We love pets. A matter of fact, one of our first employees here at Matador was a pint sized dog named Little D. We hit the local trails out here in Colorado every chance we get, and Little D is no exception. We have traveled extensively with dog in tow, and we have more than a few tips and tricks to making it fun and comfortable for everybody. Just last weekend, we welcomed spring with a backpacking trip to Lost Creek Wilderness just south of Denver. We had a great trip! Here are 10 useful tips on how to take your dog backpacking.
1. Get your dog prepared.
In Little D's case, this meant trimming her nails, getting her rabies vaccine boosted, and new flea/tick prevention. If your dog is going to be wearing a pack, you want to make sure you get the right one and make sure it's well adjusted. For harnesses and packs, you should have about 2 fingers worth of room. When loading the pack, ensure it does not exceed 1/3 of your dog's weight and that it is evenly distributed in the right and left saddlebags. If you will be scrambling or bouldering, we suggest leaving the saddlebags behind. In our experience, the extra width can make it difficult to negotiate tight spaces or high jumps. Most importantly, test out new packs and harnesses on short treks before hitting the trails for an overnight adventure.
2. Pick a place.
There are lots of pet friendly trails and parks to visit. We chose Lost Creek because of the early snow melt and their pet policy. Dogs here have to be on a 6 foot leash, so make sure your lead meets the requirements. A carabiner on the end of the leash makes it easy to secure to your waist belt or unhook. Most National Parks do not allow dogs for various well intended reasons. We all need to be respectful of park rules so that we can keep the privilege of taking our dogs places.
3. Beware of the feeties!
Another thing to consider is the ground texture of the trail. Will there be a lot of sharp granite rocks or large rock scrambles? Is there snow or mud? Our biggest concern with Little D is rock, as her feet are relatively soft. You might consider booties, but test them out first. In D's case, we have a tiny pair of homemade socks stowed in case her feet become sore. We also make sure we have many shorter hikes and daytrips under our belt before taking her on longer treks, her feet adapt at the beginning of the season. Other hikers have recommended 3M Pet Care Spray, we have not tested it and instead carry Neosporin and a roll of cotton tape for cuts.
4. Water, water, water.
When your on the trail, consider that your dog might be thirsty whenever you are. Lost Creek is great because of the passing streams in the spring. We hike with water bladders in our bag, which can make it tricky to share with a dog. We use a Platypus Platy Bottle for Little D because it's light, versatile, and can be used to fill a dog bowl. There are lots of packable water bowls for dogs to fill up. For Little D, we have a tiny Tupperware bowl tethered to an elastic that hangs on a backpack for easy access. When there is natural water on the trail, we let Little D drink unless there is livestock nearby. Dogs can get Giardia, and Little D has actually had it before. If your dog starts having symptoms like the runs or blood (ewww) it's time to turn around. Dehydration can set in quickly if your dog contracts a virus from water.
5. Bring more food than usual.
Hiking is hard work. Our vet told us that it is almost as hard to hike as it is to run for a dog, their cardio vascular system is much different than humans. There are some food estimations online, such as 1 cup to every 20 pounds per day. This wouldn't be enough food for Little D, who eats 1/2 cup food each day for her 10 pound frame. So, we bring an extra meal to be enjoyed at lunch alongside some additional treats for each day on the trails. Every dog food will be different, in our experience we bring an extra third for each day. Also, bring your usual food and treats, the trail isn't the place to try a new diet.
6. Keep your kibble away from bears.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's relatively easy to forget to hang your dog's food in the bear bag. This is especially true if you are keeping it in your dog's own pack. Treats might be tucked into pockets or stashed in easy to reach places. Make sure all edibles are cared for. We forgot to feed Little D dinner before hanging our bag last weekend and had to take it down to get her food.
7. Take care of the duty.
Pick up after your dog. If it's a short trip, double bag and pack out the poop. For overnights, follow the guidelines for taking care of human waste. Bury dog poop at an appropriate depth away from the trail and water sources. A small trowel makes this easy. We like this foldable trowel because it's light, cheap, and has a carrying case.
8. Get your sleeping situation situated.
There are lots of options here. Little D, being a small dog, sleeps in my sleeping bag with me. I have a backcountry bed, which is great for sharing space as compared to a traditional mummy bag. I also know some people that use a lightweight double sleeping bag or a kids bag for their dog. Warning: If there is lots of poison oak or ivy, do not let your dog sleep in your bag. We had a trip in Big Sur that ended in a hospital because of this. A foam mat and a small wool blanket make great options for sleeping dogs too, either inside a tent or in the vestibule area. A small microfiber towel is helpful for wiping your dog off a bit if it's wet or particularly dirty outside.
9. Keep your dog in sight.
At night, attach a small LED light to your dogs color to spot them in the dark. Reflective collars are a minimal alternative. Our friend likes this Nightize Carabiner LED light. Since Little D is so small, we use a Light Bender by Nathan that we have sized to slip over her head.
10. Finish in style.
When you have completed your trip, it's good practice to dust of your dog and look for ticks. This is good advice for people too! A nice cold drink and a well earned shower or bath for all parties makes for a adventure well done.