Before you hit the trails, it’s important to be prepared! Take it from me, what you expect to be a short, easy loop on a local trail could turn into a long misadventure if you’re not prepared for obstacles, wrong turns and mishaps!
I am not an expert hiker nor am I an expert dog handler but I’ve picked up some tips from the Best Hikes with Dogs books series and online. Here’s a collection of helpful links in no particular order:
Based on my personal experience, here’s my own advice:
Know your dog!
Know the fitness level of your dog and if they can keep up with you on the hike you choose. Know the socialization of your dog and if they can approach/be approached by strangers and other dogs, and possibly horses, in safety. Know how well your dog responds to recall before you let him/her off leash.
Though we’re continually practicing and improving on her recall, I know there’s a chance that Sophie will wander into yards and up onto decks if I don’t leash her while passing near homes. I know she will give me a hard time if I don’t get her on leash a good distance before the trail ends (I think she never wants the trail to end!). I know Stitch reacts differently around male Golden Retrievers than females. And I know both dogs will seek out water on a hot day even if it means running across a road! Learn these behaviors from your pups so you can anticipate them and keep them from becoming an issue before it’s too late! When in doubt, keep them on a leash.
Tag your dog!
I recommend micro-chipping your dog and keep that information up-to-date (as I type this, I realize my dogs’ chips are still listed with their rescue! – I must change that). Always keep current ID tags and rabies tags on your dog and a secure collar. Since I am often in NY but live in MA, my dogs’ tags list both home towns in NY and MA just in case. Always bring your dog’s leash even if they’re off-leash.
Vax your dog!
Keep your dog up to date on all recommended vaccines and anti-tick/heartworm/flea medications. Check yourself and your dog for ticks during and after your hike. These little buggers can get you any time of year! I shudder just thinking about it.
Fill your pockets!
On my short hikes, I always have poop bags and treats. Treat occassionally during the hike to rehearse their recall. Always pick up your pooch’s poop if on or near the trail, and carry your poop bags out with you – do not leave them in the woods! I would also recommend bringing water and a travel bowl. Other recommendations: bug spray, a whistle, a towel, a snack for yourself and of course your cell phone – well charged!
My first time hiking Rattlesnake Hill in Stow I thought would be a typical one hour hike. I got lost! All the streams were dried up, there was no source of water to be found. After 8 miles of wrong turns, we were tired and dehydrated. We finally found a woman on a horse that led us out back to our car. Never again will I do a new hike like that without bringing water!
Better to be safe than sorry!
Put a bell on your dog to ward off wild animals and to know where your dog is headed. Put a bright orange bandana or vest on your dog during hunting season. Know where the nearest emergency vet is. Carry Benadryl and know the proper dosage for your dog (here’s a helpful link but ask your vet!).
Twice my dogs have poked their heads into the ground nests of wasps and got stung multiple times, as did I. Once I hiked in a portion of The Harold Parker State Forest during hunting season and heard gunshots too close for comfort.
Be a good citizen.
Carry out what you carry in. Pick up your pooch’s poop. Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Be friendly, kind and courteous to fellow hikers and local residents. Respect local rules and laws, and especially private property. Make friends, make memories and enjoy your hike!