This article was written by Amy Harff and originally published in April 2019.
Hiking with your four-legged friend can be a lot of fun, but it is important to know how to minimize their impact and keep your dog safe for a paw-sitive experience. Here are five things to consider before hiking with your dog:
Is your dog prepared to hike?
Don’t overestimate your dog’s abilities. Before taking your furry friend on the trail with you, consider their physical capabilities, age, breed, and training. Since your pet will do their best to keep up with you, hiking with an unprepared dog could put their health and safety at risk.
Be realistic about what you are asking your dog to do. Is your pet physically capable of exercising all day and enduring temperature fluctuations? Short-muzzled dogs like pugs, boxers, and Boston terriers are at higher risk of heat stroke and exercise intolerance because their short muzzles and narrow nares make it harder for them to breathe, regulate temperature, and keep up on longer hikes. When hiking with such breeds, be cautious about the hikes that you choose.
Does your pet follow commands? If not, then your dog could be a danger to themselves, other humans, and wildlife. Dog breeds with a high prey drive might not be ideal trail companions because they are more likely to take off after an animal and not obey commands.
How old is your pet and do they have health issues? Dogs that are very young or old may not have the stamina and strength for a hike, and also may have weaker immune systems that make them more vulnerable. Some veterinarians advise that puppy owners wait about five months, or until the puppy has received all of their shots before going on a hike. They also suggest that puppy owners keep the first few hikes to less than an hour.
Check the weather and the terrain. Will it be extremely hot or cold, icy or slippery? Will there be enough shade? Since dogs don’t sweat like humans, avoid hiking with your dog on extremely hot days, as heat-related issues can cause health complications and even lead to death. This is a sad example from this past summer  of just how important it is to watch temperatures when hiking with your dog.
Rocky trails can damage your dog’s paws so choose shady paths with soft ground and leaf coverage. Don’t forget a Pet First Aid Kit to address injuries that your pet might encounter on the trail. You can purchase an adventure Pet First Aid Kit online or make your own. For long hikes, consider bringing dog booties to protect their paws.
Although dogs can’t talk, they can show signs of injury or discomfort. Pay special attention to the warning signs they may be giving you.
Pack a snack!
When packing snacks and water for yourself, don’t forget your furry friend. Just as humans need to stay hydrated and energized while hiking so does your dog. Bring a collapsible bowl, dog food, and extra water.
Respect wildlife and other hikers by leashing your pet
Although it may be tempting to take your dog off the leash, unleashed dogs can be a danger to themselves, wildlife, and other hikers. It is also a regulation that they stay on a leash at all times in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, and anywhere above 4000 feet in the rest of the High Peaks. By keeping your dog on a leash, you can avoid harming the local flora and fauna and reduce the potential for injury to your curious pet. If provoked, animals like snakes, porcupines, and larger predators could attack your dog. Moreover, dogs are at risk of getting or spreading diseases to wildlife, so it is important to keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date. Finally, be mindful of other hikers because not everyone likes dogs, so it is important to respect their wishes.
Pick up after your dog
While picking up dog feces can be unpleasant, waste detracts from other hiker’s experiences and is harmful to the ecosystem. One gram of dog poop can contain up to 23 million fecal coliform bacteria (PDF link), among a host of other bacteria that can harm wildlife, groundwater supplies, and native habitats. Because dog food is nutrient-rich, dog waste is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. This creates imbalances in the natural ecosystem that can lead to algae blooms and foster the growth of invasive plant species. Bring doggie bags, and if camping overnight, carry a shovel and bury the waste between 6-8” deep and at least 200 feet from campsites, water sources, and trails.
Amy Harff was a Fall Education Intern with ADK in 2018 and attended Hamilton College where she double majored in Environmental Studies and Studio Art. When not working, Amy can be found in the art studio or outside hiking, skiing, and slacklining.
Solutions to increased visitation to the Forest Preserve and degraded trails are many. Read on to see the steps being taken, and to see what you can do to help make the Forest Preserve safer and more enjoyable for all visitors.