Hiking in the backcountry with your canine. Let me start by saying I love hiking with dogs; I pursue ways to allow my dogs to simply be dogs. There is no better joy than watching a dog go primordial and simply move through nature. Relaxing obedience and permitting the dog to be a dog, all while maintaining absolute control. Watching a dog work the wind and activate their predatory instinct is amazing. However, there are safety concerns to remember when hiking with your dog. In this blog, we will cover some safety concerns about hiking with your canine companion. This blog will focus on day hikes, overnight, and long-term hiking blog will come later.
1. Weather – never overlook the weather. My #1 safety concern is heat stroke when hiking with dogs. Thus, I do not hike in hot weather with dogs. If you must move in heat, do so early or late into the darkness for safety. I greatly prefer cool/cold weather. A dog will die quickly in the heat but can maintain life in almost sub-zero temperatures for a duration. My personal preference is between 34-55 degrees. Below freezing frostbite can become a concern and above 55 degrees dogs can start to overheat depending on the breed, sun exposure, etc. With all the apps on our phones – there should be no surprises in the weather. Take your time and plan your hike with your dog, try to pick the best days. Cool and overcast will always be the safest.
- My greatest fear as a police K9 officer was doing criminal tracks in the heat. I was always aware of my dog’s condition and truly feared a situation in which the dog would overheat and die prior to me being able to render aid and reduce the internal temperature of the dog.
2. Environmental Condition – What and where are you hiking? This should be considered. There is a big difference between bringing your dog on a flat double-wide trail in which your dog trots next to you vs. bringing your dog high into elevation on slick rock. Some environments may take pre-exposure to condition your dog to safely navigate the terrain. Examples would be swamp, swift water, slick rock, steep inclines, deep snow, etc. If you simply grabbed a house pet and took them on a 10 miler in adverse conditions, you will likely have a bad experience if not seriously injure your dog. Expose your dog and teach them how to navigate adverse terrain and then condition them slowly to the new experience. Always set them up for success in the beginning.
- If you build the dog correctly and establish trust and leadership with them, nothing will be able to slow them down. Take your time. Bond, learn, guide, and expose your dog as often as possible. Use life as training. Is it hot, cold, windy, raining hard, snowing, etc. – expose your dog safely to all environments. Life is the best training tool.
3. Safety – keep in mind everything from personal safety to environmental safety to injury mitigation. Personal safety – are you prepared to protect yourself and your K9 partner? While hiking, trailheads are often a place of crime. Whether you become a victim of a personal crime or your vehicle gets broken into. Always have a plan of action! I highly recommend concealed firearm carry. However, if that is not an option; have something else. Remember, you will most likely be remote, do not assume law enforcement will be able to help you. You will have to help yourself. Do not assume your dog will protect you from violence. Most likely, they will NOT. At best they will bark; however, most dogs will run if real violence is brought on you. Have a plan as well on how you will deal with a bear, snake, or other predator depending on what part of the country/world you’re in. Injury mitigation. Do you have a plan to treat yourself and your dog in the case of a medical emergency? While I could literally write a book on this, I will keep it simple and remind you of this. A little pre-planning for medical emergencies can go a long way in the field.
- Have a weapon, a first aid kit, and a cell phone at all times!
4. Obedience and Control – you have it, or you don’t and only you know the answer to that. If you take your dog out into public, it is your duty to have control of your dog. I beg you NOT to take your dog hiking if you do not have control. Just as I want you to expose your dog to environmental stimulus, I beg you to get obedience training on your dog prior to taking them hiking – it can be a matter of life and death. Let me explain. I personally hike with my dog 100% off-leash. However, his obedience is world-class. He will freeze in place on a “stand” command. I use the “stand” command often while hiking and I keep him close 99% of the time. Typically, while hiking if the terrain allows, I will keep my dog in a loose heel and or casually close (within 4 to 5 feet). Can you imagine leash walking an out-of-control dog down a steep hill or rocky terrain, only to be dragged down and obtain a serious injury as a result?
- Seek out professional obedience training. Ridgeside K9 – NOVA can help!
In closing, train – don’t complain. Respect all and fear none. This applies to daily and real-world living with your dog. If you have training problems – seek out a professional training company like Ridgeside K9 – NOVA to help and assist you with obedience and control so you can live with your dog in the real world. Nothing and I mean nothing can replace living with your dog in the real world. No training environment will ever compare; just as no scenario training will truly prepare you for the real thing. Once your dog is trained and has obedience get them out, hike with them, and enjoy the freedom of a trained dog. Having a canine companion by your side during activity is one of the most enjoyable things in the world!