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Whether you’re an avid camper or a trail newbie, wilderness adventures are made that much better when accompanied by your four-legged pals. While it’s a lot more work than simply picking up and heading out on your own, with a little know-how and preparation, your next adventure can be that much more special with your dog tagging along.
Check The Park Rules
Before packing up and hitting the trails, be sure that wherever you’re going is dog-friendly. Most National Parks, for example, don’t allow dogs to share the trails (sad face), and rules vary quite a bit in National Forests and State & Metro parks. Rules for how to conduct yourself and your pup in the parks may vary too, but no matter where you go, leashes are almost always mandatory.
Trust me when I say Park Rangers do not take the offense lightly when you forego those rules. A couple years ago Zach and I took Daisy up to Conkle’s Hollow in Hocking Hills, a place I’d taken her hiking before with no issues, and a place I’d seen other dogs (even that very day). I walked out of there with a $150 fine after a Park Ranger stopped us on the trail headed out. Always, always check the rules first.
Make Sure They’re Up To Date
This means all vaccinations as well as flea/tick medicine. Parasites, insects, and diseases are all a risk for a dog when outside at all, let alone in the open country. Make sure they’re prepared to not only protect against anything spreading to them, but also to protect the land from any foreign cooties your dog might be carrying.
A quick check-up to the vet will give you a better idea as to if your pup is ready to hit the trails with you (both with vaccinations and general stamina/health), or if preventative measures should be taken first.
Pack Their Bags
If you’ve ever gone hiking for an afternoon you know that packing a few light snacks, extra water bottles, & a first-aid kit are automatic essentials, right? Your dog deserves the same. Especially if you’re camping overnight, make sure they’re equally prepared for wherever the trails take you. Besides food and water (and bowls for both!), don’t leave the house without a few trail treats, poop bags, bedding, a spare leash, a towel, eco-friendly wipes to clean quickly and easily, and perhaps a favorite toy if your pup happens to be a little anxious about the new environment.
Ease Into It
Just as you will need some time to build up your endurance for long hikes, you can’t expect your dog to automatically have the amount of stamina needed to hike for miles and miles with you through the wilderness all willy nilly. Take your pup for a few practice hikes in some parks or trails near you, starting small and building your way up to more strenuous trails and longer distances. Be sure to check their energy level afterward - if they’re still excited and active, then you know you can safely increase the distance next time around.
Along with the hiking itself, if you’re planning a camping trip with your dog it’s a good idea to get them used to the tent and campsite set up. Do a practice run in the back yard before heading out, even sleep out there if you think your dog might need it or seems very hesitant about the tent. Make sure they have a comfortable place to sleep (if you don’t want to sleep on the ground, neither do they), and they are used to being on a leash line around the campsite.
Be Mindful Of Them
Whether or not you’ve prepped your pup for the adventures ahead of you, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on the whole time and to keep in mind natural trail hazards. Dogs (tragically) cannot talk to us, but there are signs of distress that are sometimes missed, especially when you’re busy soaking up all the beauty of the nature around you. Naturally, their heart rate and breathing will be excessive during more strenuous hikes, but during breaks watch to make sure that they’re coming back down to normal levels (just as yours should). That means taking breaks long enough to achieve that.
Generally, you should also be keeping them on a leash at all times, only allow them to drink from treated, potable water, and ensure they don’t chew or ingest toxic plants.
Daisy and I have been on countless adventures together over the years - she’s my absolute favorite hiking companion. It takes a lot of work and awareness to safely bring her along on trails with me (then again, what part of dog ownership doesn’t take a little work and awareness?), but the extra work is welcomed by a rewarding adventure for the both of us.