Is Hiking Good for Dogs?

Is Hiking Good for Dogs?

Recently, I was searching the internet for information about hiking with dogs. This question came up and I didn’t find any great answers. So I have set out to compile a complete answer to whether or not hiking is good for dogs.

The short answer: Overall, yes, hiking is good for dogs. It provides both physical and mental exercise. And most dogs love to hike. 

Okay, so that is the quick answer. Hiking is good for most dogs. But what about your dog? Keep reading for details about how physical and mental exercise benefit your dog. And find out when hiking isn’t good for your dog below.

Why Hiking is Good for Dogs

As stated above, hiking provides many benefits to dogs and humans alike. (If you are interested in the benefits that you, as a person, get from taking your dog for a hike, check out our 6 Reasons to Take Your Dog for a Hike.) The two main benefits that dogs receive from hiking are physical exercise and mental stimulation.

Most of us are very familiar with the benefits of exercise in our own lives. From mood boosting endorphin release to helping us maintain a healthy body weight, it is recommended that people should move more and sit less. The CDC recommends adults get at least 2.5 to 3 hours of moderate intensity physical activity (or 1 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity) per week.

Dogs are no different. It is recommended that they receive at least 30 minutes to 1 hour of physical activity per day. Or 3.5 to 7 hours of physical activity a week.

And just as important as physical health, is mental health. Hiking provides dogs with a great source of mental stimulation. Hiking trails provide new scents, sounds, and sights. They allow our dogs to get outside of the house and gain new experiences. It also provides a great chance to work on training good behaviors that will help your dog’s mental health lifelong.

So now that we discussed the two biggest reasons why hiking is good for your dog, lets get into the details.

Physical Exercise

Obesity in pets is an epidemic. Did you know that according to a recent study by Banfield Pet Hospitals, 1 out of every 3 dogs is overweight?

Of course, weight gain isn’t all about exercise, it also matters what your pet eats. But exercising your dog is just as important as providing a balanced and calorie controlled diet.

Make an Exercise Plan

It is recommended that pet parents consult with their dog’s veterinarian prior to creating an exercise plan. While hiking is good for most dogs, your dog may not be ready to go straight from the couch to long hikes on varied terrain. Every heard of “weekend warrior” injuries? Those can happen to dogs too.

Make sure your dog can comfortably walk around the neighborhood before hitting the hiking trails. And once you start hiking, we recommend increasing the distance and intensity slowly. Just like you may not be able to go from spending your days watching Netflix to thru-hiking the Appalachian trail, your dog may need some training to lower his or her risk of injury and over exertion while out on the trail.

We recommend starting with a half hour or so of hiking in fair weather conditions. Each week, you can add on about 10 minutes of hiking until your dog is hiking your goal length (most dogs can comfortably work up to hiking 10 miles in a day, as long as the temperatures are not too extreme).

Adjust for age

Puppies need shorter periods of exercise. I have heard it recommended that puppies receive a daily 15 minutes of exercise per month they are old. I think many puppies end up exercising more than this, but it is important to limit hiking for puppies until their joints are fully developed. In small breed dogs, this may be as early as 7 – 8 months. In large breed dogs, this could take up to 18 months or longer.

I personally, like to take my puppies to hiking trails early on in their lives. The socialization period for a puppy is between 8 and 16 weeks of age, so it is important to create good experiences hiking during this time frame. However, we keep hikes very short 15-30 minutes long. If you want to hike longer with a puppy, I recommend purchasing a dog pack to carry your puppy in for part of the hike.

Essentially, hiking is still good for puppies, but long hikes aren’t. So hike with your puppy in moderation.

Sahsa on her first hike in the fall of 2017.

Adjust for Health Concerns

In addition to the age of your pet, it is important to consider any health concerns your pet has. A dog with arthritis or a joint injury, will need special consideration when hiking. And there are certain injuries that may mean that hiking isn’t good for your dog. Additionally, short faced (brachycephalic) breeds of dogs may not be able to hike as far without concerns for respiratory distress. And dogs with heart disease should not be overexerted.

But many of these dogs can still benefit from easy, slow, and short hikes. So consult your veterinarian if you think your dog might fall into one of these categories. Together you and your veterinarian can come up with an ideal exercise plan for your individual dog.

And Consider Your Dog’s Paws

If you live in a location with soft grassy hiking trails, there is little you have to do to condition your dog’s paws.

However, there are many rough surfaces on popular hiking trails. While most dogs can handle these just fine, most dogs shouldn’t start hiking on the rougher surfaces. Just like it takes some time for you to develop a callous on your feet, your dogs paw pads may be soft when they are first starting. Don’t overdo it in the early days of hiking with your dog.

And for those hiking on hot desert sand, in cold deep snow, or on rocky sharp surfaces, you may need to consider boots for your dog. We live in Minnesota, so really only have to worry about snow and cold. If you are considering winter dog boots, we recently posted a review of Muttluks fleece-lined dog boots.

Mental Stimulation

Even if your dog received no physical benefits from hiking, there would still be plenty of mental benefits for your dog. So even if your dog can’t hike far or fast, here are some of the reasons hiking is still good for them.

A Mentally Stimulated Dog Is a Happy Dog

New Smells

Dogs love to sniff. In fact, the area of the canine brain devoted to the sense of smell is 40 times greater than that of humans. This means they can smell at least 1,000 times better than we can. Find out more about a dogs amazing nose is this article by Purina.

What this means for dogs, is that taking them on a hike is like taking a kid to the children’s museum. There is so much to learn about and explore just by sniffing all the new scents on a hiking trail. Did some deer run down this trail earlier this morning? What scents were on the shoes of the other hikers? Your dog is taking in all this information and more.

The smells of a hiking trail are often completely different than those in the neighborhood. This offers your dog a wonderful chance to explore more of their world.

Training

Another activity that provides a large amount of mental stimulation is training. Learning new skills takes a lot of mental power. Just think of how tired you can be after your first day of work at a new job.

Anytime you take your dog for a walk or a hike, you are training them by what you do and don’t reinforce. And just think about all the time you and your dog spend exercising together. If you just bring a few high values treats along, and spend part of your hike intentionally training, your dog will learn great life skills that much faster.

What do Glia and I train while hiking? We work on recall (while on leash) in new environments. We work on sits and waits, especially performing both of these skills calmly while other dogs or people are walking by. Walking without pulling on the leash is essential. Additionaly, hikes are a great opportunity to work on attention training despite distractions. Can your dog look at you and give you his attention after that squirrel ran across the path?

And if your dog is already a pro at all that, how about training her to pose for pictures? Just think of all the Instagram worthy photos you could obtain while out on those hikes.

 

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When is hiking bad for dogs?

Just like any activity, there are times when hiking is bad for dogs.

Extreme Temperatures

Dogs don’t do well in hot hiking conditions. If you are hiking in summer months, make sure that you give your dog plenty of time to rest and cool off in the shade. And bring LOTS of water.  Hike in the morning or evening when it is cooler, especially if your dog isn’t used to hiking in the heat, If you truly have to go for a long hike on a hot summer midday, you may need to leave your dog behind. Heatstroke can be deadly.

Alternatively, freezing temperatures can also pose a hazard. For dogs that aren’t acclimated to the cold, especially those without thick hair coats, winter hikes should be short. Some days may be too cold to hike at all. However, there are many ways to help your dog succeed on hikes in cold temperatures. Just check out the Intrepid Pup’s Cold Weather Safety Guide for some suggestions.

Health Concerns

We discussed this earlier, but again, for dogs with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or back injuries, hiking may do more harm than good. Make sure you consult with your veterinarian about any unique health concerns your dog has before hitting the trails.

Trail Risks

Hiking does come with some innate hazards. This doesn’t necessarily mean that hiking is bad for dogs, but it is important to be aware of the risks.

Make sure your dog has flea and tick protection before hitting the trail. And be aware of wildlife. Dogs have been known to get into confrontations with bears and coyotes.

Even smaller wildlife can be a risk. Recently, Glia and I went on an overnight backpacking trip in the Sylvania Wilderness. While we were there, Glia escaped the tent and chased after a porcupine. Finding porcupine quills in your dog at 3 am is never fun.

If Your Dog Isn’t Ready

Above, we mentioned adjusting your hiking trail to accommodate your puppy’s physical development. However, the same should be said of your puppy or dog’s mental development. Hiking is harmful if it is reinforcing bad behaviors. For example, if your dog can’t walk on a loose leash in the house, than they probably aren’t ready to walk on a loose leash in the woods. Letting your dog pull you on hikes is reinforcing bad behavior.

Additionally, for reactive or nervous dogs, bringing them to trails with too much activity before they have the training skills to successfully navigate the trails, can slow their progress. In fact, a bad experience on trail for a nervous or reactive dog, can set them back several steps in their training protocol. So don’t take your dog hiking until they are ready.

Related Questions

What equipment do I need to hike with dogs? You really just need a solid 6-foot leash, a secure collar, and a dog. But we also recommend that you bring water, poop bags, and make sure your dog is wearing proper identification.

How do I find dog-friendly hiking trails near me? Personally, I love to use Google Maps and look for the green areas. These indicated parks. Then I will click on those to find out if they have hiking trails. If they do, then I will search for their pet policy. Additionally, in many states, state parks are dog-friendly and offer great hiking trails. If you are looking for hiking trails in Minnesota or La Crosse, navigate to our Dog Adventures Hiking Trails Page.

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Is Hiking Good for Dogs?

  1. I like this new post format. You break the answer into manageable chunks.

    As I was reading I thought of a vet I had years ago when I had a diabetic cat. When she was diagnosed, my vet commented on how having a diabetic cat is easier than a diabetic dog. She referenced that phrase “weekend warrior” dog parents who try to get in all the exercise in one or two days. For whatever reason, her point really stuck with me. If I start to bemoan taking Bernie & Lizzie on their daily walks, I often think of that vet’s comment, which gets all of our butts out the door! LOL!

    1. Thank you! And yes, it is nice to have the motivation to get outside every day. I have to admit that I am a bit guilty of only going for short walks on days I work and saving the longer hikes for days off. But we at least get moving every day.

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