area

Dog barking disturbs the quiet of the wilderness

Pets can be endangered by larger predators like coyotes and bears

Many people are frightened by dogs and uncontrolled dogs can present a danger to other park visitors

Ready to Hit the Trail? Here’s What to Bring

A small backpack is all that’s needed to carry everything you need for your dog-friendly hike. In addition to poop bags, you’ll want to pack a water bowl and plenty of water as well as a small first-aid kit containing items like gauze squares, butterfly bandages, bandage wrap, tweezers and bandage scissors.

If you’ll be going on an extended hike, consider adding more to your first-aid kit, including a razor to shave around wounds, styptic powder (in case of a torn nail), sterile saline to irrigate wounds, hydrogen peroxide and surgical tape.4

It’s a good idea to have the contact information for an emergency veterinary facility in the area on hand in case of an injury, and be prepared to carry him to safety (or go to get help if that’s not possible) if an injury does occur. You’ll also want to bring a sturdy harness attached to a standard (non-retractable) leash. Even if you plan to let your dog off-leash in some areas, a harness and leash can be invaluable if you’re hiking near steep or rugged terrain or fast-moving water.

Staying Safe on the Hike

If dogs are allowed off-leash where you’re hiking, only partake if you’re certain your dog will come consistently when called — even when tempted by the sights and sounds of wildlife. If your dog isn’t consistently responsive, get some obedience training before you consider going off-leash so you can be confident about your dog’s recalls.

Don’t hike with a dog that does not come when he’s called. During a hike, your dog’s quick responsiveness to your commands can save her life, not to mention prevent clashes with other dogs or hikers.

As you’re hiking, stop for frequent water breaks (for you and your dog) and try to keep your dog from drinking out of ponds, streams or rivers, which can be contaminated with parasites like giardia. Also pay attention to body signals that your dog is becoming overwhelmed, like excessive panting, lagging behind you or refusing to walk and farther. Your dog should be wearing an up-to-date ID tag and collar for the hike, even if he’s microchipped, and you should also pack some nutritious snacks if you’re going on a longer hike.

Weather should also be considered. If you’ll be hiking in the winter, consider an insulating jacket for short-haired dogs or booties to protect paws from icy conditions (be sure your dog is used to them, and tolerates them, prior to the hike). If you have a brachycephalic breed (short-muzzled dogs like pugs), avoid going for strenuous hikes during the hot summer months, as they’re prone to heat stroke. During tick season, meanwhile, be sure to check your pet thoroughly for ticks after the hike.

Get Ready for Fun

Once you’ve ensured your dog is fit for a hike and you’ve stocked up your supplies, do your research to find the best trails for both you and your dog — those with soft terrain and shade will be best, while those with sharp rocks or hot surfaces could injure your dog’s paws. If your dog is new to hiking, build up her endurance gradually by going for short practice hikes on easy terrain and slowly adding in more intensity. This will help both your dog’s stamina and her paws get ready for longer hikes.

Finally, use proper hiking etiquette by keeping your dog under control at all times and yielding to other hikers and bike riders (don’t assume that everyone likes dogs or wants yours to say hello). Also be respectful of wildlife by not allowing your dog to chase animals or otherwise venture off trails (suggestions that will help keep your dog safe, too). And remember to have fun! Hiking with your four-legged companion is one of the best ways to spend time with your dog and strengthen your bond with one another.