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Natural Awakenings Hudson County NJ

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking with Your Dog

Mar 31, 2021 10:15AM ● By Arden Blumenthal
A white dog with a brown patch over his right eye being held by the leash of his owner staring out onto the landscape

Photo Credits: Arden Blumenthal

Thinking about hitting the trail with your pup this spring? Read these tips before you go.

Choose the right trail.

Planning is an essential part of hiking, and it’s even more important when you’re bringing your dog. If your dog is new to hiking or hasn’t hiked in a while, the key is to start slow. Choose an easier hike with limited mileage and fairly even terrain. Slowly build duration and hike difficulty from there.

Remember that trail difficulty can also depend on the weather. Dogs overheat and get too cold more quickly and easily than humans. So if you’ll be exposed to direct sun, rain or high winds, pay attention to what the temperature feels like.

When you think you’ve found a good match of mileage and elevation for your dog’s fitness level, take a look at the other features of the trail. Are there scrambles? Ladders? Tight squeezes? Are you confident your dog can handle them? If it can’t, are you willing to turn back?

Some hikes may be more challenging for your dog because of the amount of traffic. If your dog isn’t comfortable around other dogs or almost pulls your arm off trying to greet them, choose a moderately or low-trafficked trail. Does your dog have a bike phobia? Pay attention to other potential users of the trail so you can make the hiking experience enjoyable for you and your dog.

Need help finding the right trail? Check out Best Hikes with Dogs: New Jersey.


Photo Credit: Arden Blumenthal

Safety first.

You probably know what to do if you or someone you know twists their ankle on a hike, but do you know what to do if your dog cuts its paw pad? Bringing a dog on a hike means you’re responsible for its safety, so make sure your first aid kit includes supplies for your dog as well. And if you’re headed to the backcountry, consider bringing an emergency harness in case you need to carry your dog out.

The best way to avoid an emergency, however, is to be prepared for the hazards you could encounter on your hike, including snakes, steep cliffs, bears or extreme temperatures. Also, check for ticks regularly. Some tick-borne diseases can be transferred to your pet within 10 hours, and therefore may not be preventable with prescribed tick preventatives.


Pack for your pup.

Packing for a dog is relatively simple. Essentials include a collar with an ID tag, water, a collapsible bowl and poop bags. Depending on the hike length and conditions, consider bringing treats or food, a warm layer, booties, a quick-dry towel, an attachable bear bell and a harness made for adventure


Be a good steward.

Always comply with leash laws—not just to protect your dog and other trail users, but also to protect fragile habitats. And when you hike with your dog, remember to pack out when you pack in—including their poo, which can take a year to break down and is harmful to the environment.

After your hike, don’t forget to clean off your dog, checking for seeds and burrs. Invasive species can travel from site to site through hitchhiking seeds on your gear and your pets.


Photo Credit: Arden Blumenthal

Be flexible.

We love dogs because they live in the moment. They remind us to enjoy the simple things in life—and that’s certainly true on a hike. You may take a detour or find a new trail thanks to your four-legged buddy.  But you also might need to turn around because your dog is too hot.

Always watch your dog for signs of fatigue or injury, and listen to it when it shows you it’s had enough. Sometimes your hikes won’t go as planned, especially when you hike with a dog, and you have to be okay with that.

But the amazing part about hiking with a dog is that it allows you to step outside yourself and see the world through the eyes of an animal. What are they smelling over there on the westward wind? What creature did they hear in that underground burrow?

Hiking with dogs reminds us to embrace our own wild. By hiking with them responsibly, we can keep our trails wild too.

Arden Blumenthal is Conservation Dogs program coordinator for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Learn more about the wagging tails saving trails by following the Conservation Dogs team on Instagram at @DiaSavesTheForest.

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