Dogs love walks, I have yet to meet a dog that doesn’t want to get outside and roam the world. As a part of the family, dogs often go where their people do. Our dog, Charger, often motivates us to get out and go to certain places. Watching a dog run, swim and sniff happily is just plain awesome and a great way to put a smile on your face.
I love seeing dogs camping and hiking and having a dog on a trail definitely adds to the enjoyment but there are two very important things you need to think about before hitting the trails - safety and rules.
Dogs Love Hiking
Photo: Ptarmigan Cirque, Kananaskis, Alberta
Yeah, “safety” and “rules” both sound boring which is probably why they are often overlooked, but being a responsible dog owner is incredibly important both for you and for them. Here is a reminder on how to keep your best fur friend, other pooches and people sharing the trail safe.
Safety: Hiking with Dogs
Before heading out make sure you have the dog supplies you need; collar, leash, poop bags, treats/food, dog booties, water dish and lots and lots of water. We meet many dogs on trails that don’t have a creek to cool off or drink from that are often desperate for some of our dogs water. We will always share and we pack enough water for all the thirsty dogs but you should always bring your own in case there isn’t someone there to bail you out! The rule I follow is: if I’m thirsty, then my dog is too.
If you have an old, small, injured, unfit, or dog with any sort of condition consider its needs before you go on a multi-hour hike. Our dog, Charger, has a lot of energy but we make sure he takes regular breaks. We have taken Charger on some advanced scrambles and back-country ski trips. On these excursions we have found a dog harness with handle has come in very handy for lifting him out of snow or up rocks. Our dog has no issue being lifted up this way but a friends dog isn’t a fan and we’ve had to turn back due to the dogs fear. Dogs abilities need to be considered just like your friends: if your friend rarely hikes and isn’t in the best shape you will adjust your excursions for their abilities - give your dog the same courtesy.
Helping our dog scramble up a steep incline
Many hiking areas may require your dog to be on-leash and this is for a good reason - it limits interaction with the wildlife that lives there as well as other humans and dogs you meet along the way. Being out in a hiking area isn’t an excuse to lower the acceptable standards of pet behavior: if you can’t get your dog under control or it has any level of aggressive behavior you should seriously consider if you should have them off-leash.
Many hiking trails are narrow so if your dog is protective or aggressive in tight quarters it may trigger anxiety. If this is the case, maybe research more open hiking areas so you can stay clear of other people.
Our dog likes boisterous play and can bark at other dogs so we don’t allow him to lead when we’re on a narrow trail so that he doesn’t come head-to-head with them on his own. He usually stays at the back of our pack behind the last hiker so we have plenty of time to control the situation which may mean us moving off the trail.
Remember: dogs have personalities just like us and can get surprised and startled in new surroundings. Even the most gentle and friendly aren’t perfectly behaved all the time (if you think your dog is perfect please re-evaluate).
The bottom line is: be considerate and take measures to ensure everyone enjoys the hike.
Happy Hiker, Happy Dog
Assess where you are hiking and dangers for your dog which may include:
- wildlife - bears and cougars are an obvious danger but even deer and bighorn sheep can be aggressive to dogs
- fast rivers - our dog got swept down a very narrow fast flowing creek one but luckily was able to get back out
- cliffs and steep terrain - dogs can fall or misjudge jumps and a fall could seriously hurt them
- ticks - check your dog after your hike if you know ticks are in the area
Four Legs are Sometimes Easier Than Two
Hiking in summer we often think of hot weather as our main concern for dogs. If you are hiking in the mountains the temperature can change quickly and drastically. If you are doing an back-country hike and camp it is safest to bring a blanket or dog jacket for your fur friend over night as needed. Some people can squeeze their dogs into their sleeping bags but that doesn’t work for everyone.
Dogs can get waterborne illnesses and should be discouraged from drinking on the trail. Truthfully we don’t completely follow this - we let our dog drink from clear lakes and some rivers but bringing our own water and keeping him hydrated helps to discourage him from doing it so much.
Let your dog have a paddle though - they can’t regulate their body temperature like we can and for a long-haired dog like ours their fur is quite literally a thick-fur-coat so give them a chance to enjoy some cool water.
Dog Enjoying Cool Water Crossing
Rules: Hiking with Dogs
National and Provincial Parks
All National and Provincial Parks in Canada require dogs to be on leash. Some of these parks have designated off-leash zones but they are small and usually within a town. If you are caught with a dog off-leash you will be given a warning or more likely a fine. The leash rule is for wildlife safety.
Hiking with Dogs in National Parks
If you have a dog that barks or lunges after people in tight areas try to move off the trail to let people by - no one wants to be jumped on by unknown dogs and some people may be afraid of them.
We’ve all seen and heard about one person being irresponsible and changing the course of something that worked before. If you own a dog and are hiking together try to set a standard for others to live by. Often just setting a good example can be the hint someone needs to change their behavior.
Most crown land, forestry and back-country areas not in government parks have no leash rules or monitoring. Find out where these places are in your area if you like backcountry hiking.
There are also some amazing designated off-leash parks in Canada - Calgary alone has close to 50 within the city and the Rocky Mountains have many around towns that have breath-taking views. Take advantage of these areas to let dogs run free and burn off energy. Many of these areas are large enough to go for a significant hike / walk in their own right.
Off-Leash Park Freedom
Hiking is often combined with camping. The areas around each campgrounds will dictate the rules within them. I wanted to point out that there are dog-friendly back-country huts. Before we had a dog we spent a lot of time at Alpine Club of Canada Huts which do not take dogs. Since having a dog we found out that there are many huts in areas that do take dogs which provides for some fun back-country adventures with our pal.
Get Out and Go Hiking with Rover
In the end you know your dog best and get to call the shots. Enjoy your adventures with your furry friends and hope to see you on the trails!