This is an excerpt from Hiking and Backpacking by Wilderness Education Association.
Many of us love our dogs. Is your Fido ready for the trail? Is the trail ready for your Fido? Here are a few things to think about.
First, is your dog suited to the trail? We often think of our dogs as ready to ramble, despite the terrain. After all, isn’t that what dogs used to do? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean your dog is ready to go on your hiking trip. For a minute, think of your dog as a human. Is he fit or is he a couch potato? Does her body shape and size allow her to cover the intended terrain? Will he be able to control his body temperature well enough?
We’ll refer to a couple of dogs as examples in this section. The first is Levi, a Labrador retriever. The second is Willie, a rat terrier mutt.
If your dog is suited for the trail, you must follow the proper etiquette. Levi was a great hiking dog when she was young. Her pace matched an adult’s step for step, and she was fit and strong. She was well trained and always under voice control. However, she had a problem on the trail: She was not very excited to meet others, whether they were human or canine. She was the epitome of a guard dog-no one could approach her owners. Therefore, it was critical that she be leashed and under voice control at all times. This is important for your pooch, too, even if he is the friendly sort-he could run into a dog like Levi who is not so friendly.
Proper dog etiquette also includes cleaning up after them-dog poop is not part of the natural ecosystem-and having your dog stick to the trails so as not to trample the vegetation. And you might want to consider leaving the noisy ones at home. Willie is a good example of a dog that others do not appreciate in the woods-he screams whenever he sees other animals, especially rodents. Now he stays home and patrols the yard when his owners go on day hikes. Others will appreciate your efforts when you make sure that your dog is a good hiking companion.
If you have determined that your dog is ready to hike and you are prepared to be a responsible companion, it’s imperative that you learn about the area in which you’ll be hiking. Are dogs allowed in that area? For example, most national parks do not allow dogs at all (and a stiff fine can be imposed for ignoring this rule). However, national forests and other areas are often open to dogs. Some rules require pets be under voice control, and others require leashes shorter than 3 feet (1 meter)-which can prove quite challenging if you’re hiking with a large dog.
You also need to think of the wildlife that you may encounter. There were several occasions when we needed to have a good handle on our dog because of bears, wild boars, and once even a bull on the trail! Alligators are also a concern in certain areas. One hiker who was talking with a park ranger at a state park in southern Georgia said, "Surely my 90-pound [41-kilogram] dog isn’t going to be considered easy prey," to which the ranger responded in his polite, Southern drawl, "It’s just the smell of them, ma’am." She took his advice and kept her dog away from the lake.
Gear for Dogs
Two essential items for dogs are a harness and a leash. The harness provides easy hookup and great control in excitable situations. Most important, though, are your dog’s tags. If your dog takes off in an unfamiliar area, you will want to make sure that he can make it back home safely.
Many amazing pieces of gear are available for dogs these days. Some dogs have their own packs and carry their own food and water. If you choose to have your dog carry a pack, be aware that it puts more strain on the joints, and you should pack it lightly, in accordance with the dog’s weight. Other items to consider are dog sweaters and fleece for warmth, as well as paw covers. Some paw covers are insulated for warmth, and others serve as protective mittens in terrain that may be damaging to the pads (such as heat or ice). If you are in an area where your dog may be swimming, there are life jackets, and if you are in an area where there is hunting, you should strongly consider attaching blaze orange gear to your dog’s harness.
You can even buy collapsible food and water bowls and fancy little bowls with water bottle attachments; but reused plastic containers also work just fine. Finally, you might consider bringing along some healthy treats for your pooch. Dogs need to take in calories more frequently when hiking, just as you do.
This is an excerpt from Hiking and Backpacking.