For many of us, if we are out hiking, it is a given that our dog will be joining us for any hiking adventures. Perhaps like me, your dog is even the reason you became an avid hiker in the first place. Glia, my first dog, and I hiked many miles together, just the two of us. Then one day, we added a second dog to the pack. And our hiking outings changed some. Many people hike with multiple dogs, but if you are just getting started, follow the tips below to make sure your hiking excursions are a success.
How do you successfully (and happily) hike with 2 or more dogs? A successful hike with multiple dogs requires a little advanced planning, knowledge about your dogs’ temperaments, and a few basic training skills. Hiking with two or more dogs starts with individual training and ends with a little extra patience.
The following list will provide 11 insightful tips to help anyone improve their hiking experience with 2 (or more) canine companions.
1. Train Each Dog Individually First
As any dog trainer will tell you, it is hard to train two dogs at the same time. How do you reward one dog while the other is not behaving as you have asked?
As a result, whenever you add a new dog to the pack (whether or not you are planning on hiking with him or her), it is important to spend a little bit of time with each dog individually. This helps you solidify good behaviors for each dog alone before combining the dogs.
Both dogs should have the following skills prior to hitting the trail.
-Loose leash walking
Loose Leash Walking
This skill will save your back, arm, and patience, especially when walking 2 dogs or more. There is nothing worse than heading out on a beautiful hike and spending the entire hike being yanked this way and that by an excited pup. Or worse yet, turning around because your dog is pulling too much.
While many dog trainers will recommend training your dog to heel on your left side, as that is the protocol for dog obedience competitions, where your dog heels (or even whether or not they are in a true heel position) is up to you.
Personally, I ask Glia and Sasha to walk on a loose leash in heel position in populated areas and on some paved trails. I like to have one dog on either side of me in order to more easily handle leashes and hand out treats. However, both of my pups were trained in obedience classes early on and will gravitate back to my left side if I am not actively reinforcing the dog on my right. As long as they are heeling and paying attention, the specific position is of less importance.
On trails where we infrequently to run into other dogs and hikers, we will use a longer leash. The dogs are allowed to walk in front of me, but they should still not be pulling. We struggle with this sometimes, especially if wildlife has recently crossed the trail and there are interesting scents and sights right ahead of us. However, remember that every hike is an opportunity for training, so bring lots of patience to help you make time to reinforce only the behaviors you want your dog to exhibit while hiking.
So how do you train loose leash walking? That answer could be an entire blog post in and of itself. The short answer is only to move forward when there is no tension on the leash. Your dogs will learn pretty quickly that if they want to keep moving and exploring, they need to keep the leash tension free. When I first start training dogs to walk on a loose leash, oftentimes, I will start with a training aid, like a Gentle Leader to help reinforce that a loose leash is more comfortable. Find out more in our blog post: The Gentle Leader: Is it right for you and your dog?
For more information on training loose leash walking, check out Dr. Sophia Yin (Veterinary Behaviorist)’s blog series.
You never know what you might encounter on a hiking trail, so it is important that your dog has a solid recall even if you are hiking on-leash. Leashes can be dropped and many of us like to use long leashes on quiet hiking trails.
Whether your dog is off-leash or just 8 feet away on-leash, a return command can help you get your dogs attention again and bring them back to your side when traversing challenging terrain, passing other hikers and dogs, or even just to keep them out of a lovely mud puddle.
Make sure that you can get your dogs attention when out hiking. None of the commands already discussed are of much importance if you can’t get your dog to look at you. Whether you use their name or a specific “look at me” command, a solid cue to get their attention will help all of their other training go more smoothly.
Start this command in a quiet place where your dog is likely to be successful, and slowly up the distractions.
This is a great command to have in your training pocket while out hiking. We often come across dead animals, live animals, food left on the trail from other hikers and more. Being able to ask the dogs to leave these items is very helpful in successfully navigating the trail.
2. Good Leashes
If you have read any of our hiking essentials posts, then you know that we place a lot of importance on a good leash. Whether or not you hike with your dog in a leash law enforced area, having a leash with on your hike is important.
Many hiking trails require dogs to be leashed and some even go so far as to require dogs to be on a leash that is six feet in length or less.
When hiking with two dogs, I prefer having them on two separate leashes. There are many companies that sell leash splitters/dividers so that you only have to hold one leash in your hand. There is even a company that makes a two dog retractable leash.
The reason separate leashes tend to work best is that the leash is a line of communication between you and your dog. Tightening up on the leash, tugging on the leash, or even the direction the leash is headed sends information to both of you. When that information is muddle be another living being moving in their own tempo and direction, this can send mixed messages through the leash.
If each dog has his or her own leash, it is much easier to tell if one is dragging behind a little bit or getting too excited and speeding ahead. It is possible to add a little tension on a single leash to ask an individual dog to speed up or slow down. And if one dog attempts to step off the trail or follow an interesting scent, the second dog does not get pulled along with the first.
Make sure to buy a pair of sturdy and comfortable leashes that will last for many miles to come.
3. Consider using hands-free leashes
When hiking with multiple dogs, it can feel like you are running out of hands. With two dogs, you often have one dog in each hand. It can then be a juggling act to stop and pick up your dogs’ fecal matter or to hand out treats to reward your dogs’ great behavior.
Choosing a hands-free leash system can be a great way to free up your hands without the risk of dropping leashes. We use a Tuff-Mutt Hands-Free leash (amazon link here) on many of our multi-dog hikes. Both leashes can be attached to the same waist belt, just make sure your dogs don’t cross behind you and tangle you up.
The Tuff-Mutt leashes have a bungee section to absorb impact if there are sudden stops and starts. They also have a handle near the attachment to the belt AND near the dog’s collar. This allows you to easily grab each leash individually when needed.
4. Bring Plenty of Water
Make sure you have enough water for each dog. Water is especially important when hiking on hot days. The rule of thumb is to bring about 1 oz of water per pound your dog weighs per 24 hours of hiking. So for Glia, who is 40 pounds, a full day hike means that I would bring around 40oz of water. If it is really hot out, we might bring more.
If we are just day-hiking for a couple of hours, I often pack 15-20oz of water for Glia. Sasha is significantly smaller, so she doesn’t add a lot more water to my pack, but between the three of us, a good hydration pack is invaluable.
I also recommend bringing a separate bowl for each dog to drink out off. This saves on time during water breaks. Additionally, it helps you more accurately monitor how much water each dog is drinking.
If you don’t already have a dog hiking water bowl – check out our list of 5 Useful Styles of Dog Hiking Water Bowls.
5. Start on Wider Trails
Especially on your first few hikes solo with two dogs, picking a wider hiking trail can make your hike a bit easier. The added width often makes the difference in both dogs being able to walk by your side, or even side by side together in front of you, rather than being forced into a more single file walking style.
A single file can make it harder to manage the leashes and it is very difficult to pass another hiker with a dog when there is no place to pull over with your own two pups.
6. Place your dog in a solid heel or sit stay when passing other hikers on the trail.
Whether or not your dogs are great at passing unfamiliar people and dogs on the trail, passing two dogs can increase other hikers anxiety. To be respectful of other trail users, make sure your dogs are in a heel position and/or in a sit or down stay just off the trail when passing other hikers. Feel free to reward your pups with plenty of treats for the good behavior of ignoring other passing trail users.
7. Hike at less busy times
While many of the above skills will help you successfully help two dogs or more navigate through crowded trails, sometimes it is just easier to hike at quieter trails. That way both of your dogs can freely move around at the end of their leashes while you take your attention off of them to enjoy the scenery you are hiking through.
Of course, you will still need to be prepared for distractions. Even quiet trails have squirrels, rabbits, and wild birds.
So how do you find less populated trails? Hike in the off-season. We almost always have the trails mostly to ourselves in the winter. And don’t let the bad weather stop you. There is nothing like the peace of a trail when it is raining lightly. (Note: Please don’t hike in storms, that is dangerous. But a little light rain keeps many people and dogs inside. Brave the rain and the trails will feel private).
Additionally, early morning hours or late evening hours tend to be quieter than mid-day on weekends or the 5-6 pm hour on weekdays.
8. Bring Treats
We have mentioned handing out treats in several of our above tips for hiking with two or more dogs. So make sure to pack tasty treats that both of your dogs enjoy. Our personal favorite is a mix of the pups regular dog food combined with some finely cut up hot dogs for extra flavor.
For us, it is easiest to carry these treats in a designated treat pouch. We got a cheap one, like this style at Amazon for under $10.
If you don’t want to purchase a specific treat pouch, consider repurposing an old fanny pack or small crossbody purse for the job.
9. Bring Plenty of Poop Bags
More dogs equal more poop. Make sure to bring plenty of bags in order to clean up after all of your pups. Keeping the trails clean helps everyone enjoy the trails more.
Want to discover creative ways to deal with your dogs’ poop while hiking, check out our recent blog post on the topic.
10. Plan Your Hike for the Least Athletic Dog
Another consideration when hiking with multiple dogs, is that they may not all be at the same athletic level. In order to keep all of the dogs safe and prevent overexertion, I recommend picking a trail that is suited to the least athletic dog in your pack. Whether that is because of age differences, breed, weight, or other health concerns, it is much better to slow your fit dog down than overexerting your other pup.
If you are interested in more information about how to pick your dog-friendly hike’s length and difficulty, check out our article on How Far Can A Dog Hike?
11. Don’t forget your patience
And finally, don’t forget to bring plenty of patience. Especially on the first few hikes. It can take a little getting used to before hiking with two dogs becomes routine and easy.
View this post on Instagram
Is hiking good for dogs? For most dogs, yes! Hiking is a great way to get physical exercise and wonderful mental stimulation. It is also a wonderful opportunity for training and bonding with your dog(s). Find out more about the benefits of hiking for dogs in our recent blog post.
What is the maximum number of dogs you can hike with? While some trails (like those at Crater Lake National Park) limit dog numbers to one dog per hiker, for most trails the limiting factor is you. If you have taken the time to train your dogs well and have enough focus to watch all of them throughout the hike, then hiking with multiple dogs is possible. For most people, hiking with more than 2 dogs becomes difficult simply due to the fact that you only have two hands.