12 Tips For Hiking with Dogs in the Desert

We love hiking with our dogs everywhere we go and that includes on the trips we’ve made out west. However, hiking with dogs in the desert is a whole lot different than the Smokey Mountains that we’re used to.

We had to do quite a bit of research and picked the brains of our friends who live in Nevada and Arizona. We picked up lots of good tips and have now picked up a good bit of experience ourselves on multiple trips to the southwestern area of the US.

If you want to know more about hiking with dogs in the desert, you’re in for a treat! In today’s guide, we’ll walk you through 12 reliable tips to keep in mind while taking your pooch on a desert hike. Let’s jump right in!

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1. Dehydration Is a Serious Risk

The first and most important thing to keep in mind while taking your dog on a hike is water. In the case of hiking in the desert, you should make sure that you bring even more water.

Dehydration can be a very serious risk under the heat of the desert, so make sure that you pack a lot of water.

Also, make sure that you ration the water properly in the desert because any undrunk water might be wasted, especially if your dog only drinks from a bowl. If you don’t have one already, you should definitely consider getting a collapsible water bowl for your pups.

Always keep an eye on your dog and check for the following signs of dehydration, if you notice any of them, make sure that you give your dog a sip immediately:

  • Water regulates your dog’s temperature, so heavy panting is a sign of dehydration as your dog is trying to cool down
  • Noticeable lethargy, especially if your dog is usually exciting to come along
  • Increased heart rate by checking the hind legs at mid-thigh level
  • Glazed eyes with or without loss of balance or orientation

2. Protect Your Dog From the Hot Sand

While the dog’s pads are developed to handle the relatively hot ground, the scorching heat from the sun makes the sand unbearable for your dog.

In addition to being too harsh on their paws, it can also increase their internal temperature and make your dogs even hotter, and therefore, dehydrate quicker.

There are plenty of products that can help your dog stay comfortable while hiking through a desert.

For starters, you might want to consider dog boots like the HiPaw Summer Boots. What’s good about these boots is that they’re highly protective and breathable, and they come in a wide range of colors and sizes to suit your dog.

Additionally, you might want to consider a sitting pad for the dog. These REDCAMP sitting pads are foldable and comfy, so they should work fine with your dog!

3. Train Your Dog to Avoid Harmful Plants of the Desert

Although the desert lacks the lush scenery of hiking in the forest, there are still several harmful plants that your dog must avoid.

Even if you’ve trained your dog to not eat random plants in previous hikes, your dogs might try to sniff the plants of the desert.

The problem here is that most desert plants are cactus and other prickly plants with sharp spines, such as foxtail.

For that reason, make sure that you train your dog to stop on command and avoid any plants that they come across in the desert.

4. Prepare Your Dogs for Wild Animals in the Desert

Scorpion in the Desert
Chompers and Mia both like to check out anything that moves. If your dogs are the same, be very mindful of the creatures you may come across on the trail.

While some deserts may look like a lifeless stretch of land, there are plenty of animals that call the desert home. Some, like snakes and scorpions, can be very dangerous to your hiking buddy.

Since your dog may have never seen any of these animals before, it might be curious about them.

If you let your dog off the leash while hiking, you should train them to always stay by your side and never chase or investigate animals on their own.

Teaching your dog the “leave it” command here really helps but if your dog has a habit of chasing animals, it’s better to keep them on a retractable leash than sorry.

5. Pack Spines Removal Kits

Even with the most careful dogs, accidents might still happen, and your dog might end up with a few stingy spines. These spines can cause irritation and pain as long as they’re stuck to your dog’s body.

To get rid of them without hurting yourself, you might want to pack an emergency spine removal kit, which is actually usable for both humans and dogs. If you can’t find any, you can use some long tweezers instead.

6. Bring Allergy Medications and First Aid Kits for Dogs

In some cases, whether it’s an animal bite or a spine from a cactus, allergy might kick in, which causes your dog’s eyes to be watery along with noticeable swelling in the face.

To make sure that your dog is safe, you need to pack a first aid kit with patches and other items to clean any wounds on your dog. Additionally, you might want to keep some dog allergy medication.

Many allergy medications can be used by both humans and dogs with the same dosage, such as Benadryl, which is an over the counter allergy medication that really helps with these symptoms.

7. Bring Your Dog’s ID and Check the Local Laws for the Region

Dog ID Tags

To avoid running into any legal troubles by taking your dog along on your trip, it’s essential that you check the local laws in the area where you’re going to hike.

Additionally, remember to bring your dog’s ID and keep their collar on them. The collar should be securely attached to them and have your contact information.

Even if the desert doesn’t seem like a good place to hide, you can never be too careful when you’re in the great outdoors.

8. Prepare Your Dog Physically for Hikes in Hot Weather

No matter how active and excitable your dog is, most of them aren’t naturally fit to wander the desert. That’s why you need to make sure that they’re capable of hiking in the desert’s weather.

To do that, check and see if your dog is capable of walking for a long distance at the hottest time of the day and keep building up the time. This should give your dog the strength and resilience to withstand the hot climate of the desert.

9. Bring Blankets for the Night

Chompers and Mia Hiking in the Cold
It may look warm and sunny, but this hike we did at Palo Duro Canyon was cold enough!

Although days in the desert can be extremely hot, the weather at night can become almost freezing cold with a significant wind speed. To keep your dog warm through the night, make sure that you pack a dog blanket as well.

10. Plan to Miss The Sunniest Part of the Day

Hiking in the desert might be an exciting idea at first, but it’s not very pleasant if you decide to hike during the hottest times of the day, such as midday. Avoiding midday is one of the most critical things to remember when hiking with dogs in hot weather.

These conditions are quite unforgiving and even wild animals that are built to live in the desert may avoid coming out during that time.

Ideally, you should plan your day in the desert so that you’re relaxing under the shade of your tent during that time.

11. Don’t Forget About Treats

As you’ve probably noticed, taking your dog to the desert takes a lot of training, as there are so many dangers to avoid and commands to follow.

To make sure that your dog stays compliant and excited, make sure to have a bag of your dog’s favorite treats in your backpack.

12. Check for Pests After the Hike

Lastly, when you’re finally back home, make sure that you check your dog for any signs of ticks or pests that your dog could’ve picked up during your time in the desert.

Final Thoughts

This wraps it up for today’s guide that walks you through 12 essential tips for hiking with dogs in the desert.

In the end, enjoying a hike with the man’s best friend is always a great idea, but always make sure that your dog is up for it and is physically capable of handling the harshness of the desert.

Ryan H

I love hiking and being outdoors with Jen and our two rescue dogs, Chompers and Mia. I also enjoy a good weekend trail run. I'm also really enjoying sharing some of the knowledge we've learned along the way here on Zenful Hiking!

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