Pet Connection: How and when to hike with pups

Hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, spend time with your dog and wear him out, especially if he’s the super-active type. It’s quite possibly the most accessible activity you can do with your dog. Wherever you live, you probably have access to dog-friendly hiking trails within 30 minutes of home.

We’ve gathered eight tips to help you both have the best hike possible.

▪  Puppies can go hiking as long as you condition them gradually. Start with short hikes of a half-mile to a mile, and slowly work up to longer distances.

▪  Watch the weather. It’s not just flat-faced dogs who are sensitive to heat and humidity. Plenty of dogs wilt quickly, even in moderate temperatures of 65 degrees. Any time the temperature exceeds 80 degrees, it’s too hot for most dogs to exert themselves. If you’re going on a short hike near home, consider hosing down your dog before you leave to help him stay cool, or stop during the hike at a place where he can go swimming or get wet.

▪  Bring plenty of water and a snack. For a day hike in optimum temperatures over moderate terrain, a quart of water and some cut-up boiled chicken or hot dogs (frozen the night before) should be enough to keep your dog hydrated and full of pep.

▪  Because of the uneven terrain and changes in elevation, hiking is harder on the body than just going for a walk. Pay attention to your dog’s condition, especially if he’s a puppy or an old dog. You never want to see him panting heavily or unable to go on. Remember that dogs are lower to the ground and may not have the benefit of a breeze.

▪  Keep your dog on leash so he doesn’t disturb wildlife or other hikers. Accidents happen, though, so he should be trained to come to a whistle. The sound will carry over a longer distance than your voice if you get separated. He should also know and respond to the commands “sit,” “stay” or “wait,” “down,” “heel” and “quiet.”

▪  Know how to treat injuries. You can find a pet first-aid course in your area through the Red Cross. Carry a first-aid kit that contains items such as bandages, antiseptic wipes and Benadryl (check with your veterinarian ahead of time so you’ll know the appropriate amount to give if your dog suffers an insect bite or sting).

▪  Tote that load. Your dog can carry his water, snacks, first-aid kit, a folding water dish and poop bags in a canine backpack. Before buying, check the fit to make sure it stays on securely without being too tight or too loose or restricting his movement. You should be able to comfortably fit two to four fingers between the straps and your dog’s body. Features that can add to his comfort include a mesh back panel for ventilation and padding beneath the straps. Other conveniences you may appreciate are D-rings for attaching items to the pack, weather-sealed zippers, attachment points for the leash and a handle on top that allows you to hold onto or lift your dog if necessary.

▪  Bug out. Protect your dog from fleas and ticks with an oral or spot-on preventive. If the local insect population is especially intense, you can try applying an all-natural citronella spray to his coat. Be aware that the effect probably won’t last more than an hour, so you’ll need to reapply it regularly. Most important, have fun! See you on the trail.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with