Tails on the Trails: Tips for Hiking With Your Dog

April 15, 2024 Written by: Aiden Doane

Written by: Hanna Holcomb

As a native Coloradan, Gretchen Dill, has always enjoyed spending time outdoors. But her first dog, Phoenix, helped take that love to the next level. “I became more of an avid outdoors person, needing to get him outside and exercising,” she said. “We were finding new ways to do that together, and it turned into hiking a lot.” Though Phoenix passed away after 14 years of adventure, today, Gretchen and her two dogs, Penny and Lander, enjoy as many hikes together as they can.

“The fresh air and the sunshine is like therapy,” she explained. “And then to see the happiness that they get from being outside makes it such a positive experience.”

With miles of experience under her belt, Gretchen has some great advice for anyone who wants to start hiking with their dog. 

 Get your pup ready:

Before hitting the trails, check in with your vet, as some dogs, especially young ones, may need to give their immune systems and joints more time to develop. Then you’ll want to start small and choose hikes that align with your dog’s fitness and energy level. As with people, doing too much too soon can lead to injury.  

“If you've got a dog that loves to sleep on the couch, and doesn't necessarily like to walk around the block, you can certainly get them out exercising, but you might want to start with just a half mile and then a mile and get them excited about it,” said Gretchen. “But if you've got a dog that will play fetch for an hour and just loves running, you're probably safe to know that you can go on a couple mile hike with your dog, and he's going to be comfortable.”

In addition to physical preparation, be sure to freshen up on obedience as you’ll need to keep your dog under control while hiking. Recall is especially important for any off-leash hiking in order to protect your dog from wildlife or other dogs in the area and to ensure that other hikers, who may not be comfortable with dogs, have a positive encounter. Knowing that your dog will be calm and controlled when other hikers, bikers and horses pass will create a better experience for everyone. 

Choosing a trail:

Gretchen, Penny and Lander love using their local trail system. Familiarity with the area and proximity to home makes it easier to get out and hike together.

If they’re going somewhere new, Gretchen does research ahead of time to make sure the trail is something that she and the dogs will enjoy. The website All Trails, for example, lets you search for dog friendly trails, and images and summaries uploaded by other users can give you a better sense of the trail conditions. 

One of Gretchen’s favorite ways to explore a new area is by going with a friend. 

“Hiking with friends who have dogs is an added bonus,” she said. “They have a trail that they are experienced with and enjoy and they introduce it to you in a safe way.”

 What to bring: 

Gretchen brings enough gear to keep herself and her two dogs comfortable, safe and happy. She brings plenty of water and snacks for her and the dogs in addition to hiking essentials like a first aid kit, trail map and headlamp. She packs appropriate protective layers for everyone, like a warm jacket and raincoat for herself and booties to protect the dogs’ paws in rough terrain and Rex Specs to protect their eyes.

Lander has Pannus, an autoimmune disease that affects dogs’ eyes and can be triggered and exacerbated by UV rays. Rex Specs block 99.9% of UV rays and have been a game changer for Lander. They’ve allowed him to keep hiking, even at high elevations and on snowy peaks where the UV rays are intense, and have reduced the amount of medication needed to treat his pannus. 

Gretchen carries all of her gear in a Muttruk pack. She launched MuttRuk in 2019 to create bags that fit the needs of hikers and their dogs.

“Backpacks weren't really suited to have easy access to the types of things that you need for yourself and your dog,” she said. “Things like picking up their waste, having treats for training readily available, and having enough water for everyone while you're on the trail.”

The Phoenix 14L pack provides easy access to training treats and poop bags, has a place to store used doggy bags without getting your gear gross and smelly, and it has enough space to carry safety gear and comfort items for you and your dogs.  

On the trail:

While on the trails, Gretchen strives to be a good ambassador for all hiking dogs and hopes that others will too. Following some basic rules will help keep trails open to dogs.

Be sure to follow local regulations about where dogs are and aren’t permitted. Always obey leash laws and if hiking in an off-leash area, keep your dog under voice control. Pick up and pack out all waste to prevent fecal bacteria from polluting the water and getting other animals sick.

Leave space for other hikers and trail users. For Gretchen, even if she technically has the right of way, she and her dogs yield to others. The command “off trail” gets her dogs to the side and in a sit. 

“Some people might be scared of dogs or uncomfortable and so even if I technically have the right of way, I'm going to get off the trail for them until they can pass comfortably,” she said.

Yielding to others and picking up poop are small actions that go a long way in keeping trails open to dogs. Being a responsible hiking dog duo ensures that future dogs and their people can keep enjoying trails together.

Ready to take a hike? Here are our favorite tips for hiking with dogs:

  • Prepare your pup - check with your vet to make sure your dog is ready to hike. When they are, start small and slowly build up mileage and difficulty.
  • Obedience is key - brush up on basic obedience skills to ensure that you can keep control of your dog while on and off leash.
  • Pick an appropriate trail - not all hikes will be enjoyable for you and your dog. Check local dog laws, difficulty and distance before committing to a trail.
  • Pack the essentials - bring enough gear to keep yourself and your dog safe, including: water, snacks and treats, a first aid kit, protective gear and doggy bags.
  • Respect other trail users - not everyone is comfortable around dogs. Yield to other trail users so they can have a positive experience in nature too.
  • Practice leave no trace - be sure to pack out all waste!

With fresh air, new places to sniff, and time with their best friend, your dog will love hiking together. Whether you are exploring local nature trails or summiting high peaks, a bit of preparation will help you, your dog and other visitors all have a positive experience in nature.

It appears that your cart is currently empty!
Continue Browsing