Hiking is one of my favourite things to do with my dogs – but there are definitely rules to the trail.
Hiking is a fantastic way to give those muscles a good workout while enjoying the great outdoors. What’s not to love, right? Sunshine, fresh air, a whole host of new smells for your dog and lashings of lovely nature, all with your best friend (or friends) trotting around by your side.
But before you rush off to pack your sandwiches, treats and drinks, we need to follow some important basic rules to ensure everyone’s safety, fun and comfort.
It’s a common misconception that hiking with a dog is just like taking a leisurely stroll in the park. It’s not, there’s a chunky difference between these two activities.
I’ve put together this simple guide to reveal the do’s and don’t so that you and your pup can enjoy hiking without any unfortunate accidents or drama.
Before You Go Hiking
Before we get the ball rolling, there are a few things to consider, even before putting your boots on and stepping out of the door.
First, you need some basic dog training
This one is a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning, nonetheless. The number one thing that will keep your dog safe in the wilderness is their fundamental training.
Whenever you’re out in public, and especially when you’re looking at hiking, these cues will really help you and your dog stay safe, stay polite and enjoy your time.
You’d be super surprised how useful sit is, a rock star level sit can get you out of a lot of problems.
The place to go next? Is the back-up.
Check up for health and weight, and then consider these few things too!
- Up to date ID tag
- GPS Tracker
- Up to date Microchip
- Up to date on vaccinations
- Get a first aid kit!
- Consider insurance
They’re super simple factors to consider, but it’s always a “better safe than sorry” approach for me. If you can? Investing in a first aid course is a great thing too.
Next, get the right gear!
For you and for your dog. Whilst I’m maybe not the best person to discuss gear.
I’m a really not technical person when it comes to hikes, I walk in timberlands, full length pants (poison ivy is no joke!), light top (I find ‘workout’ tops work really well), hat, and a light backpack for me personally.
But your dog’s gear is a really interesting one, and you may need to customise this depending where you hike, the rules of your trail and the general environment.
But, as an idea, my fave combination for Indie is the Ruffwear Flagline harness, Wilderdog Big Carabiner Leash, Grip Trex boots (if needed), Bumas Muzzle (if needed), and a Ruff & Tumble dog drying coat for the trip home (our routes almost always have water!).
Then! Don’t forget your treats & your water bottle.
Hiking is easier with a well socialised dog
When I say “well socialised” I absolutely do not mean the dog that runs up to everyone, nor do I mean the dog that barks or lunges.
What we actually need is a dog who can walk past others, who can introduce if all involved are happy to be.
If your dog is prone to barking, lunging, or fighting with other dogs, hiking might not be the best activity for them just yet. Maybe spend some time working on their reactivity or social skills before heading off on an adventure together.
Now let’s take a look at the rules you need to follow to make your four-legged friend into a hiking pro:
1 – Know the Rules of the Trail
Different hiking trails have different rules, so it’s essential to thoroughly research the route you’re thinking of taking before you set off.
Some trails allow hiking dogs, and some don’t, while others might have restrictions on where your pup can and can’t go.
The last thing you want to happen is to be caught out simply because you’re not prepared. You could easily find yourself in trouble with the law, or worse, you could get yourself and your dog into a pickle!
If you’re travelling to a new location and are unsure of the rules, I’ve found that AllTrails is a wonderful website and app that gives you most of the information you could ever need about the trails you’re exploring!
2 – Follow the Leash Rules
Be aware that most trails require dogs to be kept on a leash at all times, but there are a few that have different regulations.
Some trails may require dogs to be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet, while others may not have any leash requirements at all. You can check details like that over on AllTrails.
Some people do disrespect these rules, but I would really suggest adhering to trail rules – they’re there for a reason, right?
It just makes sense to avoid these highly probable situations altogether by keeping your dog safely on a leash.
Advantages of keeping your dog on leash!
- Preventing them from getting lost or running away
- Stops them from bothering other hikers or wildlife
- Helps you to remain in control if they get scared or excited
- Prevents them from drinking from stagnant water sources that could make them ill.
3 – Be A Considerate Hiker
When hiking with your pup, it’s important to remember that you’re sharing the trails with other hikers.
Be considerate of their space and always keep your dog under control – this is where recall is really important if your dog is going off leash. At no point should you allow your dog to run up to strangers or other dogs because this opens a huge risk for them and for you.
So, when you do see other hikers on the trail, make sure to step off to the side to let them pass, recall your dog, and stand to the side.
This goes double if you’re going downhill, hikers going up have the right of way!
4 – Don’t Let Your Dog Approach Strangers
When hiking with your dog, you’re very likely to encounter other people and other dogs on your travels. While it’s tempting to let your dog approach them, resist that urge.
Some individuals are afraid of dogs, and others may have allergies or even learning difficulties that may inhibit their ability to interact with your dog or process the situation in a safe way for all.
I will always recall my dogs and/or stand aside, and if they want to say hello? I’ll always let them ask to say hi. Then I’ll quickly judge whether I think they’re going to crowd my dogs and whether the interaction will be positive (and whether I want to talk to people! Haha!)
Naturally, the same goes for other hiking dogs. Not all dogs are friendly. You never know when one may be aggressive, and some may not be up to date on their vaccinations.
5 – Keep Your Environmental Impact to A Minimum
This rule applies to all hikers, with or without a dog. The general idea is to leave the trail as you found it, or even better.
Littering is a big no-no in hiking areas. You could receive a huge, eye-watering fine for leaving a mess behind, so make sure to always pack out all your trash, including doggy waste.
Some trails may provide biodegradable waste bags, but in case they don’t, it’s wise to be prepared and bring your own. I tend to bring mine in my Barking bag! I got mine whilst I lived in the UK, but it really works for our hikes.
6 – Respect the Wildlife in the Area
Before you and your dog hit the trails, it’s essential that you are alert to any kind of dangerous wildlife that might be in the area. From snakes to rutting stags, to ticks and fire ants, it’s really advisable to know what the issue may be when you head out.
I’m based in Maryland, so I know that we have minimal poisonous snakes in the area (compared to others) and we don’t have a huge local bear population. I used the Maryland wildlife species page to check out what was local.
If you see wildlife on the trail, keep your dog under control (aka this is where your leash comes in!) and at a safe distance – and sometimes? This may mean going the other way – and that’s okay.
7 – Leave No Trace
Hiking can be a thrilling adventure for you and your pup, but it should never come at the cost of the environment you’re visiting. It’s also
A fantastic educational resource that can prepare for your trip is Leave No Trace. They show you how to enjoy the great outdoors without damaging it while encouraging you to be actively proactive when out and about.
Hiking should be fun!
Hiking with your dog can be a great way to explore the countryside while you bond with your furry friend, but it’s important to follow the rules.
By keeping your dog on a leash, cleaning up after them, and being aware of their behaviour around other people and animals, you can ensure that everyone has a good time.
Remember to also be conscious of your environmental impact and respect the wildlife in the area.
Follow these simple rules, and you and your hiking buddy can safely enjoy many happy trails together!
And if you’re looking for a great harness to go on these hikes with? Go find my recommendations for awesome harnesses.
Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!