5 Hiking Hazards for your Dog (and what to do about them)

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

1. Critters

“Bear” with me here - skunks, ticks, porcupines, snakes and wildlife can all pose a hazard to you and your pet while adventuring.

Three commands are essential for an adventure buddy: emergency stop, leave it and recall. Teaching your dog to e-stop (emergency stop) can help prevent a possible disaster when you encounter wildlife, especially if you have a dog who likes to chase or hunt critters. A leave-it command would also be useful in these situations. A dog with a solid recall can be called off wildlife.

Remember to always keep yourself safe when hiking with your dog and encountering wildlife.

Check your pup thoroughly for ticks after your hike or at the end of the day. Ticks can be tiny (pin head) or larger and easier to see - a brush or comb might be useful, depending on your pets fur. If you find a tick that is attached, use your tweezers to gently grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pull it gently off. You never want to crush, squeeze, yank or try to burn a tick off, as this can push the contents of their body back into your pet, increasing the chances of disease. Once removed, kill the tick with alcohol or crush on the ground. Wash the bite area on your pet with soap and water or a cleansing wipe. Wash or sanitize your hands immediately.

If your pet is quilled by a porcupine, do not attempt to remove the quills in the field. Quills have microscopic hooks or burrs on them that prevent them from being pulled out cleanly. Don’t cut or crush them either, as that can make them even harder to remove at the vet. Keep your pet calm and get to a vet as soon as possible. Do your best to keep your pet from pawing or chewing on the quills.

Snake bites can be challenging. Know the types of snakes in the area that you are traveling and consider the rattlesnake vaccine if you hike with these snakes. Please remember that this vaccine is NOT a prevention or cure. It simply slows the venom spread. THE ONLY CURE FOR A POISONOUS SNAKE BITE IS ANTI-VENOM! Remove any tight fitting harnesses, collars, boots or clothing from your pet and if possible, carry them to your vehicle. Go straight to the vet. Do not try to suck the venom out or bandage the area. Keep your pet as calm and still as possible to limit venom spread. Snake avoidance training can be extremely effective for your adventure pups!

2. Humans

Sometimes humans cause some of the biggest hazards we encounter when we hike with our dogs. Litter, hunters, trappers, other recreationists…the wilderness attracts others for many of the same reasons it attract us, and though we sometimes wish it was all ours, we must share.

Litter can be a hazard if your pet likes to snack on trash. Teaching your dog to “leave it” and participating in trail clean up programs are the best ways to mitigate the litter hazard. If you notice broken glass around your trails, keep your dog from walking on it as it can easily cut their paws. Always use thick gloves if cleaning up broken glass. Do your part to keep our wilderness clean by packing it out, always.

If you hike or camp in known hunting areas, pay close attention to hunting seasons. Wear neon orange clothing and buy your dog a neon vest to help identify yourself. Animal traps and snares are extraordinarily dangerous to our pets as they are made to grab and hold an animal, no matter how they struggle. Trapping is outlawed in many places, but some people still do it on private property or in spite of the law. Our advice is to stay away from areas that allow trapping and report any traps you notice on public lands to the authorities immediately. Never attempt to touch or set off a trap, many of them operate in ways that are not straightforward and you don’t want to injure yourself.

Other recreationists can pose a hazard to you and your pets, particularly in multi-use areas. Four-wheelers, snowmobilers, horse back riders, mountain bikers and others may not always pay attention while on the trails. Keep a sharp eye and ear out for others on trails and be sure to recognize yield patterns. It can also be helpful to teach your pet to yield to others by moving off the trail and sitting until they pass.

Courtesy recommendation: if hiking near horses, always sit and leash or physically hold your dogs collar while the horses pass. Many horses are conditioned to dogs and are comfortable with them around, but if your dog were to dart under a horse or run behind them, there is a chance that they could spook and harm you, your dog, their rider or themselves. Better safe than sorry!

3. Weather

If you are an experienced backcountry enthusiast, you know how quickly the weather can deteriorate. Literally in the blink of an eye! Always pack an extra layer for yourself and an emergency blanket (plus other survival supplies) when venturing into the back country. It can snow any time of year in the high country, so be sure to pack thoughtfully. Teaching your dog to carry a pack can help spread the load, just remember to get a well fitting pack and check it often.

If you find yourself in the midst of a lightning storm, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your dog. Firstly, get your dog on a leash immediately. Out hiking, the thunder can be deafening and you don’t want your pup running off in a storm. Next, if you are near a building or car, enter and stay inside until the storm has passed. Note that areas with just a roof, like picnic pavilions, will not offer you safety in a lightning storm!

In the event that you are not near any structure, leave your pack and poles at least 50 feet away from you (metal frames and poles are dangerous in lightning) and seek shelter away from any tall trees or exposed ridges. Get to a low spot in the terrain and crouch on the balls of your feet, with your dog between your legs. Stay vigilant, watch for signs of flooding or worsening conditions. If you seek shelter, be sure you chose the lowest possible stand of trees. Natural caves and overhangs can provide some shelter from rain, but nothing can prevent lightning strikes. Keep a good hold on your dog for the duration of the storm and stay calm, sing a song, recite a poem or chat with your pup to comfort each other.

4. Injury/Illness

It’s possible that your pet might experience an injury out in the wilderness. The most common are broken toe nails, cuts and scrapes, and cut pads. Always keep a complete first aid kit with you (human kits can be used for pets, with a few additions). It is also wise to keep a dog boot with you when adventuring, in case you must bandage a paw and your dog has to walk out on it. A boot will keep the bandage dry and clean while you get out.

If you or your pet experience an injury in the backcountry, use a leash for the duration of the event. The last thing you want is for your pup to run off when you or they need medical care.

Year round conditioning can help prevent sprains and strains on your adventures. Remember that even a very fit dog needs some time to adjust between seasons, types of footing, temperatures and altitude!

5. Conditions & Environment

The very nature of where we go to bring about a few hazards. Foxtails are a major problem for adventure dogs in a good portion of the United States, particularly in the late summer/fall as they dry out and begin to fall off the stem. If hiking near foxtails, be sure to check your dog closely and give them a good brushing.

Burs and stickers can be an annoyance for long or curly coat dogs. Keep them out of the brush if possible and remove burs as soon as you notice them, as if left in the coat, they will burrow into the fur and become very hard to remove.

Most dogs love to roll in nasty things, particularly other animals poo or carcasses. Use your leave it command to keep your dog away from smelly things. Some dogs adore eating deer or horse poo as well, so redirect their behavior with a treat or leave it command.

Safe adventuring!

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