Dogs and the Great Outdoors – what you need to know

By Alex Oldenburg

As a woman who loves dogs just as much as the outdoors, sharing hikes with my dogs has long been a favorite activity of mine. Most of my hikes are built around where my dogs can go, as well as what is best for their health and safety.

While you can look for tips for hiking with dogs and prepare a hiking gear list, nothing replaces first-hand knowledge of taking and experiencing dogs and the great outdoors together.

This article is the result of several years of hiking with multiple of my own dogs and sharing adventures with friends and their dogs as well. My hope is that it inspires more dog owners to enjoy wild places with their own dogs, in a safe and responsible manner.

 

B.A.R.K. Principles

Part of the National Park Service’s Healthy People, Healthy Parks Initiative is the B.A.R.K. Ranger program. While the majority of dog owners venturing out with their dogs are responsible, reviewing these principles is still important.

 

B.A.R.K. stands for:

  • Bag your pet’s waste
  • Always leash your pet
  • Respect wildlife
  • Know where you can go

 

When an irresponsible dog owner takes their dog hiking, there’s a risk that an area will become closed to dogs in the future. Encouraging your friends and family to follow these, as well as following them yourself, ensures that places can remain open to dogs and their responsible owners.

 

Consider Your Dog’s Needs and Abilities

Before embarking on an adventure with your pup, it’s important to consider what they will need when on a hike, as well as their physical ability.

If you are already an avid hiker, and your dog is used to keeping the couch warm at home, you may need to begin a conditioning program with your dog to get them up to speed.

The first place to start is a visit to your dog’s veterinarian, to ensure they are healthy and physically fit for hiking.

Next, you’ll want to proceed by adding longer walks into your dog’s routine, as well as consulting a sports medicine or rehabilitation veterinarian if your dog needs special attention.

At this point, you’ll also need to decide if your dog will be carrying their own pack. The answer depends on the physical ability of your dog, as well as if you are able to add what they need to your own pack or not. We’ll talk further about packs a little later in this article.

I also enjoy having a hiking gear list, for both myself and my dogs, to ensure that nothing is forgotten.

The gear that we use will vary on the terrain and the season. Sometimes, dog booties are essential to keep their paws safe from extreme temperatures or rough surfaces. Dogs can also benefit from a jacket – either for cooling or for warmth – depending on their coat and the weather. Preparing ahead of time for dogs and the great outdoors is definitely the way to go.

 

Dogs and the great outdoors

 

Backpacks for Dogs

When my dogs are puppies, they don’t carry a pack. Puppies are still growing up until about 12-18 months of age, and adding unnecessary weight to their growing joints can risk health problems in the future.

We also don’t go on long or extensive hikes as puppies. In order to keep their growing body safe, we visit a variety of environments for training and socialization purposes, but keep the physical hiking to a minimum.

Once they are a year old, we begin training to wear a pack. I have Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, and the packs they carry can hold 2 liters of water, their food, poop bags, a water bowl, treats, and a first aid kit.

For the majority of day hikes, this is plenty of space for what we need to carry, and I don’t have to add additional weight to my own pack.

At first, the dogs wear their backpacks on regular walks, without anything inside for additional weight. The duration they wear the pack, along with the weight of the contents inside, is slowly built up – just as you would do for yourself when preparing for a longer trip than normal.

It’s also important to consider that your dogs and the great outdoors will likely need a break from carrying their pack, in order to avoid becoming sore. Whenever I stop for a rest or to take some photos, I’ll take off my dog’s pack to relieve them for a moment.

 

What Hikes Does Your Dog Like?

A piece of information that is critical to me, as a dog training and behavior professional, is whether or not my dogs are enjoying their hikes.

Too often, we might consider taking our dog with us to relieve the guilt of leaving them at home, and not because it’s something our dogs truly enjoy.

While you can definitely make hikes more enjoyable for your dog with some training and experience, they will still have their own individual preferences.

The breed of dog that I currently own, Duck Tollers, originated in Nova Scotia. As a result, they are quite fluffy and tend to prefer cooler weather.

When hiking in the summer months, I often either leave my dogs at home, only go on a short hike, or hike somewhere the dogs can swim.

They both LOVE the water, so a hike along a lake or river where they can frequently take a dip is their ideal version of a summer hike.

Paying attention to what your dog truly enjoys can make hiking a better experience for both of you. When you first start out bringing your dog on hikes, experiment with a variety of environments and see what they prefer!

You may also find that your dog does better when there are fewer dogs or people around, and may choose to hike more remote trails for that reason.

 

Dogs and the great outdoors

 

Preparing for Emergencies

As any of us who spend time in the wilderness knows, unexpected events can happen in nature, and it’s best to be prepared.

Will you be able to carry your dog out if they become injured and unable to walk?

Do you know the local wildlife that can pose a risk to your dog?

Can you administer first aid to your dog if needed?

Several of these questions not only involve your own preparation, but preparation for your dog, too.

Small dogs may be used to being carried, but carrying them in front of you can become tiring. If you have a small dog, you should consider getting them used to riding in your backpack if necessary.

For larger dogs, it’s often impossible to try and carry them out in the usual way you might pick up a dog.

Instead, there are two options that can allow you to bring your dog back safely.

  1. Invest in an emergency dog carrying harness that allows you to wear your dog on your back, where you can best carry a heavier load.
  2. Teach your dog to be comfortable when you hold them around your shoulders, as in the fireman’s carry.

Knowing your dog’s temperament, training them in advance to be comfortable, and ensuring you have the right gear necessary can be the difference between bringing them back with you and having to leave them to go get help.

Checking in with local rangers or reading any postings on a trail can alert you to wildlife concerns. The size and temperament of your dog may trigger predatory or aggressive responses from some wild animals, so it’s important to be aware.

Last but not least, it’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand and to know how to use it. Consider taking a pet first aid course to know how to administer aid in case of an emergency.

 

What are your thoughts on dogs and the great outdoors?

Share your views in the comments below and tell us about the adventures you enjoy or experience with your dog.

Owner/Lead Trainer at | Website

Alex is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and loves spending her free time outdoors with her husband and their two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Windigo, and Hobbes.

36 thoughts on “Dogs and the Great Outdoors – what you need to know

  • November 6, 2020 at 5:16 pm
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    This is a very useful article. Living in Montana there are so many dogs and animals!

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  • November 5, 2020 at 1:52 pm
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    Great post! My family loves including our dog on our adventures. We just got a new puppy last month and we’re excited for him to grow up being included on our hikes and camping trips.

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  • October 28, 2020 at 5:23 am
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    This is so amazing I wish our dog liked car rides lol

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  • October 27, 2020 at 8:53 pm
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    love these tips and will share with a friend who recently adopted a dog that we all adore..

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  • October 27, 2020 at 5:36 pm
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    We love exploring the ourdoors with our pups! I love the BARK rule!

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  • October 27, 2020 at 2:05 am
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    So many people don’t keep their dogs on a leash and don’t pick up after their dogs either. It makes a bad name for dog owners! I don’t like it when I am hiking and a big dog appears without a leash – – I have no idea what to expect, and it is even more fear inducing because I have two little girls.

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  • October 26, 2020 at 7:23 am
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    I thought trails didn’t allow pets. BARK principles sound just right and if every owner follows them, then it would make it so easy. I had no idea that dogs/pets can carry their backpack. I am sure it’s not easy to train them for hikes. But once they are, it would be like having your best friend with you always. I do not have a pet but I really loved this post. There was so much that I didn’t know before.

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  • October 26, 2020 at 3:10 am
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    I have not ever heard about B.A.R.K. But I will use remember this whenever I do take my pet out with me to a hike! I have a mix chihuahua with terrier and he always quite the happiest when he’s having outdoors time!

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  • October 25, 2020 at 10:28 pm
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    So many great tips! Having dogs with you while outdoors can be so wonderful. But it is important to be courteous to others by taking care of your pet.

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  • October 25, 2020 at 9:48 pm
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    I haven’t heard of the BARK principle so far, so thanks for that information. Totally makes sense! Its interesting to read about preparing your dog for the hike. I can also imagine the dog’s breed making a difference as well – very heavy or very tiny dogs aren’t really suitable for hiking, while a German Shepard or a Doberman can be a great hiking company! I haven’t ever seen a dog carrying a backpack!!! Wow.. That would be so adorable!

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    • October 27, 2020 at 4:06 pm
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      B.A.R.K Principle… as a massive dog lover, I’ve learnt something handy and nice today. All round lovely article.

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  • October 25, 2020 at 1:13 pm
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    aww what a little cutie. I actually don’t have a dog but I really want one when my kids are older.

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  • October 25, 2020 at 12:08 pm
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    All of these are such great tips! I have never heard of BARK but love the concept behind it.

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  • October 25, 2020 at 11:29 am
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    I have gone on hikes with my dog and I know it is important to take care so the dog, and the people around are comfortable. Also I love that BARK acronym so cool and they are all so important. People tend to forget some of these and it is so unpleasant. Also, as you pointed out it is so crucial for dog owners to know what kind of hikes their dogs are comfortable with and what they enjoy.

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  • October 25, 2020 at 6:19 am
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    This is such an important article for all pet owners and dog lovers. I often see a lot of owners taking their dogs on seemingly easy hikes but not realizing the hike that seems easy for them might not be that comfortable for their faithful friend. Having a dog back pack and preparing well for emergencies is so so important.

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  • October 25, 2020 at 2:57 am
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    These are some really great tips. We dont have any pets but I have friends that have dogs and take them outdoors a lot, ill be sure to pass this along to them.

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  • October 24, 2020 at 11:24 pm
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    Such useful tips. I don’t have a dog but I am dreaming about getting one. I have never heard about BARK principles but I think they are great. very good tips for dog owners.

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  • October 24, 2020 at 10:02 pm
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    I LOVE that you’ve reminded people about being prepared for emergencies

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  • October 24, 2020 at 7:43 pm
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    There are some places with poisonous plants, like mushrooms for example. We always need to keep an eye of our pets when we’re outside. Nice article!

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  • October 24, 2020 at 6:23 pm
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    It is such a great and useful article. I do not have a dog, but these tips are essential for those traveling with dogs. I have not heard of B.A.R.K. Principles before. They are great. But few times on the trails, I met an irresponsible dog owner who didn’t use a leash. I wouldn’t say I like it. But I hope most dog owners are responsible and don’t break the BARK rules.

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  • October 24, 2020 at 2:11 pm
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    We were planning to adopt a small dog, but because we are more of cat people we were not sure what we would need . This post was definitely very helpful !

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  • October 24, 2020 at 2:03 pm
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    I like this article as I hike a lot with my dog. I did what you mentioned above, like starting wearing empty pack before our first trip, then started to put something. Now, whenever he saw us preparing his backpack, he knows we’re going out. We also learned what kind of terrain that he doesn’t like along the way. Great article for people who think about taking their dogs on trails.

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  • October 24, 2020 at 1:44 pm
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    I love that you included the importance of paying attention to what your dog likes. We have two pups right now in our home. Our German Shepherd mix is up for anything, as long as she’s on the move. The second we touch her pack, you see her face light up. That being said, we have to be aware of when it’s going to be too hot for her (as her excitement doesn’t fade) so that we can keep her safe. She’s my constant hiking companion for my solo hikes and I plan most of my trips around her. On the other end of the spectrum, our Flat-Coated Retriever is a little pickier. He likes easy, shorter trails but bores of hiking after too long. There’s no warning that he’s done, he just lays down on the side of the trail and looks at you like ‘now what?’ If we want to hike as a ‘pack’, we choose hikes that he’ll enjoy. Occasionally, my husband has to carry him lol

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  • October 24, 2020 at 9:28 am
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    I think if your pup is up for it and can handle being in the wild, then go for it! I like the acronym – reminds people to be civil, lol.

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  • October 24, 2020 at 8:04 am
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    To be honest, I have never done a hike before but you are giving me a great tips in preparing myself and my dog before going to a hike.

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  • October 24, 2020 at 4:20 am
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    It’s so great to hear that you’re such a responsible pet owner! I’ve never been hiking before – I get out of breath walking up my own driveway – so I couldn’t even imaging going hiking, let alone knowing what to think about when bringing my dog, so I really admire you taking your time to make sure others know what to think about when bringing theirs too, because you’re right, one slip up and a great location could get closed off to the public and ruined for everyone! I adore the photos of your dog, he looks great with his little backpack ☺️

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  • October 24, 2020 at 3:00 am
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    This would be so fun. We have gone hiking with our toddler but not yet with our dogs.

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  • October 24, 2020 at 2:45 am
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    I had never heard of B.A.R.K. before but that’s so quick and easy to remember. The terrain on trails where we live aren’t very harsh but there are some muddy spots. We just took our Golden Doodle for a hike last weekend and although there were no jagged rocks, he did get some dirt and burs stuck deep in between his paw pads. Little booties would have been helpful!

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  • October 24, 2020 at 12:15 am
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    One thing we have to be mindful of it California is HOT ground. Sand/rock can get pretty hot so use the 10s rule. If you can hold your hand on the floor for 10s it’s pretty safe for dogs paws.

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  • October 23, 2020 at 10:57 pm
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    My dog loves going for hikes with us. I will need to look into dog backpacks.

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  • October 23, 2020 at 10:38 pm
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    There is so much to think about when bringing your dog on a hike. These are great tips. I like the idea of getting them gradually used to hiking.

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  • October 23, 2020 at 8:42 pm
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    My son goes everywhere with his dog. I never really thought about how much he needs to think about when he heads out. I am not sure his dog is trained to carry his own pack. But I love that idea! We always take the dog close to water and he loves to swim. But it is a challenge to get him out some days. Being able to carry the dog if there was an accident is part of the reason I don’t travel far with him. But my son would be better prepared. As I said, more to think about than I considered.

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  • October 23, 2020 at 5:52 pm
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    We have to be careful where we bring dogs around here. There are a lot of trails that don’t allow dogs because of the wildlife.

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  • October 23, 2020 at 4:40 pm
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    I love hiking with my dogs but it did take a lot of trial and error to make everything run smoothly. I know what they can do and can not and will never take them on a hike that is too hard for them. Especially now when they a nearing senior age of 10

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  • October 23, 2020 at 3:23 pm
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    Definitely good to check the terrain. One time we went on The Lost Coast hike in California and out friend didn’t bring booties for his dog for the jagged rocks we had to scramble across. They ended up having to turn around and he had to carry his dog 6 miles back to recover. Read ahead and be prepared! 🙂

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