Do you have a friend that only wants to spend every moment of their life glued to you? Do you have a four legged creature likes to leave tumbleweeds of fur laying around your house? Has every sandwich you've ever eaten required you to endure a pitiful stare from across the room? If you've answered yes to these questions then you are a dog owner.
Brothers from another mother.
My girlfriend and I own two dogs. A chocolate lab named Callebeaut, and a west highland white terrier named Ted. They are guilty of everything above and I couldn't imagine life without them. When it comes to heading out on hikes they are our loyal companions, who are just as excited to get out on the trails as we are.
However, there is a big difference between heading out for a day hike and taking them out in the back country for a night in the bush. There are a few things you need to plan and think about before you venture out. You do not want to forced to carry a puckered pooch fifteen kilometers because they've given up on you.
Here are 5 tips for hiking in the back country with dogs.
1) Bring More Food than they Normally Eat
Relaxing in the sun after a hard day of hiking
If you've spent several hours on the trail, you know the feeling of eating a calorie packed meal at the end of the day. Your dog will have the same sentiment.
When I meal plan my dogs food I budget an additional 20% for their meals. I feed my dogs twice a day, once in the morning and again at night. I also bring enough for one safety meal in case we spend more time in the bush than expected. You never know when you might have to spend more time out on the trail and having this extra meal can go a long way in making sure everyone gets out in good shape.
There are dog hiking backpacks on the market that allow them to can carry their own food but I prefer to carry the weight for my dogs. I know I can carry the extra weight with ease as evolution has given me powerful knees and legs that can endure an entire day of carrying a pack. It is up to you to decide if you want your dogs to carry weight or not but that is why I choose not to. It is recommended to not let your dog carry more than 20% of it's entire body weight.
2) Bring a Towel or Blanket
If it rains and your dog gets wet you are going to want to dry them off before you go to bed. Using your shirt isn't the only option you want to have. If you've ever spent the night next to a wet dog you will know that all that moisture locked in their fur is quickly absorbed by your sleeping bag.
This also gives them something to sleep on instead of the ground which will suck the heat from them. A warm dog is a dog that doesn't try and get in your sleeping bag with you.
3) Plan Your Water
How much further?
Water is what keeps everyone moving to camp. If you're feeling dehydrated so is your dog. On many hikes you don't have the luxury of letting your dog drink from a water source often and thus you need to carry it.
A human adult needs at least 3 litres of water on a good hiking day. Your dog depending on its size will need at least 1 to 2 litres. That means you need to plan your water carefully and may be forced to carry more of it.
I let my dogs drink from water sources that are "cleaner" like lakes and running rivers but usually avoid letting them drinking from sloughs or stagnant water. I don't need to be dealing with a dog with diarrhea while out on the trail. There is always a risk of your dog picking up a virus regardless of how clean you think the water is, so make sure they are up to date on their vaccines.
BONUS TIP: bring a Tupperware container or a collapsible bowl for your dog to eat and drink out of. Dogs don't usually drink too well out of a Camelback.
4) Leash Them
Lead the way!
I know that many of us want to let our dogs run free when on hikes but there are a two reasons on why I don't
The first, is safety. Out on the trail there are many things for your dogs to get into trouble with. This could be a bear, porcupine, badger or any other wild animal that would happily defend itself from an inquisitive dog. If you've ever had to pull porcupine quills from a dog you know that is not something you want to attempt in the bush.
The second, is they have no idea how far you are going. Dogs are along for the ride, they don't know that you may be hiking 20 or more kilometers today. My dogs when off leash will easily put on two to three time the distance as me as they try to pee on everything they can. When I am completing long back country hikes I leash them so I can control them from burning themselves out. I have no interest in carrying a dog to the end campsite.
5) Start Small
Those are some weird looking polar and brown bears.
If you've never taken your dog on any kind of hikes start small. Do a few day hikes to get everyone accustomed to being on the trail together. My dogs act differently on the trail than they do on a walk in the city so it is nice to know how your dog is going to react to new environments.
If you've never slept in a tent with your dog try spending a couple nights somewhere you can make adjustments if needed, like your backyard or a front country campground. My girlfriend, myself and dogs all fit in our two person Carbine Marmot tent quite "comfortably", but there were a couple nights of sorting sleeping positions before everyone was happy.
Have you ever taken your dog on a back country trip? Share your story in the comments.