Preparing to Hike With Your Dog Up Steep Mountain Trails

Hiking with your dog - A German Shepherd dog lying on the grass.

Are you and your dog looking forward to going hiking this summer? Maybe you've had a particular hiking trail on your bucket list for a while now, but you've hesitated to tackle it because of its challenging terrain. We've gathered some tips and training techniques to help prepare you and your dog to confidently tackle that trail!

Preparing Your Dog for Hiking

A couch potato pooch isn't going to be ready to hike even a gentle trail, let alone the steep trail of your dreams! It's a good idea to get the okay from his vet and your doctor before you begin a training regimen designed for the trail. Once you each have the all-clear, start with shorter, gentler hikes before gradually extending your distance and the trail difficulty.

If either of you is out of shape, you might even have to start walking at increasing distances to build up some stamina before hitting any hiking trails. After all, hiking with your dog isn't much fun when it's exhausting! Also, know how far you can hike with your dog in a day. Some breeds are better at distances than others. For instance, a lap dog breed may not be able to keep up with one bred for hunting, herding, or pulling a dog sled for a hundred miles a day!

The Today Show has a great segment on exercising with your dog if you're new to the idea or have just gotten a pet. Just don't forget to warm up and cool down properly with your pet before any exercise or training session. A good warm-up is essential for preventing injuries while improving cardiovascular function, respiration, and blood flow. This way, each of you will be at your peak — before you set out for that peak!

Hiking with your dog - A German Shepherd dog sitting on a rock during a hiking trip.

Tackling a Steep Mountain Trail With Your Dog

Research the trail you're planning on hiking with your dog before you get there. Consider the distance you're comfortable traveling, the type of terrain, how steep the grades are, the total elevation gain, and whether there is access to shade along the way. And always check the weather forecast before you head out!

What kind of obstacles will you and your dog have to navigate? Are there boulders or areas with large rocks to scramble through, scree fields (areas covered in broken rock fragments), lots of tree roots to potentially trip over, streams to cross, or dangerous cliffs? How about potentially dangerous wildlife? Even a squirrel or rabbit can be dangerous to your dog if there's a cliff nearby!

The 6 Commands Every Hiking Dog Should Know

Your dog should have a reliable grasp of these commands before you hit the trail.

  1. She needs to have a rock-solid "come". This is probably the most important thing any dog should know in any situation but it's especially vital on the trail.
  2. "Stop" means stop whatever she is doing and remain where she is. A variation of this is a drop on recall which is handy in teaching your pet to stop immediately even when she's at a distance.
  3. The "leave it" command might save your trip if your buddy is about to sample poison ivy, play with the bumblebees emerging from their underground nest, or explore other potential trail dangers! It can also keep her from lapping up giardia-laden stream water.
  4. Teach your pup to "wait for me" so she won't wander off while you're busy with something else. This is a more relaxed version of a "stay" command, which requires your dog to maintain the same position. When she's waiting for you, she can change positions as long as she remains in the immediate area.
  5. "With me" is another relaxed command. Rather than requiring your dog to remain at your left side in the heel position, this command keeps your dog near you on a trail that isn't always wide enough to hike side by side.
  6. You'll be very glad your dog knows "quiet" if you encounter a wild animal like a bear or moose that might be provoked into attacking by a barking dog. This command will also help you get amazing wildlife photos you might miss if your pooch scares the subject away!
Hiking with your dog - A white dog standing on a rock while resting during a hiking trip.

Dog Hiking Equipment

The right equipment can make hiking with your dog a joy rather than just another trail obstacle to overcome. These are the essentials you'll need to make your hike the best for both of you.

  • collar or harness with a rabies tag, ID tag, and a light to keep your pet safe.
  • A great hands-free leash because you'll want to have both hands free on a challenging trail.
  • Insect and tick repellent for you plus flea and tick protection for your dog. You might want to carry a tick remover just in case. 
  • Pet-safe sunscreen, especially for dogs with white coats/pink noses, thin coats, or when hiking in snow or at higher altitudes with intense sunshine. Don't forget your sunscreen, too!
  • A water bottle and collapsible bowl with plenty of water for each of you. Your dog will need minimum of 8 ounces of water for each hour you hike. 
  • High-energy snacks to stave off hunger for you and your hardworking hound.
  • A doggy backpack because he will love sharing the load with you — especially those snacks!
  • A first-aid kit that's human and dog-friendly in case of a trailside emergency.
  • A colorful bandana around your pup's neck. This makes him easier to see, identifies him as a beloved pet rather than a stray, and acts as an emergency bandage.
  • Paw wax — or doggy boots if the trail is rough.
  • A cooling vest or insulated jacket if the weather forecast calls for it.
  • Doggy bags or a small folding shovel — remember, leave nothing behind except foot and paw prints!

Are you worried about your pet going missing from the trail? You might want to invest in a GPS tracker or collar to make finding your lost pet easier.

Hiking with your dog - A German Shepherd in a park surrounded by trees.

Enjoy the Adventure!

Hiking a steep or challenging trail with your dog is an activity that you'll enjoy as long as you're prepared for the adventure. If you have other questions about hiking with a dog or our hands-free leashes, send us a woof. And don't forget to visit our Dog Blog for lots more suggestions for having fun with your four-legged pal!

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