Avoid A Ruff Time: Prepping Your Pup For Their First Backpacking Trip
Your dog is ready to put those paws on the trail and that's awesome! It's important to be realistic about your dog’s endurance potential and tailor your trip to suit his or her abilities. Few experiences match hiking with a dog on backcountry trails, and with careful enough planning and preparation, your trip will be fun and safe for you and your pet in addition to exercising respect for the animals and plants whose home you’re visiting. Before you hit the trail consider...
Pre-hike readiness: Consult with your veterinarian, brush up on obedience training and trail etiquette, pick appropriate and dog-friendly trails, and build up your dog’s stamina.
The dog pack: Ensure the ideal fit, watch the weight and load it evenly.
Other gear considerations: Your trail pawtner may benefit from one or two other essentials, from a roomier tent to share to a special first-aid kit.
Food and water planning: This is especially important on backpacking trips, when your dog needs more fuel and is likely to be the one carrying it.
Various trail hazards: Think about water safety, protection from the heat, other animals, plants and pathogens that could pose a threat to your fur baby.
It's always a good idea to consult your veterinarian before making the decision to bring your buddy out on the trails. Don't know what to ask? Here are some questions they'll be able to answer:
Is my dog physically ready? Your pup's bones are not fully developed until a year of age, plus or minus several months, depending on size and other factors.
Does my dog need any specific vaccinations or preventative medicines? In the city, you might not worry about things like your dog drinking water in a lake or pond that an infected animal has contaminated with Leptospirosis or even giardia. Ask the vet about preventative measures for outdoor destinations.
Is my dog’s immune system ready? Your vet will advise you about the safe age for you two to hit the trail.
Know Your Trail Regulations: Always check on the regulations for the areas where you’ll be hiking or backpacking. Most U.S. national parks do not allow even a leashed dog to share the trail. Many national forests, as well as state and local parks, do allow dogs on their trail systems, though rules vary. Leashes are mandatory almost everywhere. Brush Up On Obedience Training and Trail Etiquette: You must maintain control of your dog at all times. Step off the trail to yield the right of way to hikers, horses, and bikes. Having your dog on a leash isn’t enough. You also need to be able to keep your dog calm as other people and pooches pass by.
The Holy Dog PackYour dog can help carry their gear in a dog pack. As a general rule, a dog can carry 15-25 percent of his or her weight. Of course, some canines are able to carry more while others should carry very little. Check with your vet if you have specific questions about your dog’s capabilities. You will need to fit your dog for the appropriately sized dog pack. For most dog packs, this will require you to measure the circumference of your dog’s chest. This is the measurement that most dog packs are sized from. Once your dog is wearing their pack, make sure it rests comfortably without squeezing their chest. The pack should remain in place without hindering your dog’s breathing. There are different types of dog packs, so be sure you purchase one that is specific to hiking and backpacking. These packs will carry more items and have additional padding to make for a more easy going ride.
Other Gear Must-Haves
Doggy first aid kit: This includes gauze, heavy-duty bandages, a liquid bandage for split or cut paw pads, pet-friendly antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, pliers or tweezers for thorn and tick removal, styptic swabs, an antihistamine like Benadryl in case of a snakebite, canine sunscreen, and a bottle of Tecnu in case you run into a patch of poison oak or ivy.
Water and a collapsible water bowl: Use your own thirst as a guide and offer water when you stop to drink—every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on trail difficulty and temperature.
Dog towel: You'll want to snag a dedicated "hiker towel” to wipe off muddy paws before your dog joins you inside the tent. Bring an extra towel, too, to dry fur if your dog jumps in a lake or is soaked in a downpour.
Booties: They offer protection from sharp rocks, thorns, and snow. It’s not uncommon, though, for a dog to lose a bootie. So if you choose booties rather than simply toughening up paws on training hikes, you need to pack spares. And you’ll still need to allow time for your dog to get used to wearing booties.
Food + WaterConsider a dry food with high protein content and fat levels to give your dog extra energy on the trail. We advise increasing the portion size by up to 50% based on your dog’s fitness level, the hike’s difficulty, and how much extra exercise they'll be getting compared to their regular routine. (Rule of thumb: on top of your dog’s usual daily food total, bring an extra cup of kibble per 20 pounds of dog per day.) Give them a small serving about an hour before hiking for extra energy, and feed them small and frequent portions throughout the day. If you’re going for a long trip, consider packing a high-protein dehydrated dog food (which weighs less) instead. In terms of hydration, larger dogs tend to drink 0.5 to 1.0 ounces of water per pound per day. Dogs 20 pounds and lighter will be closer to 1.5 ounces per pound per day. Keep in mind, this is a general rule of thumb, so keep a watchful eye on your pup and water consumption, especially on hot days. If the nose is dry, then you’re under-hydrating your dog.
Watch Out For These Hazards
Overdoing it: If they are panting rapidly, drooling, dehydrated, suddenly unresponsive, stalling, visibly exhausted, staring, or having trouble focusing, it’s time to take a break.
Falling: Steer clear of cliffs, steep trails, and unstable terrain. With a harness or doggie backpack with a handle, you can help them climb.
Plants: Poisonous ones (poison oak, poison ivy, sumac, certain mushrooms, and hemlock, among others) and prickly ones (burrs, foxtails, thorns, and cacti) can all spell bad news for your pup. If you see them grazing on any greenery, stop them immediately.
Pathogens: Drinking water contaminated with Leptospirosis, coccidia, or giardia will make your dog sick (signs include diarrhea, vomiting, and weakness). In high-risk areas where there are cattle or other campers, don’t let them drink from lakes or streams. Stagnant water is always a no-no.
Wildlife: Your leash is your best defense against aggressive wildlife encounters. Even though Lyme disease doesn’t show symptoms in many dogs, ticks are also a concern, so check your dog closely and remove any hitchhikers after the hike.
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