Taking your dog on their first hike can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. In order to make sure the experience goes smoothly, it’s important to prepare them in advance and know what kind of hiking situation you’re walking into before you go out on the trail with your dog for the first time.
Here are seven tips to help you enjoy your hike with your dog as much as they will!
1. Keep Your Dog Comfortable
It’s important to make sure your dog is comfortable before heading out on a hike. This means ensuring they have the proper gear, including a well-fitting harness and leash, and plenty of water. You should also introduce them to the idea of hiking gradually, starting with short walks around the block before working up to longer treks.
In addition to comfort, safety is another concern when hiking with dogs. Dogs should be trained not to run off if they get loose from their harness or leash, and are usually more likely to follow a human than run off after an animal.
When approaching wildlife, make sure your dog remains calm, since startled animals can act aggressively toward both humans and other animals. You may want to avoid certain areas based on whether you think your dog will behave well or not.
You should also make sure you’re packing plenty of water for your dog. Hiking in warm or cold weather can be a big strain on them especially when they are building their endurance, so you’ll want to make sure they have enough water to drink.
Additionally, dogs that aren’t used to hiking may need breaks every once in a while so they don’t overheat. If your dog doesn’t like being left alone while you’re hiking, consider taking another person along that they get along with well.
2. Take Breaks As Needed
Dogs love to explore, and hiking is the perfect way to let them do just that. Be sure to give your dog plenty of time to sniff around and take in all the new sights and smells. This is their chance to explore, so let them take their time!
But, also don’t forget to let them rest. Many hiking trails are rugged and include lots of ups and downs, which can be tiring for both you and your dog.
Be sure to stop every now and then to let your dog take a break. If you know your dog tends to get hot, bring along some cold water from home instead of ice-cold mountain stream water!
3. Give Treats as Rewards
Hiking with your dog can be a great bonding experience.
And, just like with training, you should reward your dog with treats when they do something good on the hike. This will help reinforce positive behavior and make hiking a fun activity for both of you.
Every time your dog behaves well, be sure to give them a treat. This will make hiking with your dog more fun and you’ll both look forward to future trips. Make sure your dog checks in with you regularly and looks back whenever you call their name, even if they are on a leash. Reward them for checking in and remaining calm when you encounter other hikers or wildlife.
4. Practice Before Hitting the Trail
Start by taking your dog on short walks around the block. Once they seem comfortable with that, try walking for slightly longer periods of time. Gradually increase the length of your walks until you’re both ready for a hike.
Choose a trail that’s not too strenuous or long for your first outing. You should aim for a trail that is shorter than the longer walks that your dog is used to. They will likely be doing more investigating while hiking which can wear them out quicker.
5. Let Them Explore
A hike is a great way to let your dog explore and get some exercise, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First, let your dog stop and sniff around as much as they want. This is their chance to explore and take everything in.
Sniffing can be a brain exercise all on its own for your dog!
Dogs have a much better sense of smell than we do and they can learn a lot from the smells on the ground and in the air. Having time to stop and sniff will give you a break while still giving your pup some mental exercise.
Exploring doesn’t have to be ‘off-leash’ either! You can allow your dog to sniff and explore while staying on-leash and in your control. First, most trails require dogs to stay on a leash, and even if your trail allows it, I would strongly advise against it until you’re confident how your dog will respond on the trail.
6. Know Your Dog’s Limits
Just like humans, dogs come in all shapes and sizes with different levels of fitness. It’s important to know your dog’s limits before taking them on a hike. If they’re not used to long walks, start with shorter ones and work your way up.
Likewise, if they’re not used to the heat, pick a cooler day or hike in the shade.
Hiking is usually best between four and eight months old, as many breeds aren’t physically or mentally capable of longer hikes before then. It’s also a good idea to check with your vet if you have any concerns about their fitness or physical health.
Some dogs may be uncomfortable at higher altitudes, so pick shorter trails or go in moderate weather to make it easier on them.
Your dog should also be up-to-date with vaccinations—particularly those that protect against tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease—and have identification tags and/or microchips fitted. Make sure they have water available at all times too, but don’t let them drink more than they need due to dehydration risks.
7. Start with Trails Close to Home
Getting outside and enjoying nature is one of the best parts of owning a dog. And, luckily, most dogs love hiking! If you’re new to hiking with your pup, start with trails close to home. That way if your dog gets tired or needs a break, you’re not far from home.
Experienced hikers often like to get off-trail and explore new terrain, but if you’re just starting out, stick to trails. Here are a few reasons why:
- There may be terrain or wildlife dangers off the trail
- Protected wildlife may live off the trails
- If you get lost while hiking, it may be harder for rescue teams to find you off the beaten path
Hiking is a great way to bond with your dog. Building up to hiking can be a great goal for you and your pup to work towards. You can have a fun, safe experience with your dog by following these beginner hiking tips.