-Heather Parsons VMG, MBA
Few activities are more enjoyable for a dog and owner alike than a hike through nature! Before you embark on a new adventure, there are a few things to do to prepare for success. Read our tips for a successful hike and get out and enjoy some time on the trails with your best buddy!
Hiking with your Dog
A great hike begins with finding a great spot. Many apps will help you find hidden gems; check out "All Trails" to find trails based on location. You can narrow your search with filters to find routes that allow dogs. Remember to check listings for provincial and national parks. Canada is fortunate to have many amazing nature preservations.
Review the Rules
Many trails and parks will have clear rules about using their land. Please be sure to remove all your garbage, leave nothing but your footprints, and take nothing but pictures. Most hiking areas will have leash laws and restrictions. Although you might be tempted to let your furry best friend run free, these regulations are there to protect fragile flora and fauna that an enthusiastically bounding dog could damage.
Following leash guidelines are also crucial for your dog's safety. You may come across unexpected hazards, like old fences and wire, that could injure your dog. Not every dog appreciates meeting new friends. Keeping dogs leashed prevents scuffles on the trail and protects people who may be scared of your dog.
Some areas do allow dogs to be off-leash. Check out the app "Sniff Spot" to find private, local dog parks. An off-leash hike can be tons of fun but will require some additional preparation to keep your dog safe.
Your dog must have an excellent recall.
When you call your dog, they need to come back promptly and reliably, despite the distractions of other people, dogs, and wildlife. Your dog may be reliable in your yard, but out in a field chasing a squirrel might be a totally different story! If you're not confident your dog will listen, please keep them on leash. Consider using a long-line (lightweight, 30+ foot lead) to allow them more freedom while still keeping them safe.
Get the Right Gear
A harness may be a good option for your on-leash hike; it allows your dog to pull ahead, sniffing and investigating, without pressure on their neck.
A sturdy leash is a must. If you're using a long line or headed to a muddy or wet area, check out biothane. An alternative to leather, biothane is waterproof and easy to clean.
Flexi-leads are rarely a good fit for hiking. Although the extendi-lead may seem perfect for letting your dog roam, dogs can become tangled, you can drop your clunky end and startle your dog, and your dog can get dangerously far away from you.
Wish your hands were free? There are belts you can wear that you can hook your dog's leash to, leaving your hands free for balancing yourself on a hike, accessing water, etc. Some include pockets so you can store your phone or keys.
Speaking of storage, your pooch may be able to pull their own weight and carry a small backpack with poo bags and treats. If your dog hasn't worn a pack before, start slow and light, then work up to them carrying a moderate weight. Dogs shouldn't carry more than 10% of their weight for any significant distance.
Don't be a Weekend Warrior
If you and your dog typically enjoy short walks around the neighbourhood during the week, don't set out for a 10 km hike on Saturday, or you will both end up sore! Start slow and build up together.
Being out in nature is wonderful but can bring risks. Talk to your veterinary team to ensure your pet is protected against anything they might encounter. Dogs who drink from streams and puddles may need different vaccines to keep them safe from infectious diseases. Your dog may need additional parasitology prevention, depending on where you are headed. Your veterinary team will be able to work with you to protect your precious pet.
Pack an emergency first aid kit so you're ready to handle any minor crisis on the trail. Having the right supplies can give you the time you need to get your pup to the vet after an accident or incident.
Ensure you have sufficient water for you and your dog. You may need a backpack of your own to carry enough. Particularly on hot days, you can both dehydrate quickly.
Always bring along more poo bags than you think you'll need. An empty wide-mouth plastic bottle can make a great container to store your used bags until you're somewhere you can dispose of them.
Don't forget bug spray and sunscreen! Talk to your veterinary team about any additional vaccines or parasite protection to ensure your best friend is safe exploring nature.
Whenever you're out and about with your furry best friend, bring along some of their favourite treats. You want to be prepared to reward their stellar behaviour and be ready to entice their attention if you need to.
With a bit of planning and preparation, you and your furry best friend can be ready to hit the trails and enjoy an adventure!