Everything You Need to Know About Hiking With a Puppy

Our family loves going on hikes. We live in the mountains of Northern California and there are plenty of beautiful trails, many of which include rivers, lakes, and streams. Every time we go hiking, it's usually as a big group and my sister's dog always comes along. She enjoys long hikes even more than the rest of us! So when we decided to bring home our German shepherd puppy, Grizzly, we were so excited to hit the trails with him. Of course, we knew we'd have to introduce the new puppy to my sister's dog and wait until he received all of his vaccines. But after that, Grizzly would be ready to hike—right?!

Not so fast. We weren't prepared for just how long it would be before we could go hiking with a puppy, especially when it comes to more difficult trails that cover rough terrain and long distances. If you're as eager as we were to get your new puppy on the trail, there are a few things you need to do to make sure it will be a safe adventure. Depending on your dog's breed and how old they are when you first bring them home, their first hike may not be as soon as you would like it to be. Here's everything to know about hiking with a puppy and how to do it safely.

Dog Vaccines Needed for Hiking

Your pup shouldn't go anywhere that other dogs frequent until they've received their rabies shot and a full set of DHLPP vaccines. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, canine parvovirus and distemper are highly contagious and dangerous diseases. These infections can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nasal discharge, reduced appetite, pain, fever, or even death. If your pup comes in contact with the feces of an infected animal or the surface it's been sitting on, they could potentially become infected. Parvovirus can live on surfaces for up to six months, so you'll want to save the outdoor adventures for after your puppy has been fully vaccinated, usually around 16 weeks of age. Dogs can also get rattlesnake and Lyme disease vaccines, which may or may not be a must-have depending on where you live. Talk to your pup's vet and decide what's best for their safety before hitting the trail.

Using flea and tick prevention is also a must for every dog, but it's especially important if you're taking your pet hiking. With so many different wild animals in the woods, there are bound to be fleas and ticks lurking around. Heartworm preventatives are another medication your dog should be on, whether or not you'll be spending time in the woods. This disease is spread through the bite of a mosquito and can be deadly when left untreated.

Here's When Your Puppy Can Go Hiking

beagle puppy stands with its owner

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The biggest factor that determines whether or not a puppy can go hiking is their age. Puppies and young dogs shouldn't go on difficult hikes or even long walks until their bodies have matured and they stop growing. This usually happens around 12 months for small breeds, but could take up to 18 months for larger breeds. Excessive exercise before that time can put strain on dogs' growth plates and cause health problems later in life, particularly in breeds with a genetic predisposition to issues like hip dysplasia. If you're not sure if your dog has finished growing, talk to your vet about when it's safe to go hiking together.

Once your puppy is properly vaccinated and fully grown, you can hit the the trail—but take it slow. Start with beginner hikes that only take 10 to 20 minutes. Then, work your way up to hikes that take up to an hour to complete.  Once your puppy is strong enough and has the stamina and agility for tougher trails, you can schedule even longer hikes and maybe even an overnight camping trip.

Safety Tips for Hiking With Dogs

Vizsla running on trail with backpack on.

Hiking is a great way to spend time with your dog and can get a lot of their energy out. However, they need to be kept safe. Here are a few safety tips:

  • Go hiking when the weather is cool to prevent heatstroke
  • Keep your dog leashed at all times, unless hiking in a designated off-leash area
  • Protect your dog's paws from extreme cold or heat with booties
  • Beware of foxtails, toxic plants, and dangerous wildlife
  • Follow the rules about hiking with pets stated at each trailhead

Hiking gear is a must-have for avid hikers, but what should your pup take along? Whether you are going for an easy stroll through the woods or a more strenuous climb, you should always pack proper gear for your pooch:

  • Poop bags
  • Fresh water and a water bowl or bottle
  • Treats or food
  • First aid kit with tweezers

Some pups wear a dog pack, which looks like a harness with saddlebags on either side. This is something young dog need to get used to, so you can try having them wear it without anything in it for a couple of hikes before slowly adding in items for them to carry. As your dog gets older, they can wear their dog pack and hold some of their own gear.

Happy tails trails!

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