men and a dog standing in a forest

13 Tips for Backpacking With Your Dog

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Having the chance to bring your dog with you on a backpacking trip is one of the best parts of the experience. It’s difficult to tell who’s more excited, you or your dog. While hiking or backpacking with your dog is a ton of fun, it also brings with it with it a new set of challenges.

If it’s your first time backpacking with your dog, chances are the adventure won’t be mistake free. It’s going to take time to learn about doggie first aid, the type of additional gear you need to bring, how much pack weight is too much, and how your dog reacts to the different types of wildlife.

We put together a comprehensive list of tips and tricks that you can use on your first hike or your fifth to make sure you have a safe ans successful backpacking adventure together.

13 Tips for Backpacking With Your Dog

Here are 13 tips to make your trip to the backcountry with your furry friend as safe and fun as possible. These are not hard and fast rules, think of them as guidelines meant to provide a safe and enjoyable time for you, your pup, and everyone else out on the trail.

1. Sanitize you dog’s drinking water

Dogs are susceptible to some of the same waterborne pathogens that make humans sick. They can fall ill from Giardiasis, Cryptosporidiosis, and other illlnesses just like us (source). It’s always important to sanitize your drinking water before you drink from a freshwater source and this rule applies to your pup’s water as well.

2. Be prepared to carry more weight

One of the biggest concerns when taking a backpacking trip is pack weight. Ultralight backpackers have stories of trimming the handle of toothbrushes and spoons to simply save a few ounces. When backpacking or hiking with a dog you have to accept the fact that your pack is going to be heavier than normal.

This doesn’t mean that you have to carry an extra 10 pounds of gear, just be prepared to add to our load wisely.

3. Check the local regulations

The US National Park system is an amazing system of public lands and trails that we are all free to enjoy. However, there are strict rules when bringing dogs into National Parks to be aware of. They are only allowed in certain parts of the park, must be on leash, and only allowed on certain trails, just to name a few.

Here’s a list of National Parks that allow you to bring your dog, just be sure to follow the rules and regulations.

4. Watch out for heat stroke in your dog

If you’re backpacking in the summertime, heatstroke in your dog is always something to be cautious of. Dogs don’t sweat as we do, they can only sweat through their mouths (panting) and the pads in their paws. Keep a close eye on how your dog is behaving so you can take the necessary steps to prevent heat stroke in your dog.

According to Ashley Gallagher, DVM, signs of heat stroke in your dog are:

  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Looking for shade to lay in
  • Fast heartbeat

Heat stroke is no joke. If you see any signs of heat stroke, stop and find some shade and provide your dog with plenty of water. If things don’t begin to improve quickly, it’s time to turn around.

5. Bring a backpack for your dog

You are backpacking after all, so you might as well let your dog share some of the load. You’re going to have to carry extra food, water, and poop bags and a doggie backpack is the perfect place to store some of the gear. You want to find a backpack that is specifically designed for your size of dog, has adequate padding, and is not overloaded.

According to Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer: 10% to 12% of their body weight is a good starting point. This would be 5 to 6 pounds for a 50-pound dog, or 2.5 to 3.0 kilos for a 25-kilogram dog, for example.

6. Pack a canine first aid kit

Hopefully, your backpacking trip is accident-free. Unfortunately, accidents happen and veterinarian isn’t going to be just a phone call away. If an emergency occurs, you need to be prepared with a fully stocked first aid kit to treat your pup (or yourself) and the knowledge to apply canine first aid.

You can buy a complete kit and add specific items for your dog like medicines your vet has given you for your dog. A first aid kit is one of the ten essential items to carry on a backpacking trip and with a little customization, it will be a “doggie first aid kit” in no time.

Items to include in a doggie first aid kit:

  • Paperwork: medical records, vaccination list, prescriptions
  • Canine first aid manual
  • Gauze
  • Extra dog food
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Antibiotic ointment or spray
  • Extra leash
  • Medications

7. Keep a close eye on your dog

If your dog is used to using a leash, it’s best to keep them on a leash at all times. This may seem counter-intuitive on a backpacking trip since you’re there to explore the wild world with freedom. However, there is a chance that you see other animals and if your dog isn’t used to a leash they may overreact, run towards it and get hurt.

If you plan on going without a leash, it’s important that your dog listens to your commands. This is going to keep them safe and give you peace of mind and it’s good trail etiquette. As much as you love your dog, not everyone feels the same way :).

8. Practice with short hikes at first

If your dog only takes an hour walk each day, heading out on a long distance backpacking trip may be a little too much at first. Start hiking with them on the weekends on shorter trails and slowly work your way up to longer trails. After a few good hikes, your dog will be more accustomed to longer trails in the wilderness and be prepared for a long distance trek.

Not all dogs are meant for backpacking and

9. Pick up or bury your dog poop

Wildlife poop is different from pet waste in a number of ways and disrupts the local ecosystem. Pet waste adds excess nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen that create unstable conditions that create algae blooms and enable invasive weeds to grow.

According to the Leave No Trace website, “Across the US, 83 million pet dogs produce 10.6 million tons (that’s 21,200,000,000 pounds) of poop every year, each pound adding excess nutrients to the ecosystem if the waste isn’t disposed of properly.”

One of the golden rules of hiking is “pack it on, pack it out” and this applies to your dog’s poop as well. Bring some small plastic bags to put the poop in and thick plastic bags to keep the smaller poop bags in.

If you’re on a multi-day backpacking trip, picking up and carrying the poop for days on end isn’t a realistic option. In this case, stick to the Leave No Trace principles and dig a 6-inch hole to bury the poop in.

10. Choose the terrain wisely

Your dogs are constantly on their feet without protection and their paw pads are susceptible to tears and other injuries. If their pads get torn or damaged, they are going to need time to heal and good luck trying to explain that to them.

Damaged paw pads are prone to infection due to their anatomical location (source). The best way to keep their paws safe is to avoid terrain that is rocky and any places that have rough surfaces.

11. Plan on where your dog is going to sleep

Having a safe and comfortable place for your dog to sleep is an important part of backpacking with your dog. The easiest way is to let them crash inside your tent, this means that you don’t have to carry any extra gear which adds weight to your gear. Make sure that you have a tent large enough to comfortably fit the both of you.

Another option is a backpacking dog bed. This is a lightweight and compact dog bed that is usually just a simple piece of padding. It’s a place that is comfortable for your dog and protects the inside of your tent from damage from their nails.

A small blanket or towel works too. Having something other than your sleeping bag is nice, especially a few days in when the smells start to really sink in.

12. Leave No Trace

The Leave No Trace guidelines are a set of rules put in place to provide each and every one of us with ten simple steps to maintain the natural environment. They are there to limit the impact that we and our dogs have on the environment so it will remain pristine for generations to come.

In terms of backpacking, the biggest thing to worry about is burying your poop in 6-8 inch holes and not destroying the environment. This doesn’t mean that your dog can’t run around and have a great time, just do it responsibly.

13. Check up on your dog’s vaccinations

Vaccines help prevent a wide variety of illnesses that affect dogs. Vaccinating your pet is a good way to ensure that they live a long and healthy life, hopefully, disease free. Your veterinarian will determine the appropriate vaccine regime to provide the safest and best protection possible.

Most of the shots are given in the early stages of a dog’s life, however, the Rabies shot needs to readministered every couple years depending on whether you got the 1-year or 3-year. This is especially important when embarking on a backpacking adventure, there are animals that you don’t normally see and wild animals often carry rabies.

Here’s a full vaccination schedule to take a glance at and see if your dog is up to date.

Other dog backpacking essentials:

  • Water container and bowl combo: There are doggie water bottles that double as a water bowl. This kills two birds with one stone, eliminating the need to carry both and always having a dog bowl on the ready.
  • Extra towel (specifically for the dog): Keeping a towel on hand to clean off your dog’s paws and fur, after they get messy, will keep your dog clean and your tent cleaner.
  • Nail clippers and a file: Sharp dog nails are a tents biggest enemy. Keeping a set of clippers and a file will protect your tent from inadvertent damage from your dog’s feet.
  • LED dog collar: LED dog collars are relatively new, however, they are awesome to have on a backpacking trip. It’s a simple and easy way to keep an eye on your dog at night.
  • Dog jacket: It gets cold at night and our dog needs extra insulation as much as you. There are dog jackets available in every size and color, so choose your favorite and keep your dog warm on those cold backcountry nights.
  • Dog booties: You’ve probably seen the hilarious videos of dog’s wearing booties for the first time. While they’re not for every dog, if your dog can handle them, they offer extra protection from cuts and abrasions.

Conclusion

As long as you do a little planning and preparation beforehand, your first backpacking trip with your dog will be a smashing success. Your first trip with your dog is going to be full of times that make you smile and other times that you want to pull your hair out. The old saying that “the real adventure is the journey, not the destination” could never be truer. Enjoy the ups and downs on the trail, run wild, and give your dog lots of kisses.

As always, get lost and keep wandering.

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