Beginner Tips

How to Start Hiking With Your Dog

When Bacon experienced a strain on his front leg that caused arthritis earlier this year, I was distraught. What would I do without my hiking buddy? 

Hiking with Bacon was a big part of how I started my journey to getting outside more often. I knew I had to get some sort of outside activity in for 30-60 minutes at least once per day (in addition to his shorter bathroom breaks) to keep him in good health. Although Bacon is a very easygoing dog, you can tell right away when he isn’t getting enough exercise as he becomes very rambunctious inside the house!

It was also helpful to have a distraction when I felt like I wanted to go home, or to meet other dog owners and chat with them while our dogs socialized. It also took away my excuse that it was raining too hard, or that I was tired, etc, because it was for Bacon’s good, not mine, at first. 

Thankfully, with the help of our amazing vet, Bacon has been healing well and has been able to join me on hikes again. He loves it and I do too!

Any dog can be a hiking dog, with the right preparation and tips. Many people are surprised that Bacon is able to do long hikes as a corgi, but I’ve seen small chihuahuas and poodles love hiking too! 

Getting Started

First off, checking in with your vet about your dogs general health is important. If your dog is overweight, has had paw or leg injuries, or other health problems, it’s best to start by building up to longer walks and easier hikes. Stanley Park, Pacific Spirit Park and some of my recommended beginner hikes from the North Shore are great places to start. I also love taking Bacon to Kings’ Mill Park (also in North Vancouver) and Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, as there is a lot of room for dogs to stretch their legs. 

If you dog enjoys swimming, that’s also a great exercise to start conditioning them for hiking as it’s a gentle, non-weight bearing exercise that also increases their aerobic capacity. Spanish Banks in Vancouver and Ambleside in West Vancouver both have a large off-leash beach area for dogs to swim.

Supplies 

Next, you’ll want to take a look at what size pack you have and what supplies you’ll need to bring now that you’re dog will be joining you. As mentioned in my essentials post, most day packs are around 20 or so litres. I ended up going with a 28L pack (the Jade 28 from Gregory), which feels a bit too big sometimes, but I figured with adding extra food and water for Bacon, along with binoculars or birding books, the extra size would come in handy. 

Dogs require 1-1.5 ounces of water per pound of body weight, even more so on warmer days. Bacon often drinks creek water before I can stop him, but ideally you should be giving your dog clean tap water to avoid any pests that they might get from the dirty water. That being said, if you are hiking in BC most of our water is very clean and less of an issue than mucky puddles. Don’t forget to bring a small container for your dog to drink out of, too – I usually use a small “tupperware” container and bring the lid to keep my bag clean. Ruffwear and other brands sell plastic foldable bowls too, many of which can be found at Bones Pet Store in Vancouver. 

I also like to bring a small snack for Bacon to have while we stop and eat as well, in addition to his usual meals at home. He loves bananas, but you can bring extra kibble or any other treats your dog likes. 

Poo bags are a must, and it’s important to follow the “leave no trace” principle and pack in what you pack out. I had an outside pocket in one of my old packs that was the “poo pocket”, and now I have it in one of my waist pockets where I keep other doggy stuff so it’s easy to pick it up and keep going. Double bagging helps with the smell and any potential leakage from holes in the bag. 

Lastly, a small first aid kit is important to have. You can make one yourself or pick up one like this one from Adventure Medical Kits (they make them for humans too!).

Dog Apparel

Don’t laugh! Keeping your pooch warm (or cool) during the hike is super important. Although Bacon doesn’t often wear jackets in the city, I make a point to bring one when we go snowshoeing or on colder shoulder season hikes. 

For dog jackets, same things to keep in mind as people in terms of insulation, waterproofing, etc. Ruffwear is a very popular brand and has a great breakdown on their website on all their different styles. Keep in mind they tend to fit on the larger side, so be sure to measure your dog before ordering. I also like the new rain coats by Woof Concept because they fold into their own pocket for easy transport.

A dog backpack can be useful if you have a small pack, and some dogs really enjoy wearing it too. It’s perfect for carrying their water, food and even poop. Having a backpack or harness with a handle is also helpful if you need to lift your dog over certain features on the trail. Canadian Canine and Ruffwear both make nice packs, and all of them double as a harness. Check to make sure the backpack is the right fit, and have your dog try it out on a regular walk without anything in it so they have a chance to get used to it. Dogs should only carry up to 25% of their body weight.

Hiking with your dog can be super rewarding for both of you with the right gear and preparation. Stay tuned for our next post on dog hiking etiquette and the best trails in the Lower Mainland.

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