4 Unfabulous Things to Consider Before Adventuring with Your Dog!

Dr. Julie Stafford
things to consider hiking with dogs backcountry

We all like to think about the awesome, epic, fabulous journeys we will take with our fur buddies; tail high and waving, tongue out and hanging, coat glistening in the sun with picture-perfect backdrops. But as an ever optimist, sometimes I have to force myself to consider all parts of a trip before taking a dog (or cat/ horse/ goat/ alpaca/ llama) with me. Unfortunately, these aren’t the heroic, life-saving measures that I will take to save my friends’ dog on the trail, forever garnering me with affection and admiration from our friends (dreamer much?). It’s far more mundane than that.

So here are the four most UN fabulous things to consider before taking your critter with you on your next adventure:


1. Plan

things to consider hiking with dogs backcountry

Does your trip REALISTICALLY allow for safe and fun adventures with your dog? This is an easy mental exercise: think from beginning to end — or you can go through who, what, where, why, and how — to decide how fur friendly your plan is; then come up with recognized risks/ risk mitigations.

Beginning to end can look a little like this: Driving to trailhead. Hiking 6 miles in on established dirt trail. One water crossing that should be shallow/ low flow. Two sites to refill water, hiking along stream for approximately half of trail. One overnight above treeline . Sleep in tent, dog in vestibule with leash tethered. Bear can for food. Return. 

Or, the W’s method: Who? (myself, dog - may run into other hikers, dogs, wildlife), What? (driving, hiking, water crossing, camping, cooking), Where? (creek trail - Alaska, above and below tree line, alongside water), Why? (weekend recharge and dog exercise), How? (self-propelled).

Possible conditions include: rain, snow, wildlife encounters, or higher than expected water crossings. Risks to dog/ self are minimal and include paw injuries, sprains or strains, wildlife encounters, sketchy water crossings; exposure is a pretty unlikely risk with a husky. Bring paw first aid, bear spray, harness and leash; if water crossings too high, plan to turn around.

2. Risk Tolerance 

things to consider hiking with dogs backcountry

This is a bit of a challenging consideration because it takes some soul searching. How tolerant of permanent injury/ fatality are you? If something happens to physically disable or even cause the death of your dog, will you be able to live with it? This isn’t a judgy thing.  It’s different for every person, and it’s important to respect that. 

For some people knowing their dog was injured as a result of their plan will send them into a spiral where their week, month, or even year is ruined. Other people take a more wild and free approach — if their dog is permanently injured or dies doing something they love, at least they were living life to the fullest. Again, I want to stress BOTH ARE OK, but be sure you are being honest with yourself because this is often where the red/ green light will ultimately be decided. 

As someone who sees all the ways that dogs can be injured and feels extremely responsible for the health of animals around me, I am pretty risk averse. If my outdoor activity has any moderate to significant risks, I leave the pups at home. While some of my more risk tolerant friends may tease me, I find I have more fun and less stress doing these activities dog-free. If spending some quality weekend time with my pooch is important to me, I plan a more dog-friendly adventure.

3. Physical Fitness

things to consider hiking with dogs backcountry

Here is the deal. Your dog will ALWAYS try to make you happy. They may not succeed, but they will always try. And yes, even if they are dancing and prancing away while you are getting frustrated, and they aren’t doing what you ask, they are trying to make you happy. It is a way of them trying to diffuse the anger in the situation … dog behavior is complicated. 

So, when I decide I’m going to punish myself with grueling mileage over the weekend because I was sedentary all week … I’m probably punishing my dog too. As a veterinarian let me tell you, the ‘stop’ button for animals is EXTREMELY high; this means your pet won’t indicate when they have had enough.  

Even domesticated animals still do everything they can to avoid showing injury/ weakness as it can make them prey. You have to use your big human brain for critical thinking and make the right decisions for your animal.

Some of these decisions should be made with your veterinarian. Every animal should have a yearly physical exam, regardless of what age they are. As your dog gets older, or if s/he has a medical condition, these exams may need to happen several times throughout the year. 

All domesticated animals (except maybe parrots) age faster than we do; their life span is shorter. This means your pets’ condition can drastically change from one year to the next and the best way to keep them healthy is to address changes early in the course of disease. Work with your vet and make sure you are doing right by your critter when you are taking them out 

Pro-tip: the USA is experiencing a SEVERE veterinary shortage at the moment. Expect it to take a month or two to get in for a routine physical and please be patient. If you are feeling extra generous, food and coffee offerings are extremely appreciated! We never have time to take a lunch break.



4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

things to consider hiking with dogs backcountry

This one is easy.  Be a responsible and respectful dog hiker. Not every dog is happy-go-lucky and not every person loves dogs, so be respectful when you are passing other people or animals on the trail. If you see a dog coming toward you that is leashed, leash your dog. Yes, your dog may be friendly, but the other dog may not be, or maybe it’s been injured, or maybe they just passed a moose/ bear/ deer/ wildlife hazard. Whatever the cause, it’s always better to have your dog on leash. 

Pick up poop on the trail. Don’t let your dog into drinking water areas.  Contain your critter so they aren’t annoying other camps. Have control over them when passing people. There is nothing more embarrassing than hiking with someone who lets their dog run all over the trail, pooping everywhere, jumping on hikers, and then lamely shouts out “he’s friendly!” Don’t be that person. Be respectful.


Ok, now that we’re through the boring stuff ... GET OUT AND HAVE FUN! Adventuring with your four-legged friends strengthens the human-animal bond, is good exercise for both of you, and furry creatures make excellent space heaters during colder nights in the outdoors. 

things to consider hiking with dogs backcountry


things to consider hiking with dogs backcountry Dr Julie Stafford Vet

Dr. Julie Stafford is a veterinarian with a passion for the outdoors. After spending 5 years in a clinical veterinary setting, she decided to take her skills to the road and now owns and operates 2 Tails Veterinary Services out of a sprinter van that travels a 12,000 sq mile swath across Alaska. As a vet she focuses on education and preventive health, believing that teaching clients animal wellness is the best antidote to illness.

Both a veterinarian, and a certified Wilderness First Responder, Dr. Julie realized there is a severe lack of resources available regarding wilderness medicine for animals. She created K9 Wild Med to educate and empower people to safely recreate with their four legged family members. Tag along with the vet-van life @2tailsvet and follow @k9wildmed for more canine wilderness safety.

Stay tuned for next week’s article from Dr. Julie, The 4 Most Common Injuries When Packing with Pups!

Trail talk


Kim Kremer

Kim Kremer

I adopted an 11-week old border collie/pitbull/bullmastiff mix last October with the hopes he’d be my hiking buddy. I’m still working on training him to be a good trail dog. (Repeated extreme heat waves this summer have put a crimp in our training.) I’ve thought through most of these questions as I’m the neurotic over-planner type, and because I know how important it is that a dog be properly trained – both physically & in the manners department.

Truth be told, I fear we’re a long ways off. He’s a year old now, and we’re still working on impulse control. I fear him unintentionally injuring me because pulled me off my feet on a steep or sketchy trail. I have to balance my fear of things going wrong against the knowledge that he’ll only learn trail manners if we practice them out on the trail.

But I look at the how he puts his trust in me and does something that scares him, and the way his body language changes when he’s done that scary thing, and my heart just melts with pride.

milton midis

milton midis

well written and thought out article. One really thoughtful comment which this provoked—your dog WILL frighten off wildlife as they are sensed as a predator

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