Do You Hike With Your Dog(s)? Here are 10 Things you Need to Know for a Successful Day on the Trail

Category: Plan + Prepare

We took our previous dog, Dakota, on many hikes, but that was before I realized he could be seen as a threat to bears and potentially as prey by cougars. Our current dog, Millie, doesn’t join us for many hikes, but when she does, these are the ten best practises that we follow.

1. On-leash – no excuses!

That means that you are physically holding onto a leash that is attached to the dog.  A “verbal leash” doesn’t count.

two boys on a hiking trail with two dogs.

All dogs, and pets – even your pet ferret, must be on a leash in both Alberta Provincial Parks and Canadian National Parks

young boy with a dog and ferret, Jasper
We met this duo in Jasper, 2013. Both are on-leash.
My son wanted a Ferret after this – he finally stopped asking a few years ago.

Fines for off-leash dogs vary from $115.00- up to 2000.00. Repeat offences can lead to a ban from all parks, as well as a court appearance. As a matter of fact, in April 2016, a woman was fined $1,000 for repeat offences of having her dog off-leash in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

The National and Provincial Parks are there to protect the natural ecosystems and the plants and animals within those ecosystems. A dog running off-leash can cause a lot of damage to sensitive grasslands, plants and flowers. Keeping your dog on a leash also reduces any risk of injury to your dog from wildlife, such as porcupines, deer, elk, skunks or coyotes.

2. Pick it up and pack it out!

Several years ago, I had a long discussion with a Conservation Officer about the problem with dog poop, and why it is a bad idea to leave it on the trails.  

  •  It is unsightly and smelly and hard to get out of the treads on your hiking boots.
  • It can be a source of food for bears, coyotes and other animals.  Why? The dog food we feed our dogs is very high in protein, and that protein gets passed along in the poop, resulting in a meal for a hungry bear – (Yum, Yum!) which, in turn, will likely lead them to associate dogs and humans with food sources. Not a good idea!

Eventually, it will start to decompose – won’t it?

Unfortunately, complete decomposition takes a surprisingly long time in the Canadian Rocky Mountain climate.

dog poop in a bag in a tree trunk, ontario
Leaving bagged dog poop doesn’t only happen on Mountain trails. Halton Falls trail, Ontario, October 2019.

I have taken a close look at what I thought was mouldy fungus, only to realize that it was decomposing dog poop.  

Dog poop can also carry invasive parasites that could harm wildlife and other dogs. 

Please bag it and carry it out with you. Too many trails are sprinkled with waste bags left by well-intentioned people who forgot to pick them up again on the way out.  

Double bag if you don’t want a mess, or better yet, use a makeshift “poop tube” to carry out all waste, both dog and human. 

3. Dogs- may be seen as a threat or prey by wildlife

Winter 2018, an off-leash dog chased a moose in Kananaskis country, which put the moose under a lot of stress.

In the winter, the moose in K-Country are notorious for licking the salt off of parked cars. Several years ago, we snowshoed the Sawmill Creek trail in Kananaskis.  We had  Dakota with us. As usual, he was on-leash, which was a good thing, as a moose was standing in the trees deciding which car she was going to “lick clean.”

Smaller animals, like squirrels, chipmunks and mice, are also in danger of being injured or eaten by an off-leash dog.

4. Bears and dogs are never a good mix

Do not travel on trails that have posted Bear In Area signs – that is asking for potential trouble.

If your off-leash dog does come across a bear, chances are your dog will come running back to you, potentially with a 300 lb, very angry, black bear chasing it!  FYI….a bear can run 15 m/sec, can you?

Some bears may ignore your dog and continue doing what bears do – eat and keep on eye on you. Trust me, and the bear knows you are there, so leave the area and give the bear their space. 

A bear that as had a previously bad experience with another dog may become defensive and charge, even if your dog is on-leash and under control. If a bear charges – deploy your bear spray!  

dog walking on a trail
This trail is one of our regular walking routes. To avoid any potential for dog/bear conflict, we went on one of our other walking routes.

5. Not all people like dogs, and not all dogs like each other.

I have been fortunate to own dogs that want to share their puppy love with as many people as they can. Sadly, that love isn’t always reciprocated, and that is okay.  As a dog owner, I am very respectful and understanding of that.

My old dog, Dakota, joined us on many family hikes, he loved every one!  Most of the time the other hikers I met on the trail were okay with dogs,  but there have been times when the other party has indicated that either their dog isn’t friendly, or that a member of their party isn’t comfortable around dogs.   In those situations, I stepped to the side of the trail and kept Dakota close while the other party passed.

If you know that your dog tends to be “bossy” with other dogs or people, perhaps pick less popular trails, hike on off-times, or consider other non-hiking options.  

6.  Leave your dog at home if it’s hot and humid

Remember, your dog is wearing a fur coat!

Dogs expend more energy in a short amount of time, so they get hot and dehydrated faster than humans. The larger the dog, the higher its core temperature.

On a hot, humid day, even a well-shaded trail can offer little comfort to a furry dog.

Alternatively, hike with your dog during the cooler parts of the day: first thing in the morning or later in the evening.

dog sitting in water
Wallace,  a rescue that we regularly took hiking, loved to lay down and cool off in the water!

7. Pack water and a drinking bowl

Not all trails are within proximity to water. Ha Ling Peak and Mt. Lady Macdonald in Canmore are two trails that I regularly see dogs on, neither of these trails is close to a water source.  I have seen many tired and exhausted pooches on both these trails.

When you pack your water, pack some extra for your dog. Also, pack a collapsible dog bowl or another way for the dog to drink the water.

Keep in mind that not all water from streams and lakes is safe for dogs to drink, particularly if you happen to be hiking or visiting an area where there could be blue-green algae, which is toxic to dogs.

8. Pack doggy treats

Your dog is also working to get up those trails,  bring him some extra doggy trail mix as well.

dog treats
These are Millie’s favourite treats!

9. Know doggy first aid & hike within your dog’s physical ability

The most common dog injuries are cut paws and insect bites. You can use many of the supplies that you have in your first aid kit: gauze bandages, gauze sponges, adhesive tape, antiseptic lotion.

Check out the Calgary Humane Society’s link for a DIY Canine First Aid Kit.

dog with a swollen muzzle because of a bee sting
Millie, after getting stung by a bee. Thankfully, this didn’t require a trip to the vet.

Here is a helpful article on what to do if your dog gets stung by a bee. Check this article on how to deal with dogs that get stung by bees.

Do a Tick Check on your dog before you put them in the car.  Make sure to check their paws for ticks as well. Speak with your vet about preventative tick medication for your furry friend as well.

Hike within you dog’s physical ability

Take your dog on trails that are in their physical ability. An overweight dog, or a young puppy, probably won’t do well on a long, steep trail. Just like us, they too need to work up to longer hikes.

10. Training goes a long way!

Millie has us well trained, but we need more! She has decided that squirrels and chipmunks are fun to chase, which has caused some issues for both herself and the person holding onto the leash. Not to mention what she might do if we come across a bear or an elk on the trail.

FYI- several elk had their babies in our Canmore neighbourhood. To avoid any issues with the momma elk, we took Millie to the fenced dog park for her exercise.

dog sitting in the grass
Millie – fixated on a mouse in the bush.

We will be starting some lessons with CW Canine Consulting, a dog trainer in Devon, Alberta, very soon! 

Happy Hiking!

Leave a comment