How to Keep Your Dog Safe on the Trail

Posted by Keith Anderson on 29th July 2022

Whether you’re going for a short walk, a day hike, or an overnight backpack trip, your dog should be as prepared as you are.

Here’s how to get your dog “trail ready” to ensure a safe, enjoyable hiking experience for everyone:

Make Sure Your Dog is Physically Ready

"Just as with running, gradually increase the length and difficulty of your hikes with your dog,” says Dr. Susan O’Dell, DVM. "If your dog is only used to walking a mile or two to use the bathroom, take breaks first before you start him off walking longer distances, then try easy hikes with some elevation gain."

Train Your Dog on the Basics

Does your dog know his sit, stay, and heel commands? Will he come when called without fail? If you have an untrained dog, hiking in the wilderness with the distractions of birds, new smells, and giant bears can lead to a lot of heartache. Practice the basic commands and make sure she has them down pat before you hit the trail.

Take Food and Water

No matter how long the hike, make sure you bring plenty of food and water as well as a lightweight dog travel bowl, such as Kurgo’s Collapse-a-Bowl, designed for backpacking. "For a day trip, you should bring enough to water and feed your pup for 24 hours in case you get lost," Dr. O'Dell said. “Stop frequently for water breaks and be sure to use clean water from home or filter water along the way. Dogs can get infections and parasites from contaminated water, just like us.”

hiking with dog

Always Bring a Leash

Most hiking trails have leash rules, so always carry a leash. Even if it is an off-leash trail, you may need to restrain your dog from other dogs, wildlife, or dangerous terrain. Kurgo’s Quantum 6-in-1 Leash includes three different length options, as well as two hands-free modes. To free up your hands when maneuvering over rocks or other tricky terrain, you can wrap the leash over your shoulder or around your waist.

Use a Harness

"Consider using a dog harness specifically designed for hiking or running, such as the Journey Air Harness or the lightweight Stash n’ Dash Harness," Dr. O'Dell recommends. "These types of harnesses distribute force when the dog is pulling or you both are unsteady on uneven terrain. The Journey Air Harness also has a back handle which can help you lift your pup over a log or help him along a rocky scramble."

Pack Gear Right

There are a number of good reasons for your pup to wear a dog backpack. "Dogs like having a job and a backpack gives them purpose," Dr. O'Dell said. "It also is a good way to slow your dog down if they race ahead. Just be sure to never put more than one-quarter of his body weight in his pack." A dog backpack is also a handy way for your pup to carry (and pack out) her own poop bags. Kurgo’s poop bag dispenser easily attaches to a backpack or leash. See more Reasons Your Dog Needs a Backpack.

Protect Her Paws

If you are doing a long or especially rugged hike, you should consider dog boots or putting balm like Musher's Secret on your pup's pads.

For more ideas on what to bring, check out or Dog Hiking Checklist

Check Regularly for Fleas and Ticks

Fleas and ticks are rampant in the woods, so make sure you have taken the proper preventative measures. Once you finish the hike, make sure you give yourself and your dog a thorough check for pests.

Protect Her from the Sun

"Even though they have those beautiful fur coats, your dog can still get sunburned,” Dr. O'Dell warned. “Make sure you hit them with some sunscreen, especially around the nose and other less-hairy areas.”

Rest and Hydrate Frequently

"Just like you, your dog needs to stay hydrated while hiking,” Dr. O’Dell said. “Unlike you, they cannot tell you when they are overdoing it. So stop frequently for breaks and give your pup water. Check for signs of heatstroke, such as excessive drooling, reddened gums, rapid heart rate, or producing very small amounts of urine." Carry a good water bottle and a portable bowl.For small dogs with less endurance, you also may want to consider a dog carrier backpack, so she can rest while you keep moving.

Have fun out there! Have you done a lot of hiking with your dog? What tips do you have to share?

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