10 Things You Can Do to Be a Better Adventure Dog Owner
by Mia Svenson, Girls Who Hike Los Angeles Ambassador
1. Pick up after your dog
Poop is gross, but everybody does it; it’s natural! Poop is part of nature, so it doesn’t need to be picked up, right?
Actually, domestic dogs are not a native species to California, and as a result, their poop contains a lot of harmful bacteria. These bacteria can infect people who come in contact with it, and it can infect wild animals that come in contact with it which seriously influences the surrounding ecosystem. The bacteria and microscopic beings found in dog waste can make wild animals sick and pollute water sources. It’s easy to tie a few poop bags to your dog’s leash if you don’t want to carry them. When I’m on long hikes I usually double bag my dog’s poop and tie the bags to his pack, that way he’s helping and has a sense of purpose, and we aren’t polluting the trail with neon baggies.
2. Biodegradable poop bags still need to be picked up.
Contrary to popular belief, biodegradable poop bags don’t actually fix the problem.
The average biodegradable poop bag takes anywhere from three to six months to decompose, and the problem of dog waste being left behind remains a problem. When a poop bag decomposes or degrades, the poop that was housed within that little baggie is exposed to the environment, or rather, the environment is exposed to it. Yes, poop may biodegrade as well, but it doesn’t actually disappear. Instead, when poop degrades, it’s essentially just breaking up into a bunch of poops that are invisible to the naked eye. These tiny poops and their bacteria are often washed away by rain, and can find their way into the nearest water source. In a wilderness area, the nearest water source is often the only water source, and the bacterial contamination from the dog poop can make that water unsafe to drink from.
3. Bring enough water for your dog.
Your dog needs 1.5 -1.7 oz. of water per pound of body weight over the course of a 12-hour day.
Math is hard and I hate it, but in this case, it’s absolutely worth it. I use 1.5 oz. of water per pound of body weight if the weather is under 70 degrees, and 1.7 oz. of water per pound of body weight if the weather is over 70 degrees.
The formula to use here is: [(weight of dog x 1.5 oz.) / 12 hours] x the hours you will be hiking.
Confused? Same. Here it is step by step with my dog’s stats:
50 lbs. x 1.5 oz. = 75 oz.
75 oz. / 12 = 6.25 oz. per hour
So, if I’m hiking for 7 hours in cooler weather, my dog will need 43.75 oz. of water.
4. Keep your dog on the trail and under control.
This is not only a safety concern for your dog, but allowing your dog off a trail can damage the environment around you, and is not in keeping with the Leave No Trace principles. If your dog doesn’t have good recall or listening skills, and is not trained to stay on trail and within six feet of you, it should not be off leash.
• Your dog is instinctually a hunter, regardless of how sweet and cuddly they are. Guided by instinct, they will absolutely chase wild animals off trail, which damages the health of wildlife, changes their natural behaviors and is directly exposing them to a predator that they would not normally come in contact with.
• Your dog could be injured or attacked by something hidden off trail. These risks include, but are not limited to:
Spanish Needle grass
• When your dog tramples through undergrowth and brush off trail, they are hurting native flora and fauna, and damaging the ecosystem.
• Not everyone is as dog friendly or well informed as you are. It is your responsibility to keep your dog under control and out of harm’s way. Just because your dog is friendly with other dogs, does not make it okay to allow it to run ahead, out of your control, to interact with dogs who may not be friendly.
5. Assume that all trails are "On-Leash" unless clearly specified otherwise.
On-Leash and Off-Leash trails exist for a reason.
In LA, trails are accessible to all kinds of activities including, but not limited to, horseback riding, trail running, hiking and mountain biking. Be considerate to those around you and keep your dog safe by obeying leash laws. It’s also very possible that there are hikers on these trails that are afraid of dogs, or just don’t like them, and to see an off-leash dog when you purposely chose a trail that is on-leash for your own comfort and safety is incredibly upsetting.
I once made the mistake of allowing my blue heeler / husky mix off-leash in an on-leash area of a park. I didn’t realize that this particular branch of the trail was open to horseback riders, and as a result of my ignorance, my dog, a horse, and its rider were put in an incredibly dangerous position. My dog could have been kicked and killed. The horse could have become spooked, galloped away, and injured itself on a dangerous section of the trail. The horseback rider could have been thrown from the horse and trampled. Rules exist for a reason, and they’re usually for the benefit of everybody involved!
Sometimes people take their dogs leashes off out of convenience to themselves; they want to be hands free while hiking! Totally understandable, however, there are ways around this! I love this bungee leash that I got off amazon. It allows me to keep my hands free, while maintaining control of my dog.
6. Dress your dog appropriately.
Imagine hiking barefoot with an insulating wetsuit on. That’s what your dog is going through!
Dogs are wearing a fur coat at all times, and as a result they aren’t able to cool themselves as efficiently as we are. Dogs only produce sweat on areas not covered with fur, such as the nose and paw pads, this means that they aren’t able to thermoregulate, and overheating is a very real concern. Some good solutions to dogs overheating include cooling vests and cooling bandanas. Ruffwear makes an awesome cooling vest for dogs called a Swamp Cooler (https://ruffwear.com/products/swamp-cooler), and cooling bandanas can be purchased at REI.
You wouldn’t climb a mountain barefoot, so why make your dog do it? A lot of people are under the assumption that because wolves travel rough terrain regularly and are totally fine, our dogs, who share common ancestors with wolves, should be able to as well. However, those people fail to take into consideration that wolves are outside all. Damn. Day. Every. Damn. Day. Our sweet fur babies are spoiled! They’re inside for most of the day, and their paws are far more used to hardwood floors and carpets than they are to rocky, rough trails. I use Musher’s Secret Paw Wax to keep my dogs toes safe on shorter hikes of under five miles. On hikes of over five miles, or hikes in extreme heat or cold, your dog should absolutely wear booties. Make sure the boots are sized appropriately; REI will allow you to bring your dog in-store to try on different sizes.
In cold weather, your dog should wear an insulating jacket or vest. If it’s snowing I highly recommend boots. Snowy trails can be salted during maintenance, and the combination of ice and salt can be extremely painful and result in lacerations and blisters on your dog’s paw pads. My dog wears mushers secret when we’re hiking in untreated snow, and boots when we’re hiking in potentially treated snow, like at an alpine resort.
My dog wears a pack that contains his food, first aid kit, poop bags and water. It took some trial and error – we went through four packs before we settled on a Kurgo pack that’s really well balanced and comfy for him. (See below for Wes’ packing list). Your dog’s pack should never weigh more than 10% of his body weight.
7. Don't assume that everyone on the trail likes dogs.
You may love your dog, but there are hikers out there that have had truly traumatic experiences with dogs. It’s your responsibility as a dog owner to be considerate of that. Don’t let your dog go running up to someone without first asking if they’re okay with dogs. Shouting “don’t worry he’s friendly” while your dog goes barreling, unchecked, up to a stranger is not enough. If you see someone approaching you and your dog, you should ask your dog to sit or stay right next to you and ask the approaching hiker if they’re okay with your dog coming to say hello. Respect the answer. If they say no, then you should hold onto your dog or keep him or her on a tight leash until the hiker has passed. It’s even better if you pull over to the side of the trail and stay stationary until the hiker has passed. Even if your dog doesn’t mean any harm, it can still appear threatening to a frightened hiker if they’re continuing to approach at the end of a long leash.
8. Check the weather before you go out and practice the 5 second rule.
• The 5 Second Rule: if the ground is too hot or cold for you to comfortably place your palm flat on the ground for 5-10 seconds, it is not suitable or comfortable for your dog.
• Check your dog’s paws regularly for signs of blistering. Be aware that the ground will be hotter as the day goes on. Just because the ground was okay at 9 AM, does not mean it will be okay at 1 PM.
Your dog should not be hiking in over 85 degrees under any circumstances. If you check the weather on the day of your hike and notice that the temperature will be higher than that, leave your dog at home. Your dog’s life will never be worth it. The trail will always be there.
8. Know when your dog has had enough.
You know your dog best, but dogs will always want to please you - some dogs will literally walk themselves to death to avoid disappointing you. It is YOUR responsibility to make sure your dog is okay!! They will NOT let you know!! A hike is NEVER worth your dog’s life!! The trail will always be there.
9. Know the basics of dog first aid, including symptoms of heat stroke.
• Carry a dog specific first aid kit that included a tic twister, wound wash, and gauze wrap.
• Dogs CANNOT take certain human pain medications. They can be toxic to dogs and cause nausea, vomiting, lethargy and eventually organ failure and death. Check with your vet for the appropriate medication and dosage.
• Carry a thermometer with you to stick up your dog’s butt to monitor his temperature when needed. A normal temperature for a dog is 101-102 degrees, if it’s past that stop immediately and allow your dog to cool down. Do not continue.
• Perform an extensive check for Spanish needle grass, which has a sharp pointed seed that can become lodged in the dog’s body and cause serious damage - they travel through the dog’s body and are very difficult to remove if not caught in time
• Symptoms of heat stroke in dogs include:
Bright red tongue
Very red or pale gums
Thick, sticky saliva
10. If you’re taking your dog backpacking, make sure you remember everything on your packing list!
Wes' Packing List:
Kurgo Tru-Fit Harness
Kurgo Baxter Dog Backpack
Primal Pet Gear Hands Free Leash (Amazon)
RuffWear Grip Trex Booties & Socksο REI Dog First Aid Kit
*I added a Tic Twister (amazon) and gauze paw wrap (CVS)
Musher’s Secret Paw Wax
An LED collar light
Two 16 Oz Water Bottles
*Wes carries 16 oz. of water in his pack, and I carry the rest of his water
At least 4 poop bags
A bear bell
Not pictured: 2 bags of food and a small bag of treats. He never carries more than two bags of food. If we’re going on a longer trip, I carry a large bag of food in my pack.
It’s important to remember that your dog shouldn’t carry more than 7% of it’s body weight. For Wes, that’s just under 4 lbs.