Hiking With Your Dog

Podcast - Hiking with Dogs

Podcast Episode 51: Hiking With Your Dog

This episode discusses hiking with your dog. You can find many resources for human hikers online, but comprehensive information for canine hiking companions is hard to locate. Most articles seem to center around bringing enough water and taking breaks. These points are, of course, important, but there is much more to consider. Some things are fairly obvious when bringing a dog on a hike, but many are not so straightforward. This episode and its companion article aim to close that gap.

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Podcast Transcript: Hiking With Your Dog

Hello, this is Ralf from Happy Dog Training. Welcome to another episode of Dog Talk. Today, we’re going to talk about hiking with your dog.

If you have never seen a dog lose on a trail, or your dog lose on a trail and see how much fun they have out in nature, sniffing around, exploring, and being a dog, it’s a beautiful thing. You should work towards making that happen for your dog. It is such an enriching thing for your dog to be able just to be a dog and not be confined by a leash or a fence or a yard or whatever, and just be out there and enjoy themselves.


To go hiking with your dog, you basically need to take your dog through a rattlesnake avoidance course and have a solid recall. Then you can go out on the trail and have your buddy enjoy life to the fullest because it’s such an enriching thing.

I used to go hiking a lot with my late dog Sylvester. His biggest adventure was Mount San Antonio, also known as Mount Baldy in Southern California. He made it all the way to the top when he was 13 years old. He was a very strong hiker and a very good hiking dog. Now, I’m training my younger dog, Kelso, to also be a good hiking companion. Hiking is just a beautiful thing to engage with.

What I want to discuss in this podcast is not the training aspects of hiking with your dog. This is not about training. This is about how you prepare your dog for a hike and what you should focus on when hiking with your dog. And it will go beyond the basics you see in many other blog posts on hiking with your dog. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I figured out what your dog needs on the trail and how to prepare yourself and have a good experience.

Is Your Dog Suitable For Hiking

First, think about if your dog is suitable for hiking. That’s the first question you have to ask yourself. Many toy breeds may not be the ideal hiking companions. But some can be. However, dogs in the working groups, the sporting group, the hunting group, the herding group, and those kinds of dogs do fantastic on trails. They usually have endurance, and they’re larger. They’re also not as prone to be prey to other animals. They’re generally safer if there’s a coyote around here and there. With those dogs, you can usually go quite a bit.

When you go out there, you must prepare your dog just like you prepare yourself. I recently picked up hiking again after a break, and I have to start conditioning myself again because I no longer have the endurance I had before I stopped hiking. Now, I have to build my endurance back up. It’s the same with your dog. When you start going out there and building up your condition, bring your dog along so they can go with you and build up their conditioning.

Conditioning For Hiking with Your Dog

When you start hiking with your dog into elevations, they have to get used to the elevations just like we do. If you just walk up a mountain for an hour and then turn back around, that’s usually a good starting point to get everybody in the right conditioning state for longer hikes of five, six, eight, or ten hours or so. If you go hiking with your dog into higher mountains, you have to build up the conditioning.

You must do that and don’t just think, well, I’m conditioned. My dog’s a dog. He should be able to. Let’s walk up a 10,000-foot mountain. That’s probably not going to work well. You’re going to run into trouble, and your dog will probably, at some point, check out and lie down and be toast. And then you have to carry him back or sit there with him or her until they have recovered. You have to be careful. Just ensure your dog’s ready for what you’re trying to do and get him or her ready for hiking.

Equipment For Hiking with Your Dog

There are a couple of things to think of in terms of equipment to bring along. Ideally, you have your dog carry their equipment, and for that, you need a backpack. A good backpack is worth investing in if you are a regular hiker, want to bring a dog along, or are taking this more seriously. Not in as a work effort, but you go hiking with your dog regularly. You go once a week or every other week, and you do it for longer distances and longer durations.

Dog Backpacks

It makes sense to invest in a high-quality backpack for your dog that allows your dog to carry all the water it needs and all the food it needs. Maybe even put some extra emergency supplies or so in his bag pouch if there’s some extra space so he can be self-sufficient and you don’t have to carry its water because weight adds up if you go up there. My backpack is probably 40 pounds already when I go out there, so adding another 5 or 10 pounds of water to my backpack for my dog is probably not the greatest move for me. I’m trying to have my dog carry their own water, but for that, I need to have a good backpack.

So what is a good backpack? Dogs are not horses, so the backpack should not sit on your dog’s back like a saddle on a horse. It should sit higher up on the shoulder blades where the pressure is more on the muscles. When I first started hiking, the best dog backpacks were from the Cesar Millan product line because they were exactly designed that way. These were great for hiking with your dog.

Now, in the newer iterations and models of those, the last time I looked, they were no longer as big but still good. They still sit in the right place, and they’re still well-designed. They have straps to tie stuff down. They’re good backpacks, but they’re not as big. So even the extra large ones don’t hold as much. They are probably good backpacks for medium-sized and small dogs, but I wouldn’t use them for a large dog.

Selecting the Best Type of Backpack

I have German Shepherds and German Shepherd mixes, so they’re big guys. My current dog weighs over 100 pounds, so this backpack is just a non-starter. It’s way too small to put anything substantial in it when hiking with your dog.

I ended up getting another brand, and it is a bit more of an investment. You have to decide if hiking is a serious endeavor for you or if you just do it occasionally. In the latter case, it probably doesn’t make sense.

But just like I have a good backpack, my dog has a good backpack. There is a company called Caliber K9. You can buy these at Leerburg.com. They are wonderful dog backpacks for hiking with your dog. They are molle vests with backpack attachments. They are not sold as backpacks; they’re sold as tactical vests. One of the attachments they have is really nice big backpacks that attach to the Molle vest in the right way and the right place.

Selecting the Best Size of Backpack

So that’s what I got for my dog. And that holds everything that needs to go in. It will hold enough water for him. I can load three half-liter water bottles on each side. They’re the smaller water bottles you buy, like Dasani, Arrowheads, and so on. And then some food and some snacks. So it’s all evenly distributed. The items must always be evenly distributed when hiking with your dog, so the weight doesn’t shift around. Caliber K9 makes some excellent equipment. It’s really good hiking equipment for my dog. By the way, all the things I’m mentioning, all the products are in the show notes and in the companion article that I’m going to link to, which is called Hiking with Dogs.

Check the Companion Article

You can find links to everything in that article, and also some of the calculations for the exact amount of water you should bring, the exact amount of food you should bring, and things like that. It’s all outlined in the companion article. I’m not gonna describe that here in the podcast because you have to actually do the math based on your dog’s body weight and other factors, but it’s all there. It’s very easy to do if you just go to the companion page and look it up. Being prepared makes hiking with your dog much more fun.

So, get a good backpack and load it up with the things you need. You have to bring a lot of water when hiking with your dog. And it’s better to bring more water than less. Load the backpack up with the maximum your dog can carry. Generally, 10% of your dog’s body weight in a backpack is perfectly fine. That should never be an issue. According to some articles, you can go up to 25%. For short distances, that’s certainly okay, but when you go hiking with your dog for 8 to 10 hours, you want to stick more to the 10% range. So your dog can definitely carry this and doesn’t get too fatigued and too tired. That’s on the water and backpack side.

Protecting Your Dog’s Paws

Let’s talk about the paws. There are boots for dogs. You can condition your dog to accept boots, wear boots, and run around with boots. That’s option number one and certainly a thing worth considering depending on which terrains you go into when hiking with your dog, especially if you’re also considering hiking in the snow. Your dog will need boots for that kind of stuff. But what’s really good, especially to start out with or even permanently, is a protection paste, which is called Musher’s Secret and also available on Amazon and a link is in the companion article.

Musher’s Secret, as you can imagine, is for mushers and sled dogs and Huskies pulling sleds. That stuff is awesome. I always put that on my dog’s paws before we go on a hike. I have some in my backpack as an additional touch-up. If it’s a long hike, I bring a small portion to apply more. When you hike to the top of a mountain, apply more before hiking with your dog back down. I also have some more in the car when we get back. It really helps protect the paws well and makes sure they are less likely to get abrasions or tears from a hike over gravel and rocks and rough terrain. Use paw protection. Musher’s Secret is a great thing to put on your dog’s paws when hiking with your dog.

Monitoring Your Dog’s Condition and Water

Next, let’s talk about watching your dog and giving it water on the trail. Your dog’s carrying its water in its backpack. But there are bottles called Water Rover, which I recommend when hiking with your dog. These are water bottles with an attached drinking bowl on the top. They have a closing cap to open and close the bottle. The water will flow out of the bottle into the drinking bowl. Your dog can drink from it, and whatever is left flows back into the bottle. So you don’t waste anything on the trail.

Get a Water Rover

When hiking with your dog, you don’t want to waste water or food. The first advantage of a Water Rover is that you don’t waste any water, which is a scarce resource in the middle of nowhere. Second, the Water Rover hangs on the belt of my hiking pants. I have hiking pants, usually tactical because they’re very durable and have a tactical belt.

You can pretty much clip anything to a tactical belt. The Water Rover has a hook on the back. I hook it to my belt so I can give my dog water every 15 or 20 minutes on the trail without having to take a big break and take my backpack off, a water bottle out, or maybe even my backpack off. That’s annoying, and you don’t want to be doing that.

Having a water rover and refilling it once it’s empty allows you to move much more quickly when hiking with your dog and take only short water breaks, just like you do for yourself. Take a quick sip. Keep moving. It’s a good piece of equipment to bring along on a hike. It makes hiking with your dog more fluent. Also, it is helpful if you ever get to a stream and want to refill your dog’s water supply. That will also help to get replenished.

What Food to Bring When Hiking with Your Dog?

Now, let’s talk about food when hiking with your dog. I normally would bring an extra portion of their food with me. But I feed raw food, and carrying raw food around is not necessarily the most advisable thing when you go hiking. I’m trying not to do that. I use a high-quality kibble from Orijen for hikes. Orijen Regional Red is great for German Shepherds. That’s also the backup food we have at home if something interferes with the weekly food production.

So they have a little snack when we reach the top of the mountain and some extra food to eat. But on the way, what dogs generally need when hiking with your dog is a lot of extra fat. And that’s very different from us. When hiking, we need to replenish our carbohydrates and electrolytes. We’re usually concerned about that when hiking because that gives us strength and power to keep going. In contrast, our dog needs fat.

Humans Need Electrolytes, Dogs Need Fat

The more elevation, the more duration, the more strenuous the activity gets the more fat your buddy needs when you go hiking with your dog. Whatever snacks you bring for your dog, make sure they’re high in fat. There is a product listed in the companion article called Adventure Bar for dogs that’s high in fat. It’s a good product to bring along on the trail to give your dog a snack and the power boost they need. You give your dog the power bar when you take a break and eat a banana. But whatever you choose, it should be very high in fat and protein.

You do not have to worry about carbohydrates and electrolytes with a dog. We need electrolyte replenishment because we sweat it out. Dogs don’t sweat. They sweat a little bit through their paws, but not to a degree where they lose electrolytes. It’s not something you need to replenish. They need to replenish fat. I learned what to feed when hiking with your dog from a study on sled- and working dogs. This was published long ago and is listed in the companion article.

The Best Hiking Food

The study examined the calorie demands and the type of food and nutrition needed for sled dogs. They outlined the daily requirements based on what they were doing, which was pulling a sled. That is much more extraneous than hiking with your dog in a local mountain. But this was at the lower end of the workout spectrum. However, they put the whole range of requirements in their recommendations based on the activity level a dog engages in.

It’s very important to bring enough of the right types of food when hiking with your dog. They are different from what we need. When you go out on the trail and you see your dog starting to lie down, that’s a good indication that it’s getting to the point where your dog either needs a break or you need to start considering turning around and getting back home. It indicates that your dog’s conditioning is not where it needs to be to complete the entire hike.

Monitoring and Conditioning

So let’s say it’s a three hours up the mountain and three hours down the mountain kind of hike. But after an hour of hiking with your dog, he is slowing down, starts lying down, and maybe even moves from shade to shade. Maybe it’s too hot that day. Your dog may not be conditioned yet. Maybe your dog is getting too tired for whatever reason. You need to watch that. Don’t just plow on and say, my dog will be fine. You must pay attention to these signals and be prepared to turn around.

When I conditioned Sylvester to summit Mount Baldy, we visited several times. We made it up to the hut twice. The Sierra Club ski hut is a midpoint. The third time we went, we made it up to the ridge, another 45 minutes from the hut. We were about an hour from the top at this point and still had to turn around.

Safety Always Comes First

It was too hot, just a very scorching day, and it was above the tree line. There were no more trees. It’s just all open air from there. So, I made the determination. We got him pretty far. We got farther than the last time, but we had to turn around now because that would probably be too hot for him. It was cooler the second time we went up to the same point. I thought he could do it, and boom, he did it. So it was the fourth try where I tried to get to the top with him, and he hiked up there like a champion. He was 13 years old at the time.

As I said, Sylvester was a very strong hiker when this happened. But conditioning a dog for a taller mountain requires you to commit yourself to a couple of hikes that are not as long as you would like them to be. They will be half the distance, or they may be a quarter of the distance, and you just need to accept that when hiking with your dog. Your dog needs to be conditioned for elevation, distance, and everything, just like you.

Take It Slow

This is especially true if you previously hiked without your dog and you have a better condition build-up. Your dog also needs to build up. So you gotta give him those opportunities and go on conditioning hikes until you can see in your dog he can do it that day. You have to be very attentive to your dog’s behavior when hiking with your dog. If your dog lies down, as I said, if they start slowing down and lying down, that indicates that it will be time to give them a nice rest and then head home.

But also, if your dog starts moving from one shady area to another or digging the ground and lying down on the dug spot in some moist soil, it indicates that your dog’s getting too hot. They need to rest and drink more water. They need to lie down and recuperate. If that happens on the way up, turn around. There is no point to keep pushing. You’re only going to end up injuring your dog or worse. You have to look for these signs and make sure that you pay attention and give your dog the breaks it needs.

You Will Meet Rattlesnakes

Just make sure you have your dog prepared before hiking with your dog on tougher trails. Have the right equipment. Bring enough water, food, and snacks, and pay attention to your dog’s body signals as you’re out on the trail. And, of course, your dog should be trained to avoid rattlesnakes. Rattlesnake avoidance training is important when you go into remote areas because there is no help. When you go there, you’re on your own. You need to understand that.

After a rattlesnake bite, you have about an hour to get the anti-venom into your dog. So, preventing that from happening is important when hiking with your dog. You should bring a first aid kit for yourself, but it should also include items for your dog. Enhance your emergency kit for the outdoors with anything your dog may need. A tourniquet that will fit your dog, bandages that fit your dog, things you may need for poisoning. Maybe you can bring some activated charcoal and some mechanism for getting that into your dog with a syringe or something similar in case there is some poisoning.

Dog First Aid Supplies

Maybe you have some rubbing alcohol, a small bottle or so, in case your dog overheats and you need to cool him down. You can put this on the paws. You can put it on the head. It’s an emergency procedure veterinarians also use. You must consider things like that for your emergency kit upgrade. I would encourage you to read our article on first aid kits for dogs. They give you a better idea of what to add when hiking with your dog. We’re also going to have a separate podcast on that. However, our other article outlines everything you should add to a first aid kit for your dog, and your hiking first aid kit should include things you may need for your dog on the trail.

I think that covers all the aspects I wanted to discuss. Just make sure you’re prepared and can handle the things that can potentially happen on the trail.

Dog Carrying Equipment

You can buy a couple of contraptions, and I call them contraptions because they are like backpacks you can stick a dog into. They’re like gigantic harnesses with four holes for their legs that fold together and can be worn like backpacks. They allow you to carry a heavier dog down a mountain.

But this may not be feasible if your dog weighs over one hundred pounds like mine. If you go hiking with your dog and he is on the larger side, have a hiking companion who could help you carry your dog if something happens. Get a piece of equipment that will make that easier. There are some carrying pouches with handles you can put your dog in, and two people can carry him off the mountain in a soft stretcher. You can fold it up. They don’t weigh that much. You can put them in your backpack. But it’s good to have handy to carry a dog out in an emergency.

Hike with a Friend if Possible

And a second person will be essential if something happens while hiking with your dog. On the trail, there are usually more seasoned hikers, not just the weekend hikers but people who hike more regularly and are more outdoor-versed. Those people may be very willing to help you get a dog off the mountain. Carrying it together with you. You may encounter people who work in search and rescue. They’re just doing a conditioning hike or weekend hike. People like that may be willing to help you carry your dog out.

Never Hesitate to Ask For Help

My point is, don’t hesitate to ask fellow hikers who look very strong and capable. Don’t be embarrassed if you need help carrying your dog off the mountain in an emergency. You will probably get a good number of people that will say no. They are the weekend guys, but the more seasoned people out there and the emergency search and rescue people who train hiking on the weekends to keep their conditioning up, those kinds of people will probably help you.

Mountain Etiquette

They will not say no to this, so it’s worth asking. Just keep that in mind. A lot of hikers have a collegiality about being in the mountains. There’s something about outdoor people. They’re just more willing to help each other out in case of an emergency. It’s kind of part of the etiquette of being in the mountain.

You can throw the apple core into the forest for squirrels to eat, but you don’t do that with a banana peel because it will take forever to biodegrade. It’s these kinds of things where mountain etiquette is concerned. You can poop behind a bush but don’t leave your toilet paper there. You bring that back home. Have equipment to carry that. There is mountain etiquette. And among people who adhere to mountain etiquette, you usually find those more willing to help you. That’s at least my experience.


Never hesitate to ask if you need help when other people are around. You never know. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. Anyone can get stuck out there, and if you have a dog with you, the most important thing is that you both get safely back down. Nothing else really matters at the end of the day.


I think that’s everything I wanted to touch on in terms of hiking with your dog in remote locations, preparing your dog, and bringing everything you need. I hope you found this informative and helpful. I hope you got something out of it, and I’ll see you again next time. Bye.


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Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.

Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.

Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer

Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.

Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.