Hiking with Dogs

Home & Family, Outdoors
on July 21, 2002

Sequoia National Forest contains giant trees and stunning vistas, which Maxine Chittenden shares with three hiking companions—her dogs.

A Labrador retriever, a golden retriever, and a mixed breed, each weighing more than 100 pounds, come with responsibility, because Chittenden, of Squaw Valley, Calif., must plan for the canines just as she would a trio of two-legged hikers, she says.

“You have to have supplies, treats, and you need to take proper precautions,” she says.

Careful planning is critical for trail-loving pet owners, says Tony Rango, the Sierra Club’s director of national outings. Rule No. 1: Keep control. Dogs running free may not only frighten other hikers, but also spook or injure wildlife.

“Dog owners should definitely try to keep in mind that they have a different perception of the animal than others do,” Rango says.

The National Park Service doesn’t allow dogs on trails. However, depending on the park, leashed dogs may be allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, or on paved roads. Similar rules at state parks or other destinations make it essential for pet owners to plan exactly where their canine friends are welcome, Rango says.

Even if it’s not required, keeping dogs leashed is a good idea. Remember, trails are shared, and no one wants their dog to scare horses or other hikers. A 6-foot leash allows enough room for a dog to comfortably wander a trail without tangling in underbrush or with other hikers. If a dog is allowed off-leash, the animal should strictly follow voice commands.

The Sierra Club offers tips for safely and responsibly bringing Fido along on a backcountry trek:

• Maintain their health. They may seem full of vim and vigor, but dogs tire just as people do. Build your dog’s stamina with short hikes and work up to longer excursions. Make sure to update vaccinations, and ask veterinarians about the proper precautions when hiking in areas where Lyme disease is common. Dogs are susceptible to the disease just as people are.

• Provide water. Drinking enough fluids is as important for dogs as it is for humans. Their body temperature is higher than a person’s and, considering they also have a fur coat, dogs overheat more quickly. Take responsibility for bringing the water. Allowing dogs to drink from ponds or streams is no healthier for them than for a person. While some people train dogs to drink from a squirt bottle, others pack along collapsible water dishes. If your dog starts seeking shade, pants excessively, or becomes red in the gums, cool it down by gently pouring water on its stomach.

• Share the load. Many manufacturers make packs for canines. Dogs should be able to carry one-third of their own weight. At home, accustom them to the pack by slowly adding weight.