I’m happy you’re here!

I’ve been hiking with my dogs for 20 years and it’s one of my favorite activities.

Here, I share my knowledge to help you get out on the trail safely with your own dog.

Disclaimer/Disclosure: I am not a doctor, veterinarian, nor a physical trainer. I’m just sharing information based on my experience and research. Check with your doctor and veterinarian before starting a new exercise routine with your dog. Also, some of the links below are affiliate links so I may earn a small comission when you purchase.

Physically Prepare

Just like people, if your dog has been sedentary, taking them on a long hike the first time out could cause injury.

It’s important to physically prepare them for this activity.

Here are some of my best tips:

  • Wait until your dog is the appropriate age: 10-12 months for small dogs and 18-24 months for large dogs (see article below)
  • Start with shorter and easier hikes and work up to steeper, longer, and more technical trails.
  • Most healthy dogs can do a 1-3 mile easy hike to start, depending on you dog’s age and base fitness level (how many times a week they already walk)
  • Consistency is key – walk at least 3-4 days around your neighborhood if necessary to avoid weekend warrior syndrome (which can lead to injury)


Creating a Training Plan

In my article above – how to get your dog ready for hiking season – I give you basic tips for turning your couch potato dog into a conqueror of mountains.

The basic concept is that you choose a starting difficulty and distance, set a hiking goal, and write down a weekly plan that takes you from level A to level B, roughly increasing distance by no more than 10-20% a week.

On the way to your goal, incorporate a mix of easier and more challenging walks and hikes in a forward, backward fasion.

Here is an example:

Note: These are your weekly hike mileage goals. In other words, these distances are done once a week all at one time.

  • Week 1 – 2 miles (starting distance you know you can do)
  • Week 2 – 2.5 miles (and increase of about 20%)
  • Week 3 – 3 miles (an increase of about 20%)
  • Week 4 – 2.5 miles (dropping back to the easier mileage here before pushing forward as a “rest” week)
  • Week 5 – 3 miles (back to the previous long distance)
  • Week 6 – 3.5 miles (an increase of about 20%)
  • Week 7 – 4 miles (an increase of about 20%)
  • Week 8 – 5 miles (an increase of about 20%)
  • Week 9 – 4 miles (dropping back to the easier mileage here before pushing forward as a “rest” week)
  • Week 10 – 5 miles (back to the previous long distance)
  • Week 11 – 6 miles (an increase of about 20%)
  • Week 12 – 7 miles (an increase of about 20%)

The mileage above is intended for your “long days” – your hike that ocurrs once a week on approximately (for example, Saturday or Sunday) the same day so that each of these will be a week apart.

You will want to incorporate regular, shorter walks 3-4 times a week (30-45 minutes minimum) to help build a base fitness for a total of 4-5 active days a week.

These walks can be done on a trail or even around your neighborhood.

It’s best if you don’t walk the day before your long hike so your body can rest.

Vary the steepness, or incline, of the hike or walk over time. Start with flatter trails and work up to those where you are hiking uphill more often.

In regard to daily activity, don’t forget to include a warm up period if needed.

For example, if the trail you plan to hike starts out by gaining elevation steepy, you may want to walk around the parking area for 5-10 minutes to warm up your, and your dog’s, muscles before starting.

Important! If at any time you or your dog start to experience pain, illness, or unusual fatigue, please stop your training plan and see a doctor/vet.

Training Plan Examples

If you have experience with fitness training for humans, you probably already have an idea of how to create a formal or informal training plan for you and your dog so you can create one from scratch.

However, for people just starting out, it can be helpful to have a written plan to follow.

Unfortunately, I have not found a good example of a beginner hiking training plan.

But there are running and “race walking” plans you can refer to for basic examples.

  • Pooch to 5k – This one is for running and looks very complicated at first glance. It uses intervals to increase strength and fitness, which is alternating periods of faster and slower in the same activity. Replace “jog” with “walk fast” and it will make more sense. Also, I would consider this a training plan for the time inbetween your long hike days.
  • Camino de Santiago (a long distance hike in Spain) 12 Week Training Plan – you can replace “strength” with another walk. The long walk on Saturday would be your hike. I like that this one gives an example of increasing difficulty.

The important things to note about these plans when creating your own plan:

  • There is always at least one rest day (usually completely off or maybe just easier than the rest)
  • They follow the harder-easier-harder pattern I described above in regard to different days and successive weeks.

What to Bring on Your Hike

The list of what you’ll need to bring on a hike with your dog starts with the things you will bring on a normal walk.

These include:

Other things specific to hiking and/or going for a walk that last more than an hour are:

  • Backpack (human – I don’t suggest that dogs new to hiking wear packs)
  • Water and collapsible water bowl
  • Treats and snacks – for sustained energy on the trail
  • Small First Aid Kit – includes stuff for people and first aid supplies specific to dogs. Here is an example of a large dog + human first aid kit so you can see what is typically included.
  • Small emergency kit – for fire starting and signaling help if something goes wrong
  • Water Resistant Sunscreen (human)
  • Headlamp – in case you get stuck out after dark
  • Cell Phone (consider putting it in airplane mode to conserve the battery). Note: This is for the off-chance that I could actually get reception. Most places you can’t
  • Odor Proof Ziplock Bags or container (optional – to put the poo bag in so it doesn’t stink while you carry it out)
  • Clothing layers for you
  • A jacket for your dog (optional) – this was written for Dachshunds but these jackets will work for most dogs


  • What to Bring When Hiking With Your Dog – more details about the supplies above, including where to buy them, and a list of things I bring if my hike will be over 5 miles.
  • The 10 Essentials List – Emergency and safety gear you should bring on every hike (this list is not dog-specific).

Choosing Trails

There are two primary websites I use to research hiking trails – Washington Trails Association (WTA) and AllTrails.

Both will show the difficulty rating of the hike, elevation gain, whether dogs are allowed, and both have a website and app version.

Both also have a section for trail reports – accounts of people who have hiked the trail before. However, WTA has more reports for more trails and they are typically more detailed.

Both allow users to upload photos so you can get an idea of what the hike looks like. However, AllTrails makes these easier to see all at once (for WTA, you have to click on each indiviudual trail report to see).

Both allow you to filter hikes to find one that meets your criteria. They both work a little differently though.

AllTrails has a clickable topographic map showing the route of the hike.

WTA will tell you what kind of parking pass you need to use.

WTA also has better hike descriptions.

Some notes about selecting trails:

  • There will be mileage descrepancies, and potentially elevation, between sites. Consider what you read to be a close aproximation.
  • Difficulty ratings are subjective. While easy, moderate, and difficult hikes generally describe how hard a hike is, these labels can vary by source. Find and read their rating scale if you can.
  • Elevation gain listed is from starting point to ending point. There can be a lot of ups and downs inbetween. Be sure to read the hike description and/or trail reports to get a more accurate feel for the difficulty of the trail.

Other places to research hikes include the Hiking with Dogs books and online blogs.


Trail Etiquette

The first thing you need to do before choosing a hike is to verify that dogs are allowed on the trails.

In Washington State, the general rule is dogs are not allowed on trails in National Parks and many wildlife refuges.

Dogs are generally allowed on lands managed by:

  • The National Forest Service (except select wilderness areas like the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness)
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • State Parks
  • County parks

Next, you want to make sure to be respectful of other trail users.

This icludes:

  • Following posted leash rules
  • Not allowing your dog to chase or harass wildlife
  • Not letting your dog bark excessively
  • Not letting your dog beg or steal food from others
  • Picking up and carring out your dog’s poop
  • Not damaging the environment (ie. trampling vegetation or digging)

There is also a best practice for when you encounter other users on the trail in ragard to passing and who steps aside:


If your dog is not on a leash, leash them, or at least hold on to your dog’s collar, until they pass.

Yield (step aside to let them pass) to trail users heading uphill.

Horses and livestock

Horses and livestock always have the right away.

Step aside but remain visible and keep talking (even just to your dog) as to not startle them and cause an accident.

Mountain Bikers

Technically, bikers should yield to all other trail users.

However, they’re typically moving faster on two wheels and may not see you until they are right there.

They may be also be on a technical part of the trail where it is unafe to stop.

If you hear them coming, it’s safest just to step aside.


Safety & First Aid

The #1 rule of hiking with dogs is to hike your dog’s hike.

What that means is, when you bring your furry pal along, they set the pace and tell you when they’ve had enough.

When you bring your dog on a hike, their safety and comfort is your #1 priority.

Some other things that will help keep your dog, and you, safe and happy on the trail:

  • Fleas & Ticks – ticks were historically found primarily on the east side of the Cascade mountains but that has changed over the last few years. Talk to your vet about a flea and tick preventative.
  • Appropriate vaccinations – again, talk to your vet. Depending on where you hike, you may want to consider a lyme, rattlesnake, or leptospirosis vaccine for your dog (in addition to the standard vaccinations)
  • First aid kit supplies – always bring at least a small first aid kit with supplies for both you and your dog. The most typical dog injuries on the trail are torn or cut food pads and broken toenails. You can buy or make your own kit. Here is an example of a large dog + human first aid kit so you can see what is typically included.
  • Emergency planning – always have an emergency plan. Tell at least one person where you are going, when to expect you back, and know what you will do if your dog is injured and can’t make it out on their own (or with your assistance).
  • Hiking in inclement weather – watch or hypothermia when hiking in windy (the wind chill can significantly lower the ambient temperature) and cold weather. Watch for hypothermia when hiking in warm or hot weather (anything over 70 degrees).
  • Wildlife encounters – you may encounter wildlife on the trail. Read the article below to know how to handle it when you do.


Expert Hiking Tips


Additional Resources


Online trail finding: