How to make sure my dog is safe on the trails

How to make sure my dog is safe on the trails

By Melanie from Expeditionhusky

There is no doubt that getting out on a hike with your dog is one of the most exciting and invigorating things.

Thinking about the trail, your dog’s gear, and your own gear tends to consume your thoughts before a hike.

But what about all the extra little details that go into keeping your dog safe while hiking? There are countless aspects to trail safety such as:


- Having the proper gear
- How much weight should your dog carry
- Is your dog in proper shape for hiking
- How to deal with those damn ticks
- Knowing how much food and water to bring.

Check out the topics below to get started on hiking with your dog!

How much weight can my dog carry?

First and foremost, choosing the right gear for your outing and knowing what your dog is capable of is essential.
Based on whether your hike will be a multi-day backpacking trip, or a quick local hike. Gear can range from a simple harness, to a full backpack loaded up with food, water, and a sleeping pad.

The general rule of thumb for the amount of weight a dog can carry safely is a maximum of 25% of their body weight (i.e. for a 50lb dog, this amounts to 12.5 lbs). If your dog is fit, and with plenty of experience under their collar carrying a pack, you can consider an alternative maximum of 35-40% of their body weight.

If your dog is new to hiking with extra weight, start them off slow with just an empty backpack for a few hikes.

From there, spend a few more hikes with 5% or less weight, and continue slowly adding from there over several months’ time.

Keep in mind that even just one liter of water is already 2.2 lbs!

Weight can add up very quick in a pack and keeping strict to the suggested limits will help keep your pup by your side on the trails for many hikes to come.

huskies walking with backpacks

How can I help my dog get in shape for hikes?

On the same page as hiking with added weight, keeping fit with your dog and getting in shape between hikes will help alleviate any major joint health issues down the road.

Cross-training for the trails can be performed in so many different activities, and you can cater them to what your dog tends to enjoy!

If you have a dog that loves to pull, things like canicross, mushing, or weight pull are great options.

If you have a dog that seems to enjoy a more strategic type of learning, taking an agility class can boost their overall confidence and fitness while also building a great bond with you.

And overall, adding in hikes that involve hills and elevation, catered to your dog’s fitness level, will encourage the building of strength and stamina as well for those more involved hikes.


How much food and water will my dog need?

For longer hikes or backpacking trips, food and water are essential.

On a daily basis, most dogs will drink one ounce of water per pound of body weight (i.e. a 50lb dog will drink 50oz, which equals about 6.25 cups per day).

Water intake will increase depending on how much extra exercise is being done, as well as weather conditions.
Food guidelines tend to vary a little, but a good rule of thumb to start with is adding ½ of your dog’s normal intake for a full day of hiking.

As you get more hikes under your belt, you’ll be able to adjust the amount of food and water needed based on your individual dog.


What’s the best leash for hiking with my dog?

Whether you are on a short or long hike, considering regulations for each trail should be another main focus.

Most state or county-run trails will offer up regulations on their website
, or on signage at the trailhead. By abiding by the regulations stated, you’ll be keeping yourself, your dog, and anyone else on the trail safe.

There are various types of leashes on the market, including leashes specifically designed to be worn around your waist for hands free exploration, many of which include bungee for shock absorption.
These leashes allow for extra freedom for your pup without being fully off-lead while also avoiding any excess leash to constantly reel back in.

Some dogs do well with a traffic lead (short 6-8” handle that can be attached to your dogs harness like any other leash), or even a dropped long-line, though care should be taken with a long line so as not to tangle any oncoming hikers or dogs.


What if I find a tick on my dog while hiking?

Ticks are another major concern nearly all over the world.

There are several deadly bacterial diseases they can transmit once embedded, such as Lyme, Anaplasma, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Use of a dog-safe, veterinarian-approved tick repellent will greatly reduce the risk of exposing your dog to these diseases within high-tick areas.

Taking into consideration the time of year can also help you reduce the risk of exposure, though, keep in mind that any time the temperature is above freezing, ticks can be out in full force!

If you do happen to find a tick on your dog while out on the trails, don’t panic!

Most diseases take at least a few hours to transmit, so removing it as soon as you get back home would likely be fine.

However, keeping a tick removal tool in your pocket or in a first aid kit while hiking to remove the tick immediately will help lessen any risk.

There are a few different types of these tools on the market, including the Tick Spoon and the Tick Twister, both of which are extremely effective at removing the entire tick. They are both small enough to fit nearly anywhere, and some even come with the option to use as a keychain.


Keeping both yourself and your dog safe while out hiking or backpacking can feel like a daunting task. Even with the above recommendations, you should always consult your veterinarian prior to any strenuous exercise with your dog. They will be able to help assess the fitness and health of your dog prior to your hikes or backpacking trips.



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