Tips for hiking with your dog

Oreo’s first hike was in Acadia National Park, along the Ocean Path and to the top of Gorham Mountain. The adventure was just days after my boyfriend Derek and I adopted him from the local animal shelter, and we were still piecing together his personality, temperament and preferences. So you can imagine how pleased I was to learn that not only did our new dog enjoy hiking, he was pretty darn good at it. (Watch a video of the hike here).

Oreo atop Gorham Mountain during May 2013.

To be honest, I don’t really know if it was Oreo’s very first hike. But it was his first hike with us. We adopted him when he was about 7.5 months old, and we don’t know much about what his life was like before. But he seemed new to it — hesitant at first, hopping from rock to rock and scrambling up steep slopes. Some sections of the trail puzzled him; he’d stop in the middle of the path and watch me go first, then follow my lead (an act that seemed oddly intelligent). But Oreo gained confidence as we hiked up the mountain, and by the time we were on the descent, I had to whistle and tug on the leash from time to time to get him to slow down.

Oreo and I hiking in Hallowell during June 2013. His collapsable water bowl can be seen sticking out of the back compartment of my backpack.

During our many hikes and in-town walks since, I’ve found that Oreo is better behaved on hiking trails than he is on the side of the road, and perhaps the reasons are obvious.

Walking down the sidewalk, Oreo is often overwhelmed by strange scents, unnatural sounds, fast-moving cars and other people and dogs. Sometimes he barks and gets so excited that he pulls relentlessly on his leash, making for an unpleasant experience for us both. On the other hand, when we’re walking down a forest path, Oreo isn’t as excitable. Forest sounds are natural and soothing, and we only come across other people and dogs on occasion.

Walking on hiking trails is one of the simplest outdoor activities you can do with your dog. It doesn’t require a great amount of skill or gear.

But before embarking on a hike with a dog, make sure to pack a few things:

  • Extra water: On the hike, plan for your dog to need almost as much water as you.
  • Water bowl: The dog needs something to drink from. To save room, purchase a collapsible bowl. I use a collapsible dog bowl made by Maine-based company called Guyot Designs.
  • Energy-rich dog treats: Oreo likes dog jerky, such as Blue Buffalo Wilderness Trail Treats chicken jerky, and he also loves veggie chips made by Science Diet, (which are a lot less messy to handle). Of course, there are a variety of treats sold at your local pet store, and there are also plenty of human snacks that are healthy for dogs. For example, Oreo likes green beans and carrots.
  • Plastic bags: Yes, you need to carry out your dog’s poop. Yes, it’s a little gross. The old fashioned way is to just place a plastic bag (or two) over your hand and pick it up, then tie the bag (or bags) securely. You can then tie it to the outside of your hiking pack or keep it in a compartment (just don’t forget about it).
  • Collar/harness: I hike with Oreo in a comfortable, padded harness. It’s all about personal preference and how your dog reacts to different kinds of restraint. Some people find Haltis (a restraint that loops around the muzzle) most effective, while other people simply hook a leash to their dog’s collar. Oreo seems to pull less if I use a harness. Also, if the trail is getting tricky and I’m afraid he might fall (for example, by cliffs), I hook his leash to both his collar and harness.
  • Short leash: Have you noticed that most trails that are open to dogs display a sign instructing owners to use a leash no longer than 4 feet? There’s a few reasons for that. First, long leashes allow dogs to stray off-trail, trample plants and disturb wildlife. Second, a dog on a long leash is harder to reign in if someone comes around the corner on a trail. (Not everyone loves dogs. I know, it’s shocking.) And even if you don’t care about nature or other people’s right to not be slobbered on, you may curse your long leash when you dog repeatedly wraps it around trees lining the trail. (I’ll write some other time about dogs that are let off leash when it’s against rules clearly stated at the trailhead. That’s a can of worms.)
  • All-natural bug spray, if it’s bug season: Even if you prefer to use something as strong as DEET on your own skin, you really shouldn’t spray it on your dog. Why? Anything you spray on your dog, you’re feeding to your dog. Introduce me to a dog that doesn’t lick his fur — and everything else.
  • Blaze orange collar and vest, if it’s hunting season: Protect your dog. Enough said.
  • Dog coat and booties, if it’s cold out and your dog isn’t built for it: Oreo has short hair, so I’m going to have to bundle him up this winter. We haven’t gone on that exciting shopping trip yet, but it looms in the near future.

One last thing that makes hiking with your dog even easier — a dog backpack. That’s right; A dog can carry his own water and food. I haven’t purchased one for Oreo yet, but I’m considering it. It can be a burden to carry your dog’s water in addition to your own. Many brands make them, including Ruffwear, Outward Hound, Wolf Packs, EzDog, Mountainsmith, Granite Gear and Singing Dog Designs. And since Oreo and I have so many more hikes to embark on together, I figure it’ll be a good investment.

If you have any suggestions for hiking with dogs, please leave a comment in the comment section below.


Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at