Hiking with a dog is an amazing experience! It is completely normal to want to take your friend with you as soon as possible. The problem is, you might end up hurting your puppy if you take him with you at a really young age.
There is a huge debate at the moment among dog owners and even vets about how old a puppy should be before it is completely safe to go hiking. Unfortunately, there is no exact age when hiking with a puppy is safe. However, there are some things that can help you make an informed choice. Here is what you should know:
The Importance Of Waiting For The Right Age
Your young puppy is probably always full of energy. They’ll become your adventure buddy in the future. But steep and long hikes are not safe for young pups. When you decide whether or not to take the puppy with you on a hike, you have to think about:
During a dog’s first year of life, limbs grow longer. As the pup is growing, growth plate injuries are possible. The growth plate is a soft region located at the end of the bone. It hardens when growth is over. Growth plates are very vulnerable to trauma and damage occurring due to over-exercise.
Exact age when the dog can go on a hike varies. However, the growth plate injuries happening before the pup is 8 months old are the ones that are highly devastating. They can lead to deformities that can only be solved by surgeons.
Unfortunately, the pup can be injured without you even knowing. For instance, according to a study from 1971, angular deformity appears 5 to 7 weeks after an injury takes place.
The common signs of growth plate injuries are:
- Abnormal growth
Dogs are vulnerable when growing. For smaller dogs, this is usually until the 1 year old mark. For the larger dogs, it’s about 18 months. It is always better to talk about this with a vet so you know if your dog is at risk for a growth plate injury or not. Please consult your vet! We can’t highlight this enough!
If you are an avid hiker and you want to enjoy the outdoors with a dog, the best breeds for hiking, according to Pet MD, are:
- Labrador Retriever
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Siberian Husky
- Portuguese Water Dog
- Alaskan Malamute
- Australian Shepherd
- Border Collie
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
What To Watch Out For On Trail
So you’ve decided to take your puppy with you on the trail. The most important thing to do is start small and keep your eyes on your pooch. You need to always be thinking about the condition of your dog.
Your goal should be to prevent a potential illness or injury. This is done by knowing warning signs. While dogs are different and you do need to be aware of how your dog communicates a problem with you (not the same as a human! They won’t tell you directly!). Some clear signs that you should stop hiking for the day are:
- Rapid Heart Rate – When heart rate stays high even after resting, you should stop.
- Reddened Gums – A common sign of heat stroke.
- Breathing Problems – When the dog’s breath is shallow, slow and body temperature is low, hypothermia might have set in.
- Limping – Can be a sign of a pulled muscle, tendon or a tear/crack in a paw pad.
- Licking – When you take a break and you see the dog licking an area, it might be due to a cut/abrasion.
Training For Hiking
A puppy starts to learn from birth and the best breeders out there start socializing and handing as soon as possible. Most people delay training until after six months of age. This is a mistake. General puppy training should start at around 7 weeks of age.
Fortunately, it is really easy to train your puppy because there are countless free videos online and books you can buy. Just be sure you are patient since a puppy is easily distracted. You’ll need to practice and reward positive behavior while you remain patient and allow the dog to be young and full of energy.
The best thing you can do is to start training your dog for hiking as soon as you start training for everything else. When referring strictly to hiking, the most important things to consider are:
- Appropriate Behavior – The dog needs to know how to act around people met on the trail.
- Basic Commands – Hand signals and verbal signals like sit, stay, come and down.
- Impulse Control – The dog needs to respond to all commands even when distracted by smells, sounds and sights.
One of the most difficult commands to teach a dog is recall because of the possible distractions on a trail. Recall training should be started as soon as possible. You have to focus on leash walking and off-leash walking so the dog never goes too far away from you when hiking.
Be sure that you often test your puppy and you never go hiking unless all commands are respected, no matter the surrounding distractions. Also, socialize the puppy as soon as possible. If you do not, it will be difficult to go hiking in areas with many people (but perhaps you want to avoid people anyways!). Always stay consistent and reward the dog for every single respected command.
General Safety Tips For Hiking With Your Dog
Hiking with a dog is a wonderful experience but it can quickly turn into a nightmare if something goes wrong. It is vital that you are safe and that you do all that you can to keep both you and the dog safe. Some really important things to be aware of are:
- Temperature Control Is Mandatory
Be mindful of temperature when hiking. If it is too hot, you need to stop and be on the lookout for dehydration. If it is too cold, an insulated jacket might be needed, especially for short-haired dogs. Extra water should always be in your backpack and you have to avoid hot surfaces as they can hurt paws. Something like Musher’s Secret Paw Rub can do wonders.
- Insects And Animals Can Be Dangerous
Mosquito bites and bee stings are just two examples of potential insect issues you have to be aware of. Generally, a bee sting is not a problem if the dog is not allergic. However, diseases that are transmitted by ticks are sometimes deadly.
Buy a good dog-specific insect repellent. When you get home, check the dog for ticks. If you find some, be sure to use tick removal tools, not tweezers.
When on the trail, be aware of bigger animals, rodents and snakes. The dog should be kept away from all areas with snakes. If you want to go to an area where snakes live, snake avoidance training is mandatory. With other small animals, rabies vaccination is usually all that is needed to avoid problems.
- Be Honest About How Trained Your Dog Is
It is always better to start small with hiking. Let the dog get used to hiking before you go on longer, tougher hikes. Teach the dog what he needs to know and be aware of his limitations. For instance, if your dog sometimes does not respond to a recall command if distracted by other animals, make sure to keep your pooch on leash (probably a good idea for all young dogs).
- Carry A First Aid Kit
Learn basic dog first aid before going on a hike. This is especially needed when going on a trail that is really remote. Have a first aid kit with you and learn how CPR should be given to a pet.
If possible, take things one step further and learn about toxic plants and dangerous animals where you intend to go hiking.
To sum up, the best thing you can do is take your dog hiking with you only after the growth stage is over to avoid growth plate injuries. Also, it is really important that you start training as soon as possible.
As you teach your pup basic commands, you can also teach him important things that are vital when on a trail. Stay honest with yourself. Never go hiking until the dog is ready for it and start with shorter hikes.