Gear Guy

Do you have any tips for taking a dog on trail?

Do you have any tips for taking a dog on trail? I'm taking my dog on her first trip and want to protect my gear without constantly worrying about it. Are those packs dogs wear a good idea? Will she dage the inside of my tent? Kieran Hosey Frankfort, Kentucky

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What is your dog going to do? Chew up your gear when you aren’t looking? Other than that, I don’t think taking a dog hiking poses much of a threat to your stuff. There are a few exceptions, I suppose—sharp doggie toenails might do some damage to a tent floor, and of course that wet dog smell might be a little hard to wash out of a sleeping bag.

Otherwise, taking a dog hiking for the first time is a lot like taking a person hiking for the first time. Remember two things: One, they too need to get in shape for hiking. And two: They didn’t ask to go. So be watchful for the dog’s wellbeing. Start with short hikes, and work up to a few miles so that your dog’s footpads have a chance to toughen up. Parasites can be a problem—ticks in particular—so treat your dog with a full-body tick and flea killer such as Advantage.

On the trail, make sure your furry pal has plenty of water and is not overheating. The latter can pose a particular risk. If your dog is panting excessively, take some time in the shade and offer her a cool drink. And when I’ve hiked with dogs I’ve always packed extra treats for them; they’re burning calories too, of course.

Dog packs are fine, and most dogs can lug about one-quarter of their body weight. That may not be a lot, so in some cases it might be easier for everyone if you just carry their food. But there are some very well made doggie packs out there these days. Ruff Wear’s Approach Pack ($62 to $70, depending on size) would be a good option for shorter trips. Make sure to get a good-fitting pack and start with light loads. Watch for any sign of chafing from the pack. Check the dog’s feet on a regular basis, too—sharp rocks can cut footpads. In some cases a doggie boot may be necessary. Dog Gear Cool Paws ($24 for four) even have a built-in cooling pad that activates when you add water.

As for the inside of the tent, it might be useful to take a lightweight tarp to lay over the floor of the tent for a little extra protection. But tent floors typically are pretty tough, and I doubt that most dogs could do much damage to them.

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