7 Dog Hiking Tips

Ruffwear Pack

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Are you wanting to take your dog on a long hike? There’s a lot of different worries for your furry friend and you want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for anything that might happen.

Segment 23 of the Colorado Trail.
Nemo scouting out the Colorado Trail for any signs of pikas.

Through an accumulation of over 3,000 miles of both road walking and trail hiking, we’ve learned a lot about what works best for our dogs. We have condensed a list of our top seven tips for hiking with your dog. Along with helping your dog perform better and feel their best, if you follow these tips you’ll be sure to have a smooth and fun hiking trip with your best friend.

Tip 1- Let your dog lead the hike

It’s painful to see a dog out for a hike with their owner and have to watch the dog miserably take step after step up the mountain. There are always going to be days on long distance hikes where your dog seems a bit more out of it than normal, but these days should not be happening on a regular basis.

Ruffwear dog pack.

Hiking with your dog should be a great experience for both of you. Don’t push the limits, let your dog tell you when to take it easy. The last thing you want up on the mountain is a pup who can’t move or who is overheated.

All dogs differ when it comes to their endurance during a hike. A dog’s breed, size and age all factor in to how they will perform out on the trail. From what we’ve seen, smaller, working dog breeds in the 30-50 pound category seem to have the most energy and are able to cover longer distances.


FOR THRU HIKING: always take the first few days (or weeks) nice and easy. Each day your dog should get stronger and stronger. After a few days you might be surprised how many miles you’re able to get in. We found that Nemo’s ideal milage per day was between 15-18 miles. Your dog may differ, that’s why it’s a good idea to take the first little while seeing how your dog does!


Tip 2- Take water breaks

Like humans, your dog needs a lot of water (maybe even more than us)! On hot days we are always surprised at how much water Nemo needs. Your dog will typically tell you when they’re thirsty, but when it gets late into the afternoon, this tip is especially important.

Colorado Trail dog.

Find a system that works for you and your dog. We’ve found that if we start by giving Nemo water in the morning before we start the day, she can hike 3-4 miles at a time between water breaks. On hotter afternoons, that number might go down to the 1.5-3 mile range. Don’t forget to always give your dog plenty of water at night!


Tip 3- Hike early

Hiking early in the day is a MUST if you plan on going for a hike in the middle of the summer or in places with a lot of humidity. The number one thing that will slow your dog down on a hike is heat. Dogs don’t regulate their body temperature the same when it gets hotter and hotter throughout the day it takes longer and longer for your dog to reset their body.

Once again, find what works best for your dog. If you are hiking in the spring or fall time this tip isn’t going to be nearly as important to follow. If you’re planning on a summer hike, start early!

Early for us is waking up by 5 and leaving by 5:30. This gives us plenty of time to knock out some good mileage before the heat sets in. Our goal is usually to get as much mileage in as we can before one or two in the afternoon and then gauge how Nemo is doing.


FOR THRU HIKING: Day after day in hot conditions is going to drastically effect your dog’s performance. Try and keep your hiking in hot conditions to a minimum, especially on long distance hikes over a longer stretch of time.

Checkout this dog cooling vest from Ruffwear. We use this vest typically for our small Teacup Yorkie, but if you have a dog who tends to overheat quickly, this vest will get them back to normal in no time!

Tip 4- Take care of the paws

For all hikers feet are the most important tools. Dogs are no exception. Here’s a few things to routinely check for with your dog’s paws.

  • Redness
  • Cracks
  • Blisters
  • Swelling
  • Splinters

Most dogs will let you know pretty quickly if something is bothering them, but this is not always the case. Make sure to do nightly checks to ensure your dog’s paws are holding up. If you’re planning on just doing a day or two hike, then this won’t be as big a deal. If you’re going on a hike that will be more than a few days, the trail may take a toll on your dog’s paws.

Hiking dog care.

The biggest factors on your dog’s paw health are the surfaces you’re hiking, the weather, and of course the number of days you plan to be out on the trail. If it’s been wet for more than a few days or you’re walking on rocky surfaces, pay extra close attention!


What about dog shoes?

When we first started noticing Nemo was getting some red spots on her paws (wet winter conditions) we quickly shopped around for some dog booties. We tried to get her to wear them by going short distances at first, but she never came around to them. Most of the dog owners we have talked to say their dogs dislike the booties. But if you’re wanting to try them out, click here!


When it comes to paw care, don’t overcomplicate it. If you’re checking your dog’s paws routinely and looking for signs of discomfort, then your dog should have very few issues.

The only thing we would recommend taking with you is Mushers Wax. This stuff is the real deal and will help moisten and protect your dog’s pads. We typically apply this every few days and we’ve had no issues with Nemo’s paws since.


Tip 5- Know the trail rules

Don’t head out to the trail unless you know the rules. Rules vary for every trail and it’s important to know them in order to protect your dog, yourself, and others who are out enjoying the trail.

We chose to hike the Colorado Trail because of how relaxed it is with dogs. Dogs are allowed on all sections of the trail and besides a few of the Wilderness areas, dogs are allowed off leash if they are voice controlled.

Holy Cross Wilderness.
Wilderness areas typically ask for a dog to be leashed at all times.

A lot of trails, especially heavily trafficked trails, do require you to keep your dog on a leash at all times. Checkout this waist leash which allows you to be hands free! This leash worked out pretty well for us. Our only downside was that we wished it were a bit shorter for more control.

While there are times when we feel the dog rules are a bit strict, in most cases they are there for a reason. Most of the time when your dog isn’t allowed on trail, it’s because of the risk of other animals or the terrain of the trail.


Tip 6- Take snack breaks

Just like Tip 2, your dog needs snack breaks. Snack breaks will give your dog more energy, a couple minutes to rest, and might even help your dog listen to you a bit better.

Nemo loved Only Natural Pet for her meals and treats.

Don’t be like us when we first started hiking with Nemo and go till the end of the day before feeding your dog. Your hiking experience will run a lot more smoothly and your dog will be much happier if they’re eating every few hours throughout the day. Combine tips 2 and 6 and aim to stop every two to four miles for the most effective hiking.


Tip 7- Get your dog vaccinated

There are a lot of small little bugs and bacteria that can sneak up on your dog at any moment. Getting your dog checked out by the vet and making sure they have all the right medications before hitting the trail is important.

Flea and tick medication are the main things everyone hopefully thinks of for your dog being in the outdoors, but there’s something else that we didn’t think of before our last trail. Just as serious as flea and ticks is giardia, and when you’re up in the mountains or places with a lot of snow melt runoff it can be a big issue. Giardia is a small parasite that comes from other animal’s intestines and is found in water sources or anywhere an animal has handled their business.

Fleas and ticks can be a huge issue for you or your dog if they go unnoticed. If you know you’ll be in a dense wooded area, make sure to do nightly checks (especially in areas that you can’t see).

Questions to ask yourself before you start your hike:

  1. Is my dog taking flea and tick medication?
  2. Does my vet have a giardia preventative medication?
  3. Is heart worm an issue where I’m going?
  4. Am I prepared for an emergency? Do I have a doggie med kit?

How to know if your dog has giardia:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weight Loss
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration

If you want to learn more from someone who really knows what they’re talking about, check out this blog from a certified veterinarian. There’s a ton of great information and she even has a downloadable pdf for some things you might want to pack in your doggie med kit for your next adventure.


See ya out on the trail!

Taking your dog for a hike shouldn’t be stressful. As with anything, practice makes perfect and the more you do it the more comfortable you’ll become. Follow these 7 tips and you and your dog will be as happy as can be on your next hike!

@theggoldenroad

We keep being told that the Southern half of the Colorado Trail is where it gets good… #coloradotrail

♬ Rocky Mountain High – John Denver
Nemo soaking in the Colorado Trail

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