Pet Care

Safety in the Great Outdoors

Dog sitting by stream in woods


Hiking Safety Tips to Print [PDF]

Many dog parents love outdoor adventures with their canine companions. Dogs’ eager appreciation of nature’s sights, smells and sounds is contagious! But as any seasoned outdoor adventurer knows, it’s important to stay safe while you’re having fun. Whether you hike through the woods, spend the day at the beach or just take your dog for a jog in the park, proper gear and preparation are essential parts of a well-planned outing. Most dogs are rugged and ready for action—but they’re not invulnerable to outdoor dangers. So if you plan to explore the great outdoors with your dog, don’t forget to take appropriate safety precautions.

Get Ready to Go

First, Visit the Vet

Before you embark on your adventure, it’s important to make sure that your dog is healthy enough for physical exertion. Her veterinarian should check for any health issues that may be aggravated by exercise. Here are some size, breed and age considerations:

  • Breeds with short or flat noses (brachycephalic breeds) can have trouble breathing when exercised vigorously, especially in warmer climates.
  • Exercise is great for energetic young dogs, but sustained jogging or running is not recommended for young dogs (under 18 months) whose bones haven’t finished growing.
  • Because large dogs are more prone to cruciate ligament injuries, arthritis and hip dysplasia, sustained jogging can be hard on their joints and bones, too. If you’ve got a large dog, make sure she’s well conditioned for lengthy runs before you hit the road.
  • Once a dog reaches her golden years, osteoarthritis can cause pain and lameness after strenuous exercise. It’s much better to discover that your once-sprightly dog’s joints can no longer handle long hikes before you hit the trail!

Also make sure that your dog has all the vaccinations she needs. A rabies vaccine is required by law in all states, and making sure your dog’s rabies vaccine is up to date is an important precaution to take—especially if your dog might encounter wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats or foxes, which sometimes carry the disease. Some areas of the country pose a higher risk of contracting other diseases, like leptospirosis. If you’re travelling away from home, let your vet know where you’re going so that he or she can update your dog’s vaccines.

Prevent Common Pests and Parasites

Outdoor environments are great, but they’re also a great place to pick up parasites, which are annoying at best. At worst, some parasites can cause serious illness and even death.

  • Fleas aren’t just itchy pests. In some pets, their bites can cause extreme skin irritation and infection. They can multiply until you’ve got an infestation in your house or yard, and once they’ve multiplied, they can be difficult to exterminate. Fleas can also cause fatal anemia in some dogs.
  • Ticks can cause Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, canine anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. These diseases pose a serious threat to your dog’s well-being, and some are contagious to humans as well.
  • Heartworms, transmitted through mosquito bites, can kill a dog if left untreated. Other intestinal worms, such as hookworms and roundworms, can also cause serious health problems. And because humans can host intestinal worms, these parasites can be a significant public health concern.

The good news is that you can find many effective products to protect your dog from parasites and parasite-related disease. Ask your veterinarian for help choosing and using the right products for your dog.

Conditioning for Your Dog

If you decide to take up jogging one day, you don’t just lace up your shoes, leave your house and run a marathon right away. You’ve got to start with a reasonable goal and gradually increase your speed and endurance over time. Though some dogs are in great shape, most canines don’t come ready-made for marathons either. Just like you, your dog needs conditioning to build up her stamina before you ask her to perform activities that require strength and endurance. So if you’re starting a new jogging or cycling habit, or if you want your dog to accompany you on longer hikes, start with short workouts. This is especially important if your dog isn’t in great shape yet. Overweight, thick-coated and short-nosed dogs may overheat more easily than others, and dogs carrying excess weight may be more likely to sustain physical injuries. For specific conditioning advice, speak with your dog’s vet.

Get Out There!

After you’ve made thoughtful plans, it’s time to gather your gear and hit the road!

What to Bring: The Basics

No matter where you go with your dog, you’ll need to bring a few essentials:

  • Identification If your dog reliably comes when called, off-leash romps can be great exercise and a lot of fun. However, no matter how much you trust your dog to stick with you, dogs do get lost. A tempting squirrel darting across a trail, the sound of another dog barking in the distance or just a fascinating scent may prompt even the most obedient of dogs to investigate. Even if you never let your dog run off-leash, accidents happen. Your dog may unexpectedly leap out of your car when you reach your destination and open the door. Sometimes, leashes break or slip out of hands. So it’s important to make sure that your dog always wears a collar with identification and rabies tags. Make sure her ID clearly shows an up-to-date phone number where you, a friend or a family member can be reached. It’s also a good idea to microchip your dog, just in case she loses her collar somehow. To learn more about microchipping, follow this link: http://public.homeagain.com/.
  • Water and a bowl If you’re going to exercise your dog, you need to make sure that she stays hydrated. Bring some fresh water for her and a travel bowl.
  • First aid kit Ask your vet for specific advice about what to put in your dog’s kit. If you’re visiting a location where your dog will likely encounter ticks, consider bringing a tick pick to remove any unwanted “passengers” soon after they’ve hitched a ride: www.1800pixtick.com/americandogtick.htm.
  • Information about the location of nearby animal emergency clinics If you know where you’ll be adventuring, locate nearby clinics in advance, just in case your dog needs fast veterinary attention.
  • Activity-specific gear Read on for recommendations related to your favorite activities.
  • A well-trained dog A number of obedience skills make outings with your dog safer and more enjoyable. Please see our article on Training for Outdoor Adventures to learn about them.

Jogging and Cycling

  • If you plan to jog or bike in the evening, make sure you and your dog are visible to motorists. Consider investing in a reflective leash-and-collar combo.
  • If you want your dog to run next to you while you ride your bike, you can use a special attachment:
  • All of these products keep your dog connected to your bike while you cycle. Some include a safety release that frees her if she stops suddenly or quickly changes direction. Others feature unique designs that prevent your bike from falling over if your dog pulls.
  • If you plan to jog with your dog, check out the Buddy System™ Hands-Free Leash. This product includes a lightweight leash that attaches to a “belt” you wear around your waist.
  • If your dog pulls on-leash when you try to jog with her, consider using a head halter, like the Gentle Leader® Headcollar, or a no-pull harness, like the Easy Walk™ Harness. (It is NOT safe to use these products if your dog is attached to a bike or anything else on wheels.) Please see our article on Walking Equipment for Your Dog to learn more about these products.

At the Beach, in the River and on the Boat

  • If you and your dog enjoy boat or canoe rides together, you may want to invest in a dog life vest like. Not all dogs can swim if they fall into deep water. Although some take to the water naturally, others don’t.
  • If you and your dog are visiting a river, keep an eye out for snakes. Even if they’re not poisonous, snakes can deliver nasty bites if curious dogs get too close.
  • If you’re visiting the beach, supervise your dog closely when she ventures into the water. Many dogs aren’t prepared for the motion of the waves.
  • Watch out for rip currents, which are most dangerous during high surf conditions. A strong current can quickly carry a swimming dog away from shore.
  • Learn about marine life native to the area you’re visiting. Jellyfish, lionfish, stingrays, Portuguese man-of-war and other animals on the shore or in the water can be dangerous to both unwitting people and dogs.
  • If your dog has light-colored, short fur, she may sunburn easily. Areas with sparse fur, like the face and head, are most susceptible. Before heading to the beach, ask your dog’s vet about safe sunscreen you can use.

Hiking and Camping

  • When hiking through the woods, keep an eye out for horseback riders and cyclists. When you see or hear one coming, move your dog to the side of the path. To learn about teaching your dog polite trail etiquette, please see our article on Training for Outdoor Adventures.
  • Never let your dog run off-leash in hunting areas unless she’s wearing a hunter-orange vest.
  • Don’t use a long leash or a retractable leash if you’re hiking with your dog in wooded areas. Getting tangled in bushes and underbrush is no fun and can even be dangerous.
  • If you’re camping or hiking in colder areas, your dog may need a coat if she doesn’t have thick fur. You can also get her some dog boots, like Muttluks®, or smear Musher’s Secret salve on her paws for winter hikes. Snow and ice sometimes get packed between dogs’ toes, which can be very painful!
  • Watch out for dangerous plants. Some mushrooms, flowers and other flora are highly poisonous to dogs if eaten. Foxtails can cause trouble, too. These sharp, spiky grass seed heads, found in California and other western states, can get lodged in a dog’s skin, nose, ears or eyes. Over time, they may migrate further into her body, making it virtually impossible to remove them. If eaten, foxtails can even burrow into a dog’s throat, causing retching and gagging. It may be best to avoid hiking in areas while these dangerous plants are widespread.
  • If you’re hiking in remote areas, consider attaching some bells to your dog’s collar to warn bears and other large predators of your approach: www.rei.com/product/721998.