Have the freshest free hiking tips sent to you each month!

Hiking With Dogs:
Great Idea Or Asking for Trouble?

OK, I admit it.

I had high hopes for hiking with dogs, in the form of a mixed breed shelter rescue named Cleo.

Maybe even unrealistic expectations about hiking with dogs.

After all, I didn't know her history, let alone her exact heritage or age.

Nevertheless, I was completely shocked the first time I took her out on the trail with me.

She was a bundle of energy, long legged and healthy. She was definitely a puppy, but could there have been a bit of hidden 'fraidy cat in her?

Here's why I ask.

She did just fine for the first half mile on the trail, but then a stream crossing came up.

  • It wasn't much of a stream, probably a bit cold on her paws but not deep enough to slow her down.
  • No rock hopping or wading involved!

When I glanced over my shoulder, there she was, sitting near the edge of the water.

I called encouragingly.

She just sat there looking at me.

"Huh" I thought. "She's tired already."

So I went back and got her, carried her over the water, and was astounded when she immediately squirmed and whined to be put down on the trail.

This happened at the next stream crossing, too: exuberant puppy energy disappeared in the face of water, and miraculously re-appeared after the stream was crossed (in my arms).

I'm not a rocket scientist (just a humble microbiologist), but it only took TWO MORE water barriers (a snow patch and a large mud puddle on the trail) to arrive at the conclusion that my little puppy was terrified of getting her feet wet.

That definitely put a dent in my enthusiasm for hiking with dogs.

Milo, another shelter rescue with trail issues: scared of his own shadow


Doggie foot issues: keep this in mind when hiking with dogs

Her feet issues were driven home even harder at puppy class the next week, when the instructor taught us how to trim toe nails.

  • Cleo had to be scraped off the ceiling - not really, but let's just say she was "extremely unhappy" about having her toes touched.

And then I recalled an incident that had happened on the day we adopted her from the shelter.

We were getting to know her a bit by holding her, and then put her down on the floor - she refused to walk more than a few steps before wanting to be picked up again.

  • So she was demonstrating foot issues from the first day we met her.
  • I just wasn't smart enough to catch on.

I'm still wondering what sort of traumas she endured before ending up in the shelter (she also hates brooms and will go out of her way to avoid them).


Dangerous assumptions about
hiking with dogs

My personal story illustrates the danger of assumptions about hiking with dogs.

  • Not all dogs like to hike.
  • Not all dogs like water.
  • Not all dogs should be out on hiking trails due to behavior issues or physical limitations.
  • And not every shelter rescue is going to make a great hiking dog.

Take home message: Be sure you touch the dog's feet, and pretend to clip the nails, before seriously considering the dog as a hiking companion.

Foot trauma early in life does not go away!

And pay keen attention to how socialized the animal is.

You'll be meeting lots of strangers (human and canine) on the trail, and aggressive barking or lunging on the leash isn't going to win you any friends.

  • Cleo demonstrated a protective streak that was hard to curb, and led to her hiking days being limited.

Sometimes antisocial behavior can be trained out of a dog, but not always.

You don't want to leave your buddy at home because s(h)e can't go along and get along, right? But sometimes hiking with dogs is not a good fit for the dog.



Trail considerations for choosing a hiking canine companion

A few considerations for potential trail dogs:

  • good stamina,
  • coat length and thickness (silky long coats will need heavy duty maintenance after a muddy hike),
  • adequate leg length for clearing obstacles or wading streams (unless you don't mind scooping up the dog each time),
  • strength for uphill climbs,
  • ease of training,
  • temperament (eager to please? responds to voice commands? friendly?).

Which breeds make good canine trail companions?

In the event of an accident or injury, you will need to give first aid to your hound.

If that idea gives you the heebie jeebies, this site can get you all calmed down, with some training.


Smart human behaviors make hiking with dogs safe and enjoyable

Sometimes hiking with dogs is not about the dogs at all - it may be the humans who do not understand how to be responsible trail companions.

Think about this for a minute.

How tall are you? How tall is your dog?

Your view of the trail is WAY different than what your dog sees.

  • Think it's fun to have your nose in rocks and trail dirt all day?

If it's a hot day, you are probably wearing a hat to keep the sun's rays off your head and out of your eyes. Are you going to put a hat on your dog's head?

  • I have actually seen, with my own eyes, a floppy pink hat on a lovely but embarrassed looking Irish Setter.
  • It clashed with her coat, for sure.
  • Why not just take shade breaks every so often, or schedule your hikes for early or later in the day?


And have you gotten down on your hands and knees, wearing a heavy fur coat, to check out the trail temperature on a hot, sunny day?

  • I've seen some "low riders" (short legged pups) looking rather uncomfortable under those conditions, including a teacup Chihuahua on a rugged, exposed mountain trail who trailed way behind her owner.
  • Said owner went out of his way to assure me that "she loves hiking!!" Uh huh.
  • Dogs dump excess heat by panting. Ever run into a dog with its tongue rolled out to maximum length? New meaning to the term "hot dog"!


Your feet are snug inside socks and boots. How do you think your dog's paws feel after the first mile or two?

  • Yes, there are dog booties.
  • Keep your dog's toenails clipped short to avoid broken or cracked nails, which can lead to infection. This includes dew claws, which can get ripped off (and bleed like crazeee when the dog barrels through brush along the trail, or scrambles over logs.


When you're thirsty, you stop for a drink of water from your bottle.


When you're tired, you don't ask your dog for permission to stop.

  • But when your dog shows signs of fatigue (you ARE watching for those, right?), do you keep pushing on?
  • And scold the animal to "keep up"?
  • Or do you offer a treat and some love?


Do you take steps to make your dog visible to others on the trail? A startled dog and a startled stranger on the trail can be a bad combination.


Here's the punch line:

Do you consider your dog's needs as you're packing up for a hike?

Are you responsive to trail conditions impacting your dog's well being?

Some dog owners simply ignore the fact that dogs get tired and scared and uncomfortable and perhaps frustrated on the trail, too.


One more potential source of doggie trail abuse:

Who carries the dog's food and water - you or your dog?

Some breeds are born to work, other breeds may not have the physical stamina or strong back to lug around heavy water bottles (see link above).

If in doubt, ask your vet.

If you decide to purchase a doggie pack, be sure it fits snugly but is not overly restrictive of leg movements.

And be aware that some breeds love to roll in the mud (or worse).

  • Be sure that whatever your dog carries is double wrapped in plastic. I learned that the hard way.
  • Or use a pack cover for the doggie pack, like this one.
  • Otherwise hiking with dogs might become hiking with mud pies :(

Curious about what happened to Cleo's hiking career?

Just in case you're wondering, Cleo no longer goes hiking with me.

She had too many issues to make her a safe and reliable hiking companion.

Can you imagine me carrying a 70 pound dog over every mud puddle???

Instead, she goes for long walks around the neighborhood.

But only on dry days :)

My feet are wet! Let's go home.


Dogs on trails -
good or bad idea?

I'm very interested in your thoughts about whether or not it's ok to have dogs on established hiking trails, or in the back country.

Human behavior is very important for this issue.

If you hike with dogs, you probably have some opinions about these questions:

  • What does it take for hiking humans to be responsible and considerate dog owners?
  • Do they have good control of their animals, even when off leash?
  • Do owners pick up the inevitable dog poop? Should they?
  • Are they aware of, and follow, the rules for hiking with dogs?
  • Do they take precautions to avoid harassment of wildlife by a dog going off trail?
  • What motivates people to bring dogs into the backcountry, where large mammals make their homes?

And if you don't hike with dogs, you probably have some ideas about this topic as well.

Chime in on this issue, and let's learn from each other about whether canine companionship is important to trail enjoyment.

Use the CONTACT form at the top left of this page to send me your thoughts.


Cleo update

The loyalty and love of a dog are priceless.

Saying good bye is difficult.

In memory of Cleo, here's a peek at some hiking dog photos that may make you smile.

Good-bye to Cleo (Cleezie, Cleasonator, Clee-elzebub, Miss Cleo) August 2015. Best dog ever... and she will be missed by humans and squirrels alike.

Home page > Types of Hiking > Social Hiking >

Hiking With Dogs



Didn't find what you were looking for? Use this search box to find it quickly.