Hiking With Your Dog

Hiking With Your Dog
Tips and gear to help you make the most of the great outdoors


When I'm preparing to go on a hike, my canine companions are always at my side, ready for an adventure. While I slip into worn hiking shoes and pack enough water for the trek, my dogs Callisto and Asta watch me with tails wagging, all eager anticipation.

I love hitting the trails with my two stalwart partners. Hiking with your dog is often safer than hiking on your own, and it gives your dog some really great nature time. The uneven terrain also works different muscles than a normal walk, helping keep you and your dogs fit and young. But the dogs, just like me, need to be prepared.

There are a number of things to keep in mind when undertaking day hikes with your dogs. First and most importantly, a good leash is an absolute necessity.  Many trails and hiking routes will let you bring a dog (excluding some National and Provincial Parks—check first), but a lot of them require your dog be leashed. Any sort of choke leash should be avoided on hikes (as well as just generally). I like the hands-free adjustable Hurtta Free Hand Leash with shock absorber. It easily adjusts for length and the lovely padded handle makes for a snug, secure, and comfortable grip. Or try Hund's Baldy, a convertible shock-absorbing leash. It's five leashes in one! Shorten it up, leave it long, or wear it around your body for a hands-free leashing option. It also allows you to connect two dogs, plus you can loop it around a tree and hook it to itself, all without unclipping from your dog's collar, and it comes in awesome colours! 

A harness is also a great investment. It's more comfortable for your dog and protects your dog's neck. If you're doing a technically difficult hike, a harness versus a collar is particularly recommended. The weight distribution of a harness makes it safer and all around more comfortable for your pup. Hurtta's Active Harness is a Modern Dog favourite. Sturdy and adjustable, it has a padded chest strap to ensure a comfortable fit, a handle on the back for better control of your dog in difficult places, plus 3M reflectors to improve visibility in the dark! 

It's important to note that even in the summer, the weather is very changeable in the mountains. Pack your dog gear accordingly. If it's a hot day, your dog might need a cooling vest or bandana, such as those made by CoolAid (from $19). Just wet with water, wring, and shake, and the patented, chemical-free, thermo-regulating fabric starts to cool! I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I never leave the house without Callisto and Asta's rain jackets in my hiking pack. The Buster rain coat from Kruuse ($22) is great in wet and muddy conditions. The windproof and waterproof material is durable and breathable with an adjustable neck, so your dog won't feel too restricted. The easy-on design also means there is less of a struggle when getting your dog suited up.

I also always bring a pair of dog boots. Although these get the most use in the winter, Asta has sensitive paws, and when she once cut her paw on rocky terrain, I was very grateful I brought those boots along! The added protection meant she could finish the hike without me having to carry her. Highly recommended are Muttluk's Mud Monsters rugged summer dog boots ($44 for two boots). These comfortable boots are designed for tough terrain and feature breathable mesh uppers and an easy-to-put-on design that stays on, protecting paws! If your dog has sensitive feet or an injury, try Woodrow Wear's Power Paws Reinforced Foot Socks ($30 for 4 socks), suitable for use both indoors and out. On hikes they protect against heat, snow, allergens, irritants like ice and salt, and sharp rocks. If your dog has an injured paw they're great for covering a wound or bandaging. There's even a special model designed especially for Greyhound feet!

Callisto and Asta get very excited every time we stop: it's water time. Dexas' Snack-Duo ($19.99) has made my life significantly easier as I am now able to keep both water and food in the same container. They also make a nifty collapsible water bowl that handily attaches to your daypack via the attached carabineer. I make sure I stop at least once every hour for a drink, and more frequently on a hot day!

If you're hiking for a full day, you should definitely bring some snacks for your dog as well as for yourself. Rayne makes a great Kangaroo Jerky ($7) that all dogs go crazy for! Since kangaroo is a great source of protein and nutrients, it will keep your dog fuelled up and ready to go. It's a perfect trail snack. If your dog needs a lot of incentive along the way, bring along some small treats you can offer frequently to tempt them. My dogs will do anything, even cross a creek, for salmon and cod flavoured Carnivore Crunch Treats ($10). Or make your own trail mix for your dogs and keep it in a treat pouch or baggie. Find Modern Dog's DIY recipe here for Rex's Terrific Trail Mix. It's healthy, doggone tasty, and made of leftovers!

You'll also want to make sure you have a good first aid kit. If your dog has allergies (for example, to bee stings) bring that medication as well. "Be prepared" is the Scout's motto for a reason! Being caught without any emergency supplies while off the grid is anyone's nightmare. Thankfully On The Road Pet has a comprehensive safety kit for dogs that truly has you covered—they've thought of everything so you don't have to. Carry the thoughtfully equipped Dayhiker pack ($50) so you are prepared in the case of any emergency, or, if you're not venturing too far, leave the pack in your trunk and just bring the small veterinarian-designed first aid kit it contains so you can take care of any injuries, like a cut paw, while on the trails.

Many people who hike with their pups let them carry some things in a dog rucksack. Generally, young, healthy dogs can carry up to 25 percent of their weight, though this amount definitely varies according to breed and age. Start out with a light pack and go from there. Also make sure the backpack is well balanced and sits comfortably on your dog's back. Get your dog used to wearing her backpack before setting out on a long hike. Callisto wore her backpack on normal walks for a couple of weeks before we tested it on a hike! We really like Hurtta's technical backpacks. Their Trail Pack ($100)—a backpack and harness combo—remains in position when your dog moves and is adjustable to fit your dog comfortably so he can carry his own gear. It also features a handle on the back that offers extra control when needed!

The issue of dog poop is also something to consider while hiking. You don't want to be the person who doesn't dispose of dog waste, but carrying a full poop bag up and down the mountain kind of ruins the experience, plus it definitely gets in the way of experiencing that fresh mountain air. If you're on a day hike, I recommend a dog waste bag such as Turdlebag ($20), where you can store your dog's waste and feel simultaneously environmentally responsible and unencumbered by stinky dog poop. If you're doing a multi-day backpacking excursion with your dog, camping along the way, make sure you dispose of your dog's waste as you would of your own; bury it at least 200 feet away from trails, camps, and water sources.

Lastly, it's important to remember bear and wildlife safety! This is one of the main reasons that you should always keep your dog on leash. While bear attacks are unlikely and rare, a three-year study of 92 attacks in North America showed fully half of them involved a dog that was off leash. If you can't depend on your dog to stay calm and listen to verbal commands in an emergency, a leash is best. (Note that this is almost all dogs; even the best behaved dogs are unpredictable in such situations.)

Now get out there and enjoy yourselves!   


What to Do if You Encounter a Bear With Your Dog

Orvis, makers of great outdoor gear for people and dogs, outlines the following bear-safety tips. 

If your off-leash dog charged a bear who decides to retaliate, your only recourse is bear spray. But assuming you're still in control of the dog and the situation has not escalated: 

1) If the bear has not seen you: Quietly and quickly leave the area, but never run--you'll look like prey. A bear can run faster than 30 mph--it will easily out-run, out-climb, and out-swim you.

2) If the bear has seen you: Keep your dog close and calm if the bear stays 15 feet or more away, avoiding sudden movements. Respect the bear's critical space, do not approach it, and try to turn and leave how you came. If you must continue, take a detour and give the bear plenty of space.

3) If the bear's behaviour changes: You're too close, so back away--give him all the room he wants. Speak: use a normal tone of voice and move your arms.

4) If you have an encounter at close range: Stand upright and make yourself as large as possible. Don't make direct eye contact--speak in a calm, assertive, and assuring tone as you attempt to slowly back up and get your dog and yourself out of danger.

5) If the bear moves toward you: Wave your arms and make a lot of noise--most bears will back off quickly. Throw an object on the ground (your camera, for example), as the bear may investigate it long enough for you to escape. But never toss food towards a bear or attempt to feed it.

6) Give the bear a way out: leave an escape route open for him.

7) If the bear charges: If you know the bear has an escape route AND you are sure it's a black bear, stand tall and look it directly in the eye: yell at the bear and tell it to leave—make sure your bear spray is at the ready. Never use this strategy with a grizzly bear; you will need to use your bear spray instead.


And for even more great products to help you make the most of your outdoor time, check out these Modern Dog approved essentials! 

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