Conditioning Your Dog to Longer Hikes
Just like you, most dogs require conditioning in order to tackle bigger and longer hikes. Despite having the advantage of four legs it doesn’t make it easier for them if they haven’t been ‘trained’ to do something more strenuous. If it sounds like a big hike for you it's also going to be a big hike for your four-legged friend. They can’t jump into a +15km (or +9 mile) hike with over 900m (2900ft) of elevation gain any easier than you can.
We tend to over estimate our dog’s capabilities because, well, they’re dogs. They are our enthusiastic, adventurous sidekicks and appear to have an endless amount of energy when it comes to the outdoors. However, that is not always the case. If your dog hasn’t been conditioned to longer (and bigger) hikes you risk exhausting and/or injuring your dog and potentially yourself if you end up having to carry your dog back down.
The best way to condition your dog is by practicing. It sounds silly, but your dog needs practice too. Start with smaller, introductory hikes — shorter distance, minimal elevation gain — and progress from there. Increase the duration, and elevation, with every hike. Always make sure you are researching your hikes to make sure there are no surprises and that you and Fido are comfortable tackling them together. If you're not able to get to a hiking trail, don’t worry: plan a longer walk than you normally do. Find some hills and build your own urban trails. Practicing looks different for everyone.
When I first started hiking with my oldest dog (Sully) in 2015 we lived 30-60+ minutes away from the hiking trails I wanted to tackle. There was a local park we would frequent during the week, but once he was a year old we started driving almost every weekend to a new trail. We started small, took a lot of breaks (mostly for myself because I never hiked before getting Sully), and slowly progressed toward longer, bigger hikes. Within a few months we were able to summit a few mountain peaks and went from hikes with 200m (650ft) or less of elevation gain to climbs over 500m (1,600ft). Now, after 7 years and the addition of a second dog to our pack, we are able to climb over 2,000m (6,500ft) and both dogs have blossomed into remarkable hiking partners.
Having the right gear for your dog makes a difference as well. While ‘training’, or ‘practicing’, I recommend investing in a good harness. Personally I prefer one with a handle, such as the Hurtta Weekend Warrior harness, as it makes it easier to grab your dog or to lift it if necessary. If you are hiking a trail where leashes are required a hands-free leash can be useful, especially if you like using hiking poles. Another option is having a backpack for your dog (again, I would recommend one with a handle); however, your dog does need to be conditioned to wearing a backpack too. Start by having them wear the backpack while it’s empty before gradually adding more weight to it as it gets accustom to wearing it. A backpack is helpful for longer hikes as your dog can carry extra water, snacks, first aid (for Fido), and poop bags (the best part in my opinion). Just be mindful of what you put in there if your dog enjoys jumping in every available body of water.
Remember not to rush your training and allow time for you and Fido to recover. The hikes will always be there for you when you’re ready and well rested.
- Arletta, Sully, Quest Want to see more of Arletta and their packs adventures? Check them on out on social media instagram.com/sullysquest