What to Bring for your Dog on a Hike

If you’ve spent anytime at all reading this site then you know that my dog accompanies me on most of my hikes.  She is a great companion and loves the outdoors.  If you are considering taking your dog onto the trail, you should first read my article, Taking Your Dog Hiking.  Do you still think your dog will make a good trail companion?  Great, here is a quick rundown of some gear that you should consider for your dog.

Reflecting on a Dog's Life

Life Essentials:

Obviously, you are going to want to provide food and water for your dog.  Remember that her activity level is much higher on the trail so she is going to need a lot more of both.  High protein foods are best and don’t worry too much about fat content on the trail because she’ll burn it off.  I like individual serving packets for the ease of packing.  Don’t forget to bring a food bowl.  The collapsible ones are great for dry food but can be hard to clean with “canned” food.  I use a plastic camp plate or bowl.

Dinner Time in Redfield Canyon

For water just add another canteen or bladder to what you already carry.  After a couple of long day trips, you will be able to figure out how much water each of you needs.  In the summer, Saja and I need at least six liters per day sometimes more.  I bought a collapsible bowl for her water and quickly found that I was throwing away water because she didn’t always drink what I poured for her.  Water sources are few and far between in the Sonoran desert and wasting water is what we experts call a “bad thing”.  Now, I like my dog, but I’m not about to pour her leftovers back into my Camelbak, so I also carry an empty half liter plastic water bottle for this purpose.

A leash is the final essential items.  I rarely put Saja on a leash in the wilderness, but I always have one.  The last thing you want is for your dog to run off and even the best behaved dogs can freak out at times, so keep a leash handy in case she is misbehaving and for crowded sections of the trail.

Comfort Items:

Tanque Verde Creek, March 2010

Your dog, the conditions, and weight will determine what comfort items you decide to bring.  In general, a sleeping pad of some sort is a good idea.  Dog’s lose heat during the night just like we do and depending on the breed and weather this could be a significant issue.  A piece of an old foam sleeping pad does the trick, but whatever you use let the dog sleep on it at home for a while so she gets her smell in it and knows what it’s for.

I always bring along a stash of treats for Saja and give her a few throughout the day to help keep her energy levels up.  High fat treats metabolize quicker for that fast energy.  Rawhide chews also help pass the day if you are resting or stuck in the tent.

I normally don’t bring dog toys with me, but if you are going to set up a base camp for a day or two then you might consider bringing a toy.  That nasty, tug of war sock might be just the thing to calm her down during a rainy day in the tent.  Toys can also bring a sense of normalcy to an anxious dog.

First Aid:

Your normal first aid kit will cover most of the issues your dog might have, but there are a few things I bring specifically for the dog.  The first is Super Glue.  We travel over some harsh, rocky terrain and the dog’s nails take a lot of abuse.  If one breaks off, Super Glue can be used to seal it to stop the bleeding and minimize further injury.

I’ve thought about using Super Glue or one of the commercial skin adhesives in the event of cuts and lacerations, but these are intended for topical use and require shaving the immediate area for proper application (hurt dog, razor blade and wilderness equals trouble in my book) and unless the wound is well cleaned there is an increased chance of infection.  In an extreme emergency, you can use these inside the wound for a quick seal, but this is contrary to the intended use and will actually impede healing.  If you do this, the vet may very well want to cut the adhesive out.  Skin adhesives are great but they have their limits, so for the dog you are better off bringing sterile dressings and either duct tape or surgical tape.  Treating a dog is harder than treating a child so you want quick easy treatments and there is nothing easier than duct tape!

Dogs are always running around smelling stuff, so they are much more prone to bee stings, spider bites, and other such things.  Throw a few Benedryl tablets into your first aid kit.  There are a million different antihistamines out there and some of them may very well be bad for dogs, but the active ingredient in Benedryl is safe for canines in doses around 1 mg per pound.  That said, I am a veteran not a veterinarian, so before you go hopping your dog up on drugs get professional advice.

In the event of a serious injury, you are going to want to have some way to calm the dog and ease its pain.  Asprin, Tylenol, and Motrin are not recommended for dogs.  Whiskey would probably work, but just doesn’t seem right.  In my experience, not all dogs like whiskey anyway.  I carry 50 mg Tramadol tablets prescribed by my veterinarian.  I don’t at all look forward to administering these pills to a hysterical, injured dog and if she clamps down on my hand in the process I just might be taking one myself.

Other Gear to Consider:

The outdoor, doggy gear market is continually growing, but most of the gear is unnecessary or unsuited to backpacking.  You can buy a dog tent if you want, but why carry the weight?  Two items I will be looking at for Saja are booties and backpacks.  Even though Saja is active and on the trails frequently, her feet do get sore during longer trips especially when the summer sun heats up the sharp rocks.  Booties are also good in the winter for dogs that are not accustomed to the constant abrasion of snow and ice.  If booties are for the dog, the backpack is for the master.  Just letting the dog carry its own food and water would cut 5-10 pounds from my pack.  Several of the packs I’ve looked at also have built in safety harnesses that would be useful for lifting her into or out of canyons or for attaching a safety line while fording streams.  Despite the advantages, I wouldn’t have her wear the pack in the summer.  I worry enough about her overheating and I think the pack would just make it worse.

So that’s my rundown on dog hiking gear.  I’d love to hear what everyone else brings, so be sure to leave a comment.

© 2010, The Desert Dog Journal. All rights reserved.

Filed Under: Dogs on the TrailFeaturedGearHiking


About the Author: Tucson, AZ Realtor & Investor. My true passions however are hiking and whisky (although generally not at the same time). If you have a question about any of these just drop me a line!

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  1. Dan says:

    I never thought of bringing first aid kit for my dog before. I am so bad, thank you for reminding me that.

  2. […] What to Bring for your Dog on a Hike : The Desert Dog Journal […]

  3. Bill says:

    First aid for dogs, just like first aid for humans, is an effective combination of knowledge, supplies and skills, put into action for the benefit of your four-legged friend.

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