I’ve been on hiking trails everywhere from the Cappadocia region of Turkey to coastal trails near Sydney, Australia, and I notice a lot of hikers are ill-prepared for hiking with a four-legged friend. From sharp rocks to thorny brambles, some trails can be safety hazards for your dog, especially if you haven’t prepared for such hazards. Whether you’re considering taking your dog on a day hike or just for a wee stroll through the forest, first familiarise yourself with these best practices for keeping your pup safe on outdoor trails.
Are Dogs Allowed?
Before setting out for a day of adventure with your dog, first confirm that your chosen park or trail permits animals. The Forestry Commission England website has a “Ruff Guide to The Forest” that shows all the trails and forests in England where you can take your dog. Dog Friendly Britain also has a list of parks, gardens, and grounds that are dog-friendly.
If you’re going on holiday with your pup, you may discover local parks to be less accommodating. For instance, most national parks in the United States don’t allow dogs – even if they’re well-behaved and on leads.
Planning For The Trail
From paved trails to rocky paths, what you and your dog encounter varies and safety should be your number one priority. You definitely don’t want your pooch cutting those cute little footpads on sharp rocks or getting caught up in the brambles. I’ve discovered a few items that have you prepared for anything the trail throws at you.
Dog boots – A set of these will protect your pup’s footpads, as well as keep those paws warm in the rain, snow, or colder temperatures. Animal Wellness magazine has tips for getting the proper boots for your dog.
Dog jacket – Depending on the weather, your dog may need a rain jacket or a warm jacket for your forest walk.
Lead – Some parks require dogs to be on leads. Before your hike, check the park or trail regulations because lead requirements can vary. Britains National Parks require dogs to be on leads no more than 2-metres long when walking in open access land.
Water – Always bring along enough water to keep both your dog and yourself hydrated. More strenuous trails, and those on terrain with low humidity, have a higher need for hydration; so pack accordingly. You should also bring a collapsible water bowl so that it’s easy for your dog to drink. Or, let your pup wear a dog hydration vest and carry his own easily accessible water supply.
Note: Always let your dog get used to carrying a food/water pack around the home a few days before your hike. Young, healthy dogs can typically carry up to 25% of their bodyweight, but this varies by breed.
Food – Unless you’re only going out for a brief hike, you may need to pack some food for your dog to snack on. This is especially true for strenuous hikes. You can carry the food in your rucksack, or let the dog carry it if the vest has a food storage pocket.
Safety Gear – Pack a pair of scissors and first aid kit, like Frodo’s mum, in case your dog gets tangled up in the brambles or for a thorn stuck in the paw. A safety whistle is also a good addition to your rucksack in case you and the pup get injured and need emergency help.
Cooling Collar or Coat – a cooling collar/coat is a good way to help keep your dog from overheating on warmer days.
Though some parks and trails have unique rules and regulations, there are a few pet codes that seem to be universal:-
Pick Up After Your Dog – When on a trail or path with bins, you should bag and bin your dog’s poo instead of leaving it on the trail.
Follow Lead Rules – Though some parks allow dogs to go off leads, many require a lead at all time. Confirm the rules before you let your pup roam without a lead.
Respect Wildlife and Other People – While out with your dog, you may encounter other hikers, cyclists, dogs, and wildlife on the trail. Don’t let your dog chase the wildlife or disturb other people. Try to keep your dog calm when other people, dogs, and wildlife are in the area. And remember, some people fear dogs, so it’s a good idea to move your pup over to the side of the path when people pass.
By planning ahead and following these tips, you and your dog will have a fun and safe hike or forest walk. And when you get back home, give your dog an inspection to look for burrs, ticks, and other objects. You can even end the day by giving your pup a bath before settling in for the night.