As autumn approaches, that midwestern heat finally starts to dissipate: that means it’s time to hit the great outdoors! You could go hiking, camping, or backpacking with a buddy or two, but wouldn’t you rather take your best friend in the whole world: your dog? If you want to explore the wilderness with your furry friend, here are a few things to know beforehand.
Make sure they are able to handle it
This seems like a given, but think about it: your first time ever hiking or backpacking, you probably didn’t do some massive, expert level trail with no idea if you could manage it. Same goes for your dog - they might seem like they have boundless energy when in the comfort of home, but ease them into the great outdoors by planning some smaller expeditions first. In addition, keep on eye on them for a few days afterwards. Especially with older dogs, the stress and physical exertion may cause more soreness and pain after the fact than the trip is worth.
Finally, make sure your dog is trained enough to deal with unfamiliar situations. Things like wild animals, sudden storms, or just the act of tromping through unknown territory means you need to be on high alert, and your dog needs to be able to respond quickly in stressful or dangerous situations.
Know proper trail etiquette
It can be tempting to let your dog’s spirit loose when you hit the trail, but you need to keep them under control at all times when you’re in the great outdoors. Here are some trail etiquette tips if your pooch is your partner:
Check if the trail/campsite is dog friendly before showing up, and DO NOT say “Well, my dog is well-behaved, so I’m going to take them anyway” if it is not an animal-approved spot. There is generally a very good reason why a spot says “No dogs.”
Have your dog heel when others approach. When you encounter other hikers, stand to the side and have your dog sit down. Let the people approaching know that your dog is friendly; this will reassure them and communicate to your dog to not be stressed out by those approaching.
Clean up. This may sound silly, but don’t leave your dog’s waste lying on/next to the trail. Bring bags or, if you’re on an extended trip, a shovel so that you can bury their waste.
Keep them close. There’s wildlife that can be dangerous, plants that can be poisonous, and all sorts of hazards out there. Don’t let your dog out of your sight when you’re out on the trail.
What to bring
Obviously food and water are a must include, as well as proper containers. Bring more than you think you need in case something happens. In addition, make sure you pack:
Doggy first aid: Gauze, bandages (both cloth and liquid), antiseptic, antibiotic, antihistamine (in case of a snakebite or plant-based allergic reaction), dog-friendly sunscreen, and a pair of tweezers (for ticks or thorns).
Bags and a shovel/trowel for dog waste.
Temperature regulating items: instant ice packs are great, as are alcohol pads in case your dog’s feet are getting too hot.
Foot care: it’s not going to be a fun trip if your dog injures a paw and can’t move on their own. Salve and booties are a must.
Others: a short leash, a dog pack (have your dog carry their own gear!), a towel, a collar with tags, a brush or comb, and a bedroll so they can lay down when you stop.
Your dog can be a great hiking companion if you follow our advice and prep them for it. When you get home, your dog is sure to track in all sorts of new smells - make sure to keep a supply of Bio-nihilator on hand to keep the smell of the great outdoors where it belongs: outdoors.