Backpacking with Dogs

The Basics

There is no better companion than your dog when backpacking; no matter the type of terrain or environment. And your dog loves it more than you do! Excitement aside, there are some things you must consider prior to leaving if your dog is coming along.

First, check any websites for documentation on organized areas and parks where you plan to visit and know their regulations as they apply to dogs. Obey the signs at all times and be aware of leash-on/leash-off zones. They may seem unnecessary, but careful planning and consideration went into each decision. It is also wise to identify trails used more by joggers/cyclists and to spend as little time as possible in those areas. Your dog will love you for doing so. And remember, your dog always draws energy from you, so if you remain calm while passing others, your dog should eventually replicate that same demeanor.

For the pure nature backpackers, know what animals you may run into and also what areas of terrain are dangerous for your dog. Nothing is worse than running into an old porcupine or coming upon a cliff that you were unaware of.

Many breeds of dogs will chase small animals like rabbits. These types of situations may sound unrealistic, but they do happen. So, ensure your dog’s recall training is solid, and that you are able to maintain control of your dog at all times, and in all types of situations. One other item to consider while hiking through heavy terrain is your dog’s collar or harness. Ensure that you either remove it, or have it placed snugly against the dog. Collars and harnesses can get caught on a random stick or tree branch fairly easily in certain situations. One argument for leaving a collar on the dog is to attach a bell for location purposes. This may be appropriate for dogs with hearing issues as they sometimes will wander and not hear your recall signal.

Planning an Overnight Trip

If you plan on bringing your pet for an overnight trip, be sure your dog will be comfortable for the full duration of the trip. Be sure you have enough food and water for your pet, and that it’s easily available at all times from within your backpack. No dog should ever go without water at any time; especially while involved in excess activity. There are many wonderful items with regards to water bottles/feeding bowls for dogs. Find the most suitable one for you and your pet. Feed your dog one more than one hour prior to beginning your hike, and feed them 2 to 3 times more food than you would on a normal day. They will need it. Continue to feed them regularly while on those long hikes. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but consistent fuel for your dog keeps them energized; both physically and mentally.

Another item to consider is a first aid kit for your pet. Be ready for any circumstance of injury that could occur for your dog. Cuts and abrasions would be most common. Pad/paw issues, eye injuries, and sprained limbs are also possibilities.

Be sure your dog is up for the challenge of the hike. Ensure they pace themselves, and don’t burn out within an hour or two of a day-long trek. Older dogs may require more frequent stops to take a break. Some house dogs are just flat-out overweight. Consider this truthfully as you plan your hike and be fair to your pet. Monitor their activity and watch for sudden changes in behavior.

Plan a strategy using a map to identify good spots for breaks so that you can attend to all your dog’s needs. Remember to keep your dog cool during those summer hikes. A quick jump in a lake or stream is a great idea where possible.

Once you reach your destination for the night, you will no doubt be exhausted. So will your dog. Ensure you have ample room in your tent, and that your dog has a suitable, safe place with enough room to lay its head for the night. Consider temperature, available water, and a comfortable sleeping surface for your dog for those overnight hours.

Before starting your return hike, be sure your dog is well fed with food and water. Check for any wear and tear, and be aware of anything you find. If your environment is favorable to fleas and ticks, then a quick check is not a bad idea as well.

And finally, bring two of any given item if possible. Small items may get lost. Any sort of item could break. And not having a critical item for your dog is just as bad as not having it for yourself. Leash your dog well before any roads, or unfamiliar areas, and also where other people congregate. Campsites are a perfect example of where your dog will likely be energized by the ongoing activity, but also where your dog’s exhilaration may not always be shared.

So, to summarize:

  • Educate yourself as much as possible about your backpacking environment prior to leaving. This includes potential wild animals, terrain changes, and also lakes and rivers.
  • Pay attention to any signs or laws pertaining to your pet while within parks or public areas.
  • Have respect for joggers/cyclists/toddlers/seniors in passing, and have full control of your dog while doing so to avoid any accidents or injuries.
  • When planning overnight trips, ensure your dog is as comfortable as possible throughout the duration of your time away from home.
  • Bring extra food (2 to 3 times as much as normal amounts for the same time period), and always have food and water available to your pet.
  • Plan frequent stops to ensure your dog is not over-exerted. Keep them cool in the heat by swimming in lakes or streams.
  • Be sure that your sleeping area for your dog is adequate and that they are not lacking anything they would have within your home. This includes drinking water and proper space for sleeping.
  • Feed your dog plenty of food and water prior to venturing out once again to begin your return trip home.