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How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog

Backpacking Camping Overnight Mt. Baldy via Ski Hut Trail

It’s no secret to those of us who love the outdoors that dogs are the ultimate adventure companions! Honest and true, hard working and dependable, it’s no wonder that dogs have earned the reputation of “man’s best friend”.  I’m lucky to have two incredible mini-goldendoodles that make my life, and my outdoor exploration, a never ending parade of laughs, fun, and adventure. I’ve been getting a lot of comments and questions from people who are looking to bring their dogs on the sorts of adventures Isla and Lilly get to experience on a regular basis. I figured it would be best to put together a post detailing the process from puppy to trail warrior! We received Isla as a tiny puppy, and Lilly as a 6 month old rescue. It has been incredible to work with two dogs that have very different personalities and have experienced very different childhoods.

National Dog Day
On National Dog Day

**I am not a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer, so all of this advice is coming from a lifetime dog owner with selective breed exposure (only golden retrievers, vizslas, and goldendoodles). Make sure to consult a veterinarian before beginning any exercise or outdoor program with your pooch.**

National Dog Day
Tent Babies

Post Overview:

  • I. Getting Started: Finding a Dog and Raising a Puppy
  • II. Training and Fitness: How To Train Your Dog for the Trails
  • III. Planning and Preparation: How to Plan Your Adventures and Bring the Right Gear

How to trail a dog for hiking and backpacking
Isla and Lilly Being Goldendoodles

I. Getting Started: Finding a Dog and Raising a Puppy

The first thing you’ll need to do if you’re interested in having an adventure companion, is to STOP and THINK. Take at least 6 months to a year to consider if a dog will truly fit into your life. This is a lifetime commitment. Dogs are not toys! Dogs are living and breathing non-human people, with heartbeats and highly evolved emotions. If you’re just looking to get a dog on a whim, or because you think it will be fun, I can’t say this strongly enough, DO NOT get a dog!! Dogs require a lot of love, exercise, affection, training, and attention. Dogs will make a mess of your house, chew on things that are important to you, and go to the restroom on your favorite rug without proper training and exercise. Dogs require quality food, clean water, medical care, and a place in your house that they can call “home”. If you’re not ready for a dog to live with you, and think it’s acceptable to leave your pet chained, leashed, and/or living outside, I repeat, DO NOT get a dog.

Backpacking Camping Overnight Mt. Baldy via Ski Hut Trail
Nonhuman Person

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about puppies. If you’re looking to add a dog to the family, I would strongly suggest looking at shelters first. I understand that this is not for everyone, and many would like to choose a specific breed and raise the dog as a puppy. If you have a rescue, or a dog older than 1 year, skip ahead to section II. For those of you looking to get a puppy and are unsure which breed to get, do some serious research and do not buy a dog from a puppymill. Those who tell you that all breeds are the same are not being honest in my humble opinion. Dogs have been selectively bred for hundreds of years to fine tune certain physical and behavioral traits. This is very important when finding the right lifetime companion. I’ve seen in my experience that many breeds can handle the physical demands of hiking and backpacking, but there are obviously certain breeds that perform better than others. Isla and Lilly are only 29 and 22 lbs respectively, so don’t think this is only an activity for the big dogs.

DSC05437
Snow Dogs

The first thing I look at and talk about when discussing dogs is disposition. To me, nothing is more important. I won’t get too much into it, but below I’ll list the top six breeds I’d recommend as pure breds or mixed as mutts. Mixed breed dogs are great, and tend to be more healthy long term, when compared to pure bred dogs.

  1. Goldendoodle/Labradoodle- These dogs are just Golden Retrievers and Labs mixed with a poodle. They are incredibly friendly, highly athletic, great with adults, children, and other dogs. I’m completley biased here, as I have two myself, and have loved every single doodle I’ve ever interacted with.
  2. Golden Retriever- A strong hiker, very athletic, great disposition. Great with kids and people. Great with other dogs.
  3. Australian Shepherd- A very strong hiker, highly athletic, so intelligent they can be seen as mischievous. Great with adults, very good with children if socialized early. Good with other dogs.
  4. Labrador Retriever- A strong hiker, powerful swimmers, incredibly friendly, great with adults and children. Great with other dogs.
  5. Siberian Husky- Strong and powerful hiker in all conditions, a strong sense of self and independent can be difficult for those lacking the skill and time to train, good with adults, so-so with children, be careful around smaller dogs.
  6. Border Collie- These dogs have incredible intelligence and endless stamina. They require a very active lifestyle.

Honorable mention: Vizsla, Weimaraner, Portuguese Water Dog, German Shorthaired Pointers, Australian Cattle Dog, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog

How to trail a dog for hiking and backpacking
The Mini-Goldendoodles

Most puppies are ready to come home at 12 weeks. If you’re getting a puppy, plan on being very patient. I would recommend not even taking your dog on walks outside until it’s had all of it’s shots. It’s just not worth it to risk your little bundle of joy picking something up. The other side of the patience involves the physical development of you dog. It’s important to allow your dog time to grow and adjust to their changing body without putting intense physical demands on them. Instead, use this time to drill your dog on etiquette and training. Focus on the simple commands like come, sit, and stay, as they will be vitally important when you transition into trail training and and trail recall.

How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Sit and Stay

II. Training and Fitness: How To Train Your Dog for the Trails

Just like the human body, dogs require training and a gradual fitness regimen before taking on bigger tasks. You wouldn’t expect a human to run a marathon without training, so don’t expect that out of your dog. Isla and Lilly are now capable of hiking upwards of 15 miles at high elevation with 5000ft or more of elevation gain, but that’s not how we got started.

How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Let’s Explore!

1.) Phase 1: Months 0-8

As I mentioned before, make sure your dog has all of their shots and is at least 1 year old before beginning phase 1. For me, the first step to getting your dog ready for the trail involves discipline. A well trained dog will make your life easy, and also maintain the quality of enjoyment for others on the trial. I’m a huge proponent of positive training methods, and would strongly discourage violence, force, or aggression in training a pet. I know some people seem to get an ego boost out of being an alpha over their dog, but I’ve found that treating mine like a cherished member of the family goes a lot further. I’m still stern and direct when needed, but I much prefer to reward for positive behavior than to punish for negative. This is critical for training a dog on the trail, as you want them to want to be around you!! You also will want your dog to have great recall and return to you when they’re called to do so. This is not going to happen if your dog is afraid of you.

How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Come When Called

I started on Isla with short walks around the block. I always had a pocket full of treats. Every 20 feet or so, I would call her name and give her a treat. She learned that responding to her name had a positive outcome. She now does this without treats even when she’s wandering far away. I’ve also trained her to do this with a three tone whistle. My training ramped up by using this method at the dog park, in stores, and in crowded places. Isla now knows to focus on me and listen to my voice. When I say “Isla” or give a three tone whistle, she knows to look for me and run to my feet for a reward. This has come in handy many times on the trail when other dogs are approaching or when I feel a certain section might not be safe.

You also need to make sure to socialize your dog! They will be coming into contact with many humans, dogs and other forms of wildlife. Their first time having this exposure should not be on the trail. This will ruin the experience for you and your dog, as well as making it difficult for all of the people you come across.

As a hiker, trail runner, and advocate for the outdoors, I’ve joined the chorus in preaching ‘Leave No Trace’. This goes for our pets, too!  It’s not just about cleaning up your dogs waste. Don’t let your dog disrupt wildlife by chasing down things like squirrels, and don’t let your dog dig up burrows or dens. This is where training and recall are vitally important.

National Dog Day Hiking Dog
Isla At Sunset

This first phase of training is also a great opportunity to build stamina and work with your dog on a leash. Isla and Lilly both started out very well in phase one, and learned all of their basic commands very quickly. Do not move to phase 2, until your dog has mastered phase one. Mastery in my eyes would be a dog that sits and stays on command, shows no aggression towards dogs or humans, turns and runs to you when you call their name, and is able to finish a one mile walk without stopping.

How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Meeting Humans And Dogs

2.) Phase 2: Months 8-12

Now that your dog has all of the behavioral skills needed to coexist with humans and other animals on the trail, it’s time to start building up their stamina and strength. Much like humans, you’ll want to do this very slowly. Make sure to give your dog plenty of rest after their big weekend hike. If they still have a lot of energy after, opt for a day of sprints and frisbee at the park. Crosstraining works great for dogs, too! Below you’ll find a training calendar that I would recommend. Also make sure to refer to the third and final section of this post to read about the gear, food, and water, you’ll want to bring along for all of your K-9 outdoor adventures.

First month: Short walks T-Th, 5 Mile Weekend Hikes Every Other Week

Second month: Short walks T-Th, 8 Mile Weekend Hikes Every Other Week

Third month: Short walks T-Th,   5 Mile Weekend Hikes Every Week

Fourth month: Short walks T-Th, 8 Mile Weekend Hikes Every Week

How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Rain Or Shine

After that forth month, your dog will be ready for just about anything in that 10-15 mile range. Make sure to continue mixing in the cross-training and weekday walks to maintain their stamina and strength.

National Dog Day Hiking Dog
Feeling Strong At Her Igloo

The most important part of training is listening to your dog and keeping a close eye! On Isla’s first big 8 mile hike, she got a little tired on the way up. Even though we wanted to reach the summit, this hike was about her. Keep this in mind, from now on the hikes are about your dog and not about you. After that first hike, Isla has never stopped, and now drags me along when I’m feeling tired. Lilly was a little more of challenge. Being a rescue, she was very malnourished and underdeveloped. On her first 3 or 4 hikes, she hitched a ride in my backpack and worked her way into the outdoor life slowly. She’s a mountain champ now though!

Cucamonga Peak via Icehouse Canyon
Lilly In a Backpack

III. Planning and Preparation: How to Plan Your Adventures and Bring the Right Gear

Planning and preparing for your dog to join you on an adventure requires just as much care and diligence as planning an outdoor adventure for yourself. Your dog can’t access Google to research weather patters, or know how much food and water to bring along for a certain trail. Do not short change your dog and make them suffer for your laziness and stupidity. Make sure to spend extra time planning and preparing for every trip you bring you dog on. Below, you’ll find my essentials for a day hike and/or backpacking trip:

How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Lilly Likes To Eat
  • Water: The size of your dog will determine how much.
  • Food and Treats: Like water, the size of your dog will determine how much is needed.
  • Bowl: For food and water
  • Flea and Tick Prevention: We use Frontline Plus
  • Up To Date Vaccinations
  • Tweezers: For ticks
  • Paw care: I like Musher’s Secret, but boots are another option if it’s not too hot
  • Exit Strategy: Julia and I carry backpacks that would enable us to carry both dogs out
  • Harness: Much safer for dogs as a collar can hurt their neck
  • Dog Backpack: Isla and Lilly are too small for these, but if you have a big dog, they can carry all their own stuff.
  • Leash: Make sure the leash is strong, durable, and comfortable for the dog
  • Insect repellent: I go for the all natural stuff
  • Lights, Bells, or Reflection: Make sure you’ll be able to spot and track your dog if they get away
  • ID Tags, Microchip, Photo ID: Just incase your dog runs off or gets lost
  • Poop Bags: Make sure to pack out your dogs waste. Leave no trace.
  • Jacket: Waterproof and warm layers depending on the weather
  • Life Jacket: If you’ll be near the ocean or a lake
  • First Aid Kit: Yes, just like humans, dogs require first aid as well
  • Sleeping Warmth: A sleeping bag might be best for a big dog, we bring extra down jackets for Isla and Lilly as they’re small enough to be fully covered
  • Sleeping Pad: Make sure to bring a sleeping pad to keep your dog comfortable and off of the hard, cold, or rocky earth
How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Doggy Sleeping Bag

At first I was hesitant to review the dog gear that I purchased for Isla and Lilly, as I didn’t think there would be much of an audience. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of dogs on the trail who look cold, and sadly unprepared. It’s clearly no fault of their own, and maybe their owners just don’t know how much functional gear is out there for their pups. When I started hiking with Isla, I vowed that I wouldn’t spare any expenses for her that I wasn’t willing to forego myself. If it’s not something you would expect a child to go without, don’t expect your dog to go without.

Isla and Lilly’s Pack list (*All affiliate links help support Trail to Peak*):

How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Isla Stays Warm

Once you’ve done all of your trail planning and gear preparation, you’re ready to hit the trial.  There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind, when you’re ready to begin your hike.  Simple Rules to Follow:

  • Keep your dog on a leash: There are certain places where you can go off leash, but make sure your dog is very well trained and has your full confidence
  • 1 to 1 ratio: One dog per human
  • Keep your dog away from standing water
  • Leave no trace
  • Take planned breaks
  • Only go on trails that allow dogs
How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
“I’m ready, Dad!”

After the trip, make sure to do a full head to toe check of your dog. Keep an eye out for fleas, ticks, hot spots, bite marks, burrs, cut paws, or irritations. If your dog has a tick, do not squeeze the tick. Get your tweezers and remove it from the point of contact.

Let me know if you have any questions!
Let me know if you have any questions!

I hope you’ve found my guide to hiking and backpacking with your dog useful. Make sure to leave me a comment or your thoughts in the section provided below. I’d love to hear how others have planned and prepped their dogs for outdoor adventures. Also, feel free to ask any questions you may have. Being a dog parent is one of the most rewarding things humans can do, make sure to enjoy every moment of it!

How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog
Dog Love

I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

47 comments on “How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog

  1. I really enjoyed reading the article and the pictures are great!

  2. Excellent post! Hope you don’t mind if I share it. I have three shelter pups ranging in size from 28 lbs to 62 lbs and I love taking them hiking. We don’t go out for more than about three hours though. They are troopers and always get excited about coming with me. Unlike my husband! One question about your dogs – are they hypoallergenic by any chance?

    • Thanks, Xina! I don’t mind at all, thank you for sharing! So awesome to hear that you have three shelter pups, I’ll bet it’s fun to get all three out on the trails. Yes, my dogs are hypoallergenic and no/minimal shedding. Their hair grows like human hair and we do all of the haircuts ourselves. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun!

  3. Pingback: How To Start Hiking And Backpacking With Your Dog | Journey Taker

  4. What an excellent guide that should be required reading everywhere. Good going, wherever I can I will let people know about this post. 🙂

  5. Very helpful post. My cockapoo and I do go on a short hike. I haven’t tried bringing him for my long hikes yet.

  6. Great pictures! I don’t have a dog, until this post!

  7. Fantastic photography, love the concept of bringing the dog along on hikes, great companions and I expect they love it too.

  8. Great post! As a fellow dog lover, I appreciate those who properly train and care for their dogs. Well trained dogs are happier, because they know what is expected of them! Your dogs are lucky to have you.

    • Thank you! I agree, well trained dogs are much happier and less anxious. They know what’s expected of them, and they love having a job to do.

  9. I am about as “unathletic” as anyone can get. But I very much enjoyed this post which clearly demonstrates your love of dogs. We lost a cherished lab earlier this year. I find the fact that you climb (and relish it) amazing. Thank you for sharing your experiences…and allowing a couch potato to live vicariously!

  10. I’m bookmarking this post for when we end up adopting a dog. It’s very sound advice, and I figure I should learn from your experience! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Love this post! I have an aussie and can vouch they are WONDERFUL hikers 🙂

  12. We have started hiking and camping with our lab mix puppy! So far it has been wonderful! She gets a bit nervous at night with all the sounds and there are times we have to calm her down when she starts those warning type barks. I would love to read more about dog safety in the wilderness. What to do about attracting other wildlife etc…!

    • Congrats on getting started with your pup! My dogs were a bit nervous at night when we first started, too. It goes away after they get used to it.

  13. I really liked this post! Having previously had my own adventure buddy (a lab) my wife and I are starting to make the list for our next companion. Your article has some great tips, so thank you!

  14. Anonymous

    Great article! This will be our GSP’s first year on multiday hikes and I’m stoked to bring her along! We do about two 4 walks a day now but I’m excited to see what she thinks of the alpine. Hopefully she likes it as much as your guys do!

    • I hope so! There are few things as rewarding as hiking and backpacking with your dog. There is something so special about sharing a tent with them after a long day on the trail. Have fun!

  15. I have a goldendoodle who is 3 months old and we have started hiking a small trail by my house once-twice a week, but he is still on leash because he has a hard time coming when called. Definetley going to practice with treats! thanks for writing this ! very helpful.

    • Recall can be tough for a 3 month old, but it’s great that you’re starting so early. Isla was a natural and always came when called. It took a little more work with Lilly. They can’t say no to the treats! Have fun with your doodle!

  16. Anonymous

    I really enjoyed your post – we are taking our 5 month old golden doodle on an overnight hike in a couple of days…many of the online posts absolutely frown on hiking with such a young dog, but we’ve had dogs all our lives and hiking has been introduced at a young puppy age. I found as long as you don’t push it and have room in your pack to fit in your pooch in the event they tire out, then all is good!

    • Hiking with a young dog like that is not a good idea because of the joint and muscle development. The other issue is vaccines. On the other hand, you need to start training them young to give them a good sense of the trail and learning how to act. We started with very small days, but no backpacking. Like you said, as long as you have room in your pack and are vigilant, the pup should be okay. I just tend to lean on the side of extreme caution 🙂

  17. Justin Davis

    Great write up . I would like to add a small breed that is meant for the mountains. The Cairn Terrier. I have a 17 pound muscle man. This amazing friend and I have hiked most of the White Mountains. He is a perfect size for sleeping in my hammock. We have been in some sticky situations. And Baxter has always been a champion.

    • Thanks for the comment, Justin! I had not heard of the Cairn Terrier. I just did a little reading, and they seem like a very robust breed for such a small dog. Being bread to chase quarry between cairns on the Scottish Highlands is quite the job! I’m sure Baxter is an impressive pup!

  18. Our Husky-German Shorthair-Catahoula rescued us when she was 7 mos and has taken us everywhere. I have a classification for peaks as “dog peak”. If it is sketchy for her, I probably don’t want to be there. At our best we did up to 20 mile days. Now at 13 years she is finally slowing down and I miss her company. I always limited her trips to overnight as I didn’t think I could carry all 61 pounds out more than a day. But she did a 3 mile in and 3 mile out a few months ago and we will see how it goes. I adapted a retractable leash with a carabiner and swivel clip to a fanny pack with dog gear and first aid supplies to allow a little more freedom, a 17ft one if it was a seldom visited trail or 6ft if there might be more interactions. The retractable feature means I don’t have to worry about the slack. Great article, thanks. I wish I had found something like it 12 years ago.

    • Wow, at 20 mile days your dog was a real champ. It’s beautiful to see dogs grow old, but I’ll bet it’s tough to hit the trails without her. Give your pup a big hug from Isla and Lilly 🙂

  19. I have a 100 pound 3 year old Pyrenees Malamute mix (also from a rescue) that will go absolutely anywhere I can. He’s amazing at scrambling up and along ledges and through and over rock fields. My hiking friends are amazed. I’ve taken him out to the Winds and Beartooths and hoping to hike the Bob Marshall or Frank Church with him next year. He carries about 15lbs in his pack (all his food and a few other items). I think dogs are a big asset in bear country as I think they’ll pick up their scent and alert you and them so you’re significantly less likely to surprise one. My dog stays out or in the vestibule or sleeps next to me if I’m out under the stars. I’ll hear an occasional bark in the dark when he takes a little patrol. It really pisses me off that the Park Service won’t let them in the backcountry (so I skip the NPs), they’re only been there the last 13000 years!

    • Wow, Matt! You’ve got a big dog 🙂 I’ll bet he’s like an all terrain 4×4. I have mixed feelings on dogs in the NPS. I see why they don’t allow all dogs, as many visitors would not take proper precautions with their pets, which would lead to wilderness degradation and wildlife disruption. I’d like to see a licensing option where one could take their dog to a license test to show they are well behaved and disease free. The NPS could charge a nominal fee, and then only well behaved dogs could enjoy the parks with their responsible owners.

  20. Enjoyed the article very much. I recently did a short day hike of 2.8 miles with my 17 week old Rat Terrier named Maggie. Used a hands free leash from Dakota and carried a daypack with water, treats, and first aid. She has had only two basic training classes so far, but they are intelligent, high energy,and athletic dogs. We took our time and rested frequently. We met 15 other dogs on the hike, all leashed. She did so well and was very excited to be in the woods. The experience was very positive. After reading your article I hope I did not take her out to soon. She had so much fun. Thanks for the advice and helpful info.

  21. It’s refreshing to see other people who take their small dogs on adventures. I have a 21-pound wheaten-poodle mix who hikes fourteeners like a boss. She stays on a leash on trails because picas and marmots activate her inner terrier, and nothing is as embarrassing as being on a busy trail while your dog is trying to dig up the local wildlife! Other than that, I love hiking with my doodle and meeting other doodles on the trail: They are so friendly with strangers and other dogs!!!

    • Thanks, Julie! Small dogs love adventure, too 🙂 I’ve heard a lot of great things about Whoodles! Great to hear yours is able to join you on the fourteeners.

  22. Julie Martel

    You are now a reference for me, as I am planning on adopting a puppy… My first concern about the breed was wether or not it was going to follow me, all the way to the top of the Adirondaks or on the Long Trail, on summer 2018. You see, I was looking for a medium size dog (an American Eskimo probably, or a Shetland Sheppard Dog), somewhere between 20 and 25 lbs. But I couln’t stop thinking about what ifs: what if this dog grows to be on the smaller side of the breed? What if it is too small for the trail and can’t go all the way? What if I have to choose between hiking with my dog and hiking the demanding mountains I love? But clearly, I have been thinking too much, in the wrong direction.

    • Thanks, Julie! The funny thing about dogs, is that their personalities differ in the same way human’s do. Some small dogs are real troopers, and other just want to relax. Breed plays a large roll, but sometimes personality wins out!

  23. How much do your dogs weigh? They are really beautiful!

  24. Thank you for the article! What kind/brand of pack do you have for carrying out your pups? I am shopping around for one and could use a recommendation. Thanks!

    • Drew Robinson

      Thanks, Finley! I am able to carry them out using a few of my backpacks. Both dogs fit well in my UD Fastpack 35: http://amzn.to/2tlQlYE I can also carry them using their Ruffwear Webmaster Harnesses: http://amzn.to/2sQ5MLj At 20 and 30lbs, I can also carry them against my chest.

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