Hiking With Dogs, Etiquette and Best Practices

Hiking with dogs is a great way to bond with them. It is a primal instinct that goes back thousands of years. Early Petroglyph art dated to 8,000 years shows humans already hunting with dogs on leashes. We have a long and successful history of working with our canine companions, and to this day that partnership has thrived. Dogs are now a ubiquitous and sometimes even essential part of our every day lives. Often, the best way to reward your dog or show your affection is to spend time doing activities that satisfy their natural instincts. Hiking, or traveling together is one of those activities. Let’s talk about some of the best practices when you take your dog with you to the backcountry, so that you, your dog, and other people can all enjoy your time.

Safety First

One of the first concerns when hiking in the backcountry is of course safety, both for you and your dog. Every region has it’s own set of dangers, and its important to be familiar with the area you plan on exploring. The mountains of interior BC are far different than the wetlands of the Manitoba Interlake, which are in turn far different than the coastal cliffs of Nova Scotia. Know your area and the likely terrain you will encounter. Will there be rock to climb? Water crossings? Mud, sand, or other loose material that might be hard to walk in? Preparation is key here, and knowing both you and your dog’s physical limits. Don’t be surprised if your dog struggles at first with new terrain or a new activity level, much like a person would.

Like the terrain, its important to be aware of what sort of flora and fauna you will encounter. Is there bears or other predators? Perhaps poisonous snakes or insects? Take steps to protect yourself and your dog from these potential threats. In my case, in bear country, that is as simple as bringing a sturdy stick and making lots of noise while I walk. Some people wear bells, I play music from a Bluetooth speaker in my pack. This provides deterrence to 90% of the wildlife that I might encounter in my area. Your area may also have unique hazards. For example in my area there are often traplines. During trapping season I need to recognize and make sure the dog doesn’t wander near anything dangerous.

Keeping her away from mud pits is another story

Basic Gear for Hiking with Dogs

When you go hiking with dogs, you must consider some basic gear to bring with you. Much like humans, dogs need to stay hydrated. This is often achieved through natural watering spots beside the trail. Streams, ditches, puddles, lakes, all provide drinking water. However if there are no reliable watering holes along your route, you may consider bringing extra water and a small dish. Your dog should be given the opportunity to take a sip of water nearly as often as you feel the need yourself.

Bonus if they can take a dip to cool off

Other items to consider bringing for your canine companion are largely dependent on your region, or your individual dog. Like water though, a lot of considerations are the same as for yourself or another human. Sunscreen, insect repellent (pet friendly of course), allergy medications, basic first aid supplies, and of course, poop bags. Ok, maybe that last one isn’t so common for a human, but it is essential if you want to be a responsible dog owner.

On the Topic of Poo

Speaking of poop, don’t ever leave your dogs droppings in the middle of the hiking trail. This should go without saying, but it’s an all too common problem on popular trails. Realistically, you may not even need to bring bags. When I am hiking with Dixie, it’s as simple as using a branch or flat rock and just scooping it off the trail and into the bush. Dogs will poop, it’s natural, and it will decompose in the bush without hurting anything. There is absolutely no reason beyond laziness to leave it on a trail for other people to deal with!

Training for Success

Other people (and their pets), or wildlife are another reality of hiking with dogs. In most parks and trails it is a requirement that dogs remain leashed at all times. Does this actually happen? Of course not! What is important though, is that if your dog is unleashed, you had best have it trained and under your control. The last thing you want is your dog running off after a dangerous wild animal, getting injured or lost because it didn’t have the training to stay near your side.

The type of animal you do NOT want your dog chasing after

Training a dog to maintain a certain distance from you and obey your commands even with distractions present can certainly be a difficult task. It takes time, dedication, and patience. Effective recall and ‘leave it’ commands are essential if you want your dogs to remain safe in the wilderness. There is no shame in just keeping your dog leashed for the full hike if they are not quite there yet. It is much safer for the dog, and I guarantee they are still having fun just being with you.

A Note on Leashes

No matter how well trained your dog is, if there is a possibility of encountering other people on the trail, put your dog on the leash until you are passed them. When I’m out, I’m always watching ahead for people coming up the trail. I’m listening for voices or other cues, and watching behind me. Even if I see a blind corner coming up, I know there’s a chance of someone coming from the other side, and I will put the leash on.

Rarely do other hikers appreciate a strange dog running up to them on a trail, regardless of how friendly it might be. Some people are allergic, afraid of, or just downright not interested in dogs. They may be hiking with dogs of their own who are not socialized, or are even aggressive. It is absolutely not fair to any other hikers to be forced into a situation where they must deal with your dog. In the wrong circumstances this could completely ruin their day, or yours. Leash your dogs if people are anywhere close, unless you have their permission to do otherwise. A simple courtesy that makes for a better experience all around.


Hiking with dogs is a rewarding experience for both you and your best friend, but only if done properly and safely. It can be a bit of work to make them ready, but if you are willing to put in the time and effort it is something that they will greatly appreciate. Of course there is a host of beneficial side effects of staying active and enjoying the outdoors, for both your dog yourself. So keep these tips in mind, get out there, and get moving!

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