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Keeping your dog safe while hiking the trails

Hiking with dog on Footprints in Time Trail Bonnechere, Summer 2015 Photographer: Evan Holt

Courtesy of Ontario Parks-

The beauty of a hike does not need to be enjoyed alone; your dog can be a great companion as you adventure through your favourite park.

Do it well by planning before stepping foot, or paw, on the trail.

Choose the right trail

A little preparation will go along way when it comes to your dog’s well-being. Before venturing on a trail, consider the difficulty of the hike and the ability and experience of your dog.

Female hiking with on-leash dog along Fen Lake Trail, Blue Lake, 2017 Photographer: Evan Holt

If your dog has never hiked before, prepare them with longer walks on tougher terrain. Build up stamina and toughen paws by going longer distances each time.

If your dog struggles to complete a walk or has difficulty with mobility, a hike might not suit the dog.

Look for places that are easy on the paws. This includes shady trails with soft leaf- or needle-covered terrain. Stay away from paths littered with sharp rocks, steep drops, or areas with heavy mountain bike use.

Carry the right gear

A dog can take the weight off your back, literally.

A fit dog can carry one third of its weight in gear. This is an opportunity to fill the dog’s pack with dog food, treats, water, bowls, and extra gear for you if there is room.

Woman crossing a boardwalk with a dog

Other necessities include bandages and antiseptic for wounds, a liquid bandage for split or cut paws, and tweezers for tick removal. All these items ensure a safe trip for your dog.

Saddlebags and backpacks are sold by many reputable outdoor companies, and come in several shapes and sizes to fit the needs of your dog. It is important to adjust the saddlebag, so it is snug, but not so tight that it chafes. You should be able to fit two fingers under the straps.

The best way to protect your dog from cuts and wounds is to use dog boots. With a good pair of boots on their paws, it will be much easier for dogs to adjust to the terrain, especially if they are indoors most of the week. Invest time searching for the right pair of boots and consider how often you’ll go hiking and the type of terrain you’ll be encountering.

Other items to bring include a comb, a small towel, and a brush for invasive species removal.

Be a responsible dog owner

While on the trail with your dog, be mindful of wildlife and other park-goers.

Keep your dog on a leash, unless you’re visiting an off-leash trail, beach or exercise area.

Stay on marked trails. Dogs (and humans) can disturb sensitive protected areas and species when the wander off a trail.

Dog drinking on campsite tent in background Driftwood PP, July 2015 Photographer: Evan Holt

When you encounter others on the trail, step aside and yield to ensure safety.

Abide by the mentality of “leave no trace.” Bag all waste, and dispose of it appropriately.

Don’t let your pup spread invasive species

Invasive species have many pathways of spread. For instance, invasive plant seeds move easily in soil, so muddy boots or vehicles can move invasive plant seeds.

Some seeds have special hooks to help them hitch a ride. Thus, invasive plant seeds can spread on our shoes, socks, clothing, and pets.

Learn more about invasive plants and how they spread.

Dogs are especially susceptible to contributing to the spread of invasive species. Insects or seeds of invasive plants can easily attach to your dog’s fur or paws, and ultimately spread to new areas.

Once you finish your hike, carefully inspect your dog’s paws for any dirt or seeds and use a towel to remove any debris. Use a fine comb to filter through your dog’s fur and remove any dirt, plants, seeds, or bugs. Finally, use the brush to give your dog a last final cleaning.

Check out this video for a demonstration:

Invasive species can easily travel through your gear and hiking boots as well. After your dog has been taken care of, clean dirt and debris off your gear and brush off your hiking boots.

As an added precaution, we recommend that you bring an extra pair of shoes to wear home. That way, you can wash your boots immediately upon returning.

Together, you and your pet will enjoy a hike and be an invasive species fighting team!

We’re counting on everyone to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 by following the advice of public health officials.