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What You Should Know About Hiking With Dogs

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Dr. Rick Coufal, DVM

Dr. Rick Coufal is the founder and lead veterinarian for Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic. Coufal graduated from State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in May of 2000.

In the beautiful city of Colorado Springs, there are many ways to go outside and get active. For dog owners, this means there are lots of opportunities to bring your dog with you on your outdoor adventures.

At Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic, our goal is to empower pet owners so they can make the best decisions. We strive to be the best vet in Colorado Springs, and we work to build relationships that are centered around you and the wellbeing of your dog. We are continually committed to providing education to pet owners, which is why we want you to have the best information available to safely and enjoyably hike with your dog. Here are some tips on how to have the best experiences on the trails with your companion.

Why Go Hiking With Your Dog?

Dogs are great companions, and there is no better way to enjoy the outdoors than with your loved one by your side as you both explore nature. Hiking with dogs is one of the best forms of self-care not just for you but also your dog. Through your adventures together, you will be able to appreciate nature more and grow the special bond between you and your dog.

Before you and your pup go hiking, it is important that you are equipped with the knowledge of how to have an enjoyable, safe, and pup-friendly hike.

Trail Etiquette

Before beginning on your hike, the first thing you should know is whether you will be on a dog-friendly trail. For example, many national parks and state parks allow you to visit with your pet, but certain trails have restrictions in order to best preserve protected ecosystems, such as leash laws and other trail rules.

If you are planning a hike, it is important to know the pet rules and regulations for the park you are visiting.

The B.A.R.K. Principles

Once you find a trail that is dog-friendly, remember hiking etiquette as you and your pup hit the trail. The National Park Service has the B.A.R.K. principles that all pet owners should be aware of on their hike. B.A.R.K. stands for:

  • Bag your dog’s poop
  • Always leash your dog
  • Respect wildlife
  • Know where you can go

By following these hiking etiquette guidelines, you, your dog, other hikers, and other dogs will have a more enjoyable, positive, and safe experience on the trail.

Leash Your Dog

Many trails have their own rules and regulations that hikers and their dogs are expected to follow while hiking. Unless otherwise specified as an off-leash dog trail, it is always a good idea to have your dog on a leash while on the trail. A leashed dog will be safer, as leashes act as preventative measures to keep your dog safe from other hikers, dogs, and nature, like plants and wild animals.

You know your dog best. If your dog is likely to get startled or skittish while on the trail, a harness would be a good investment. In a situation where your dog needs to be restrained, leashes can pull on a dog’s neck. Instead, a leash and harness for your dog is the best way to safely keep your dog by your side.

It is also best not to assume that other hikers want to meet your dog. For example, your excited dog should never jump on other hikers. By keeping your pup in control, other hikers will have a more enjoyable time on the trail. Similarly, to be as safe as possible, it is best not to assume other dogs like your dog. Not every dog on the trail is friendly, even if they are wagging their tail.

Dog Hiking Essentials

Before hitting the trail to go hiking with your dog, it is best to be prepared. As a dog owner, you want to make sure that your hike is enjoyable for both you and your hiking buddy. From food and drinking water, backpacks, a sleeping bag or sleeping pad, poop bags, and more, the proper gear is essential for a great hike.

Dog Packs

If you will be completing a long hike on an entire trail, you may be interested in getting your dog a hiking pack. When hiking with dogs, a dog pack allows your pup to carry hiking gear that is necessary on the trail, such as bags for the dog’s waste and their own water. Some packs even have a top handle, which is great for keeping your dog close and picking them up over water, sharp rocks, or rough terrain.

Fitting a Dog Pack

These packs come in a variety of sizes, so you will need to find the one that best fits your dog. To find your dog’s size, measure around the widest part of their rib cage. It is important that the pack is not too tight in order to allow your dog room to breathe, but the pack should not be too loose that it falls off.

Food and Water

While hiking with dogs, they will require more food and water than normal. As your dog is burning calories just like you are on the trail, any hike you select will require an additional amount of food and water for your dog. This is why it is good to have excess water and snacks to give your dog if they need it. A good rule to keep in mind is that if you are hungry or thirsty, your dog is probably hungry or thirsty, too.

As always, it is recommended to consult with your dog’s veterinarian before going on your adventures regardless of short day hikes or multiple day trips. Your vet will know your pet’s health history to ensure they are safe during your adventures. 

Other Gear

Depending on the location and length of your hike, you will require additional gear for you and your dog. Some suggested items to pack on your hike include:

  • Dog booties to protect your puppy’s feet from the terrain
  • Pet-safe insect repellent
  • A collar with updated identification information
  • A short leash and a long leash for exploring
  • A first aid kit for keeping you and your pooch healthy

By researching and learning more about the trail you will be on, this will give you a better idea of the type of gear needed on your adventures.

Hiking Safety

Safety is always the top priority on the trail. In order to keep you and your dog safe, you should consider various trail hazards and safety tips for hiking with your dog.

Hiking Hazards

Being out in nature means there are certain risks associated with your hike. From plant life to small animals, a dog owner should be aware of the best ways to keep themselves and their loved one safe.


Wildlife is unpredictable, and even the best dog may chase after something they see. This is why a leash is the greatest way to protect your puppy from running after any wildlife.

Be mindful of bugs, too. For example, ticks can be a concern for dogs, and while symptoms of Lyme disease do not present themselves in many dogs, you will want to check your dog for ticks and other bugs after the hike. Additionally, an insect repellent safe for your pooch may be the right call.


Dogs are curious and they often sniff at and eat things they find along the trail. This can be dangerous depending on the type of native plants growing in the area. Plants like poison ivy or poison oak will cause discomfort for you and your dog, so be mindful of what you and your dog walk through and keep a close eye on what your dog smells and eats.


It is best practice to always check the weather and terrain of the trail before heading out. Factors like humidity and the sun’s UV strength can majorly impact your hike. The proper clothing is necessary to keep yourself safe, and sunscreen should always be worn during day hikes.

Heat stroke is also a danger for dogs if they go without resting. Make sure to find areas in the shade to sit down, hydrate, and rest before beginning on the trail again.

Cold temperatures and snow may also be harmful to some breeds. Colorado winters can be harsh, so it is important to know how cold is too cold for your dog.

Safety Tips

Before deciding to go on a hike with your dog, it is important to always consult with your veterinarian, as not all dogs are ready to go hiking. Factors that can affect your dog’s ability to go on a hike depend on many things, such as endurance, age, ability, breed, and even dogs’ immune systems play a role. This is why you should always check in with your vet before going hiking to make sure your dog is in a healthy state to go with you.

After consulting with your vet about your dogs’ hiking, you can have the confidence that your adventures will be dog safe.

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Going on a hike with your dog is a wonderful thing to do any time of the year. Not only will you feel healthier and happier by being out in nature, but you will also get to experience the special bonding time between you and your dog while doing something you both love to do.

Whether you go on short walks on paved trails with your pup or you decide to do a multiple day backpacking trip in the Colorado mountains, the team at Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic is here to answer your questions and make sure your companion is healthy for your outdoor adventures. Contact us today to schedule your appointment!

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