Since June is National Trail Month and many of us are turning our attention from winter sports to camping, we asked one of our friends for some advice. Ruffwear Ambassador and president of the American Long Distance Hiking Association – West,  Whitney LaRuffa (who also goes by the trail name of “Allgood”) was happy to share his top 10 tips for backpacking with your dog with us.

eliot camp

As summer descends upon us, it’s time to dust off the backpacking gear and hit the trail. Here are my top 10 tips for making sure you and your dog have a fun, safe and responsible trip to the backcountry.

  1. Keep it Fun – What might be fun for you in the woods might not be so for your dog. I always watch my dog’s body language for signs that hiking is still fun. If his ears are forward and floppy, tail is wagging, and he has a smile on his face, than it’s still fun for him. If not, we’ll stop for a break, eat, play ball or go for a swim in a lake when it’s hot.
  2. Practice Leave No Trace
    1. Make sure to keep your dog out of springs and water sources for you and others.
    2. Pooh management is important – make sure, just like you, to bury your dog’s pooh off trail and 200’ away from water.
    3. Don’t let your dog dig big holes on the trail or in campgrounds.
    4. Don’t let your dog cut switchbacks – this one takes some work with a leash in the beginning, but once they get it they will always go around.
  3. Keep them Comfortable – My backpack’s padding is actually a ¾ length foam pad that Karluk sleeps on at night. After walking all day your dog needs something to sleep on to insulate them from the ground, and ease any sore pressure on sore joints. I use the Ruffwear Quinzee as a sleeping layer for Karluk to wear at night when we sleep together in our tarp or under the stars.
  4. Line your Dog’s Pack with Oven Roasting Bags – I hate having everything in the dog’s pack get wet. Early morning often means dew on plants. After 12 miles of this, your dog’s pack can get real soggy. I use the oven roasting bags in turkey size and place the contents of each side of the pack in these, twist and tuck the top-and everything inside will stay dry even if the pack some how goes for a swim in a lake…
  5. Be on the Dog’s Schedule – Hey, you chose to bring the pup so make sure to pay attention to their needs. If you need to hike slower or less miles than you planned because the dog is tired, then make camp early and give the dog some rest. Often during the heat of the day, we’ll nap and wait for temps to cool and then hike into the evening hours.
  6. Learn Dog First Aid & Make a Dog First Aid Kit – The American Red Cross has a great dog first aid class that I recommend all dog users in the backcountry take. Also talk with your vet and read up on caring for injuries and wounds in the woods. Karluk has his own first aid kit. It has a flush syringe, Benadryl, Rimadyl, gauze, vet wrap, super glue, neosporin, and Pawz nitrile booties to keep a pad wound clean.
  7. Be in Control of Your Dog – Obey the leash laws on trails that have them. If your dog is off leash, make sure you can verbally control your dog. Do not let your dog run at other hikers coming down the trail, and make sure to step aside and control your dog when you encounter horse packers or other trail users on multi-use trails. Karluk has been trained to hike behind me and this helps keep him in control and safe while we’re out.
  8. Use Flea and Tick Medications – No one likes ticks and with lyme disease, rocky mountain spotted fever, and other health concerns it’s best to use a flea and tick repellent, as well as a heart worm preventative. I use Trifexis and a Seresto Flea and Tick. I also carry a Tick Key for removing any ticks if one happens to be on me or Karluk.
  9. When Crossing Streams and Rivers Remove Your Dogs Pack – Out here in Oregon, we have many glacial streams to cross when backpacking. I always remove the panniers from Karluk’s Palisades Pack and carry it on mine. Then, I hold Kalruk downstream with the handle on his harness and we cross the water together. Removing the packs makes it easier for your dog to get across and in case something were to happen and the dog had to swim, it wouldn’t have to fight the pack.
  10. Bring Treats and a Toy – I like to bring treats with glucosamine to help with the dog’s joints after hiking. I also bring dried duck jerky for snacks during the day, as they are light and high in protein. A toy from home can be soothing for the dog when you are in a new area, and it helps keep them occupied during camp time so you can get some rest and relaxation.


4 thoughts

  1. All excellent advice! I am currently thru hiking with my sheltie this year. Definitely going to take some advice from this! Here I am going to add some!

    Keeping it fun is definitely important. My boy will lag behind and give me the “Are you seriously still walking?” Look if he is losing motivation in the day. I stop, rile him up and keep him happy. At the end of the day, it will make you both happier. Make sure you get to know your dog’s personality and his limits. A happy dog makes a happy owner. In the heat planning siestas will definitely help. I have night hiked to avoid heat. The ruffwear swamp cooler vest had been a HUGE investment in making Champ’s hike more enjoyable.

    Dry sacs or ziplock bags work too for keeping his gear dry. When it is raining I use a dog rain jacket which also provides extra coverage on the sides to cover the pack. Ruffwear, get on it! 😉

    Comfort is a huge one! Even if I am only on day hikes and the dog is not wearing a pack I ensure he is always wearing his ruffwear harness. You never know when you will need to help him over or down obstacles. Make sure you have a good fit and constantly check for chafing!! Just like our packs a dog can go weeks without a problem.. but can suddenly chafe if there is dirt in the wrong place! I had to research and try multiple packs until I had to modify an xs approach pack into a Palisades pack with a small ruffwear webmaster to ensure a good fit on Champ (short dog but large chest). Saddle bags that hang too low can hit the dogs legs and make them uncomfortable!

    Also, don’t overload your dog! Research your breed. If your dog is meant for herding and not made for pulling sleds or carrying weight it will have a weaker back. Consult with your veternarian! Because Champ is a herdinf dog he never carries more than 10 to 12% of his weight. You decided to bring fido along.. make sure he’s comfortable!! Even if you have to carry some of his weight, too! Also, work up to the maximum weight slowly. Start with an empty pack on daily walks and work your way up!

    I like that Kalruk hikes behind you! Champ does too! It is a great way to prevent unfortunate run ins with other dogs, dangerous wildlife (snakes, bears,etc.), and other hikers who may not like dogs or are afraid of them.

    Also, glucosamine takes weeks to build up in one’s blood stream to take full effect in humans. Im not sure if it is the same with dogs but if so, start giving the treats a couple weeks before a planned outing! Talk to your vet. I had Champ get a pre trail check up for any added advice!

    Fleas and ticks.. I am going to be spraying Champ’s gear with permethrin. The same stuff we spray on our clothes for added protection for ticks. Also, ask your vet about the dog lymes vaccine!!

    Thats all I’ve got. Thanks for a great fido article!

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