Proper preparation before you hit the trails can help ensure your and your dog’s outdoor adventures are safe.
woman and dogs overlooking mountain
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Your evening dog walk around the neighborhood is great, but let's face it—it's starting to feel a little stale. Hiking through the wilderness can be just the thing you need to mix up your and your dog's exercise routine. 

Not only is staying active good for you, but it's great for your dog too. "More than 50 percent of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese, which can lead to life-limiting diseases like diabetes and arthritis," Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, veterinarian and senior manager of Global Scientific Advocacy at Mars Petcare, says. "But if you keep your dog at a healthy weight, not only will your dog feel better but studies show it may extend your dog's life by up to a couple of years."

Besides the physical benefits, hiking also gives your pooch a mental boost with lots of new things to sniff and see. Before you head out into the great outdoors, there are a few things you need to know (and some essentials to keep on hand) to make the most of your adventure.

Things to Keep in Mind Before You Hit the Trails

Consider Your Pup's Character

Like people, dogs have varying levels of physical ability. Some breeds are naturally more athletic than others. You wouldn't expect the mellow English bulldog to have as much energy or stamina as you would an active border collie, so you'll want to keep her needs in mind before tramping to the trailhead. Your dog's breed can also affect her response to the weather. Dogs that have long hair or short snouts are more prone to overheating, while short-haired pups can't handle the cold as well. 

Check the Weather

Consider weather and ground conditions before you go hiking. If it's very hot or very cold out, your dog may need a parka to keep warm or booties to protect paw pads from the ground. "Hold the back of your hand on the ground for five seconds and if you can't, it's too hot to walk your dog on it," Jessa Paschke, pet behavior and training specialist with Mars Petcare, says. Paschke adds that ice can also be a risk for pets during colder months, and to practice caution to help you and your pup avoid slick spots then as well.

Find a Trail That Fits

You'll also need to take your dog's age and fitness into account when choosing where to hike. Older and overweight dogs won't be able to tackle trails with as much ease as younger pups in their prime. Start with shorter, easier trails and see how it goes. 

Protect Your Pet

Vaccinations and parasite prevention are always important. But exploring the outdoors makes it even more crucial. On the trail, your pet is more likely to come into contact with nasty bugs like intestinal worms, heartworm, and ticks, says Hughes. Make sure your dog is on a regular parasite control regimen and up to date on vaccinations.

Outdoor Essentials to Take With You

While it's easy to slip out the door and head for the hills when you're on your own, there are a few necessities you'll need when you take your four-legged friend with you. Here, Paschke and Hughes share what to pack:

  • Sturdy leash and harness: You'll want to make sure your pup stays by your side and you have good control of your dog in case you cross paths with other dogs or spy wildlife. 
  • Water and bowl: Your pooch will get thirsty, so bring along water and a container to make it easier for your dog to rehydrate safely. While your pup may try to take a lick of the trail puddles or streams you encounter, Paschke says those can be possible places for dogs to pick up bacteria and parasites that can make them sick. 
  • Poop bags: The "leave no trace" motto applies to your dog's number twos on the trail too. Bring bags to carry the poop out.  
  • Treats: To refuel (and for positive reinforcement), pack some yummy trail treats for your dog.  
  • Cold weather gear: When temps get chilly, your short-haired friend may need booties and a warming vest to feel comfortable. 
  • Hot weather gear: Avoid hiking when it's sizzling outside—it's not good for either one of you. But if you're out for an all-day excursion and temps are going to go up, consider foot protection and a cooling vest for your pup. 
  • Canine first aid kit: Prepare a kit with items like tweezers, bandages, and diluted hydrogen peroxide or saline solution so you can take care of minor dog injuries like splinters and small cuts.  
  • Towel: Your pup may get muddy, wet, or dirty. Keep a towel in the car so you can clean your dog off before she hops back in to head home. 

"It's great to include your dog in your activities, especially when it comes to exercise, Paschke says. "Just be sure to keep your pet's needs in mind." With a little planning, taking your dog hiking can be a blast!