Hiking With Your Dog: How To Keep You Both Safe And Happy

Spring and autumn are both excellent seasons to go hiking with your dog, especially in foliage-filled areas, like New England. As far back as I can remember, we’ve always brought our faithful canine pals hiking around the hills and backwoods of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. When I was a teenager, several friends and I brought our dogs on a summer-time hike of Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England. One of our dogs even carried a backpack, something that wasn’t trendy then, but is now!

dog hiking mountains lake

Here are some pointers to keep you and your dog (whether or not he’s a Pointer!) safe and happy on the trail:

Health, Fitness and Behavior

The dog should be healthy, in good shape, and well behaved. If a dog is too young, too old, overweight, arthritic, or has health problems, then hiking is not a good activity for that pooch. Similarly, an aggressive or hyper dog might not be a good candidate for a hike with the family. Finally, dogs that are super-small or super-huge should be discouraged from going on a hike.


Make sure you bring plenty of water for both human and canine hikers to last for the duration of the hike. Don’t depend on pond, stream, or lake water as these bodies of water could contain bacteria harmful to you and your pet. Bring a collapsible bowl to make it easier for your pup to have a drink.

Timing Meals

Wait until after the hike, and after the dog has relaxed for a while, to feed the dog. Dogs shouldn’t exercise heavily immediately after eating, nor should they eat immediately after strenuous exercise. Common sense prevails.

Follow Trail Rules

Unless your pooch has perfect recall and it is specifically permissible to allow dogs to run loose on the trail you’ve chosen, you are better off keeping Fi-Fi on a loose leash. Dogs can get into a tussle with a wild animal, go off deep into the woods in pursuit of a too-interesting smell, or get into trouble with other hikers and their pets.

Collars and IDs

Your dog should wear a sturdy collar with identification tags or other indicia.

Pick Up After Your Pooch!

This can’t be stressed enough. Far too many parks and hiking areas become off-limits to dogs due to humans’ reluctance to actually pick up, and dispose of, dog poop. Don’t be “that guy”! Pick it up, take it away, and dispose of it properly. Doing so also helps protect wildlife.

Time of Year

Is it too hot, or too cold for your canine companion to hike? Don’t bring your dog on a hike at the height of summer heat, or during the deep freeze of winter. Be mindful of rules about hunting, and if you are planning to hike in an area where hunting occurs, be sure you aren’t hiking during hunting season. Regardless, always wear bright-colored attire for yourself and your dog so you will both be visible in wooded areas.

dog hike woods

Doggy Backpacks

Ask Rover to carry a backpack. This is a great way to burn extra energy for a super energetic dog, or to give a working breed a “job”. Make sure the backpack is correctly placed on the dog’s body. Start light on the first few hikes, and add more weight as the dog becomes more experienced. Keep in mind that the dog will not realize that the sides of its body have expanded a few inches, so be sure to give your pooch extra space as he walks past people, bushes, and rocks. If the hike’s climb is too steep, skip the backpack, or carry everything yourself in your own backpack until you reach a level trail.

Trail Hazards

Beware of ticks, fleas, wild animals and poisonous plants (and snakes if there are dangerous ones in your area). Be sure your dog is vaccinated against rabies, and has been treated with flea and tick preventative.

First Aid Kit

It’s a good idea to have a small, basic first-aid kit with you.

Interaction with Surroundings

Don’t allow your dog to chase wildlife, bark, or otherwise cause problems.

Campsite Rule

Remember to leave the trail in better shape than you found it.  If you brought it with you, bring it out! Don’t leave behind traces of your visit.

Have a Great Time!

This is, of course, the most important rule.  By considering all of the above, you’re sure to abide!

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