Traveling and Hiking with Your Dog

Dogs in the Desert

by Damian Fagan

If you love dogs, you probably already know that your pet can enrich a trip. Or ruin it.

Some dogs dive into your vehicle with their tails wagging, enthusiastic to go, before you can even get your luggage packed. When you get under way, they look out the window, as thrilled as a youngster at Disneyland. When you’ve driven for a while, they lie down and do the normal dog thing. They go to sleep. Other dogs, especially those not accustomed to riding in a vehicle, get motion sickness as soon as you back out of the driveway. Some, undisciplined, bark at every dog they see or at every person you pass, causing general bedlam.

Travel Hints

I would suggest that you take your inexperienced dog traveler on short drives first, letting him get accustomed to riding in a vehicle.

    The dog license doesn't entitle him to drive.

Praise and reward him for his good behavior. Take along a familiar blanket or toy to make him feel at home.

Once you get under way:

  1. Do not allow your dog to ride in your lap while you’re at the wheel. (His license doesn’t entitle him to drive.)
  2. Consider securing your dog in your vehicle for his safety while you’re driving. You can buy belt harnesses, rear-seat grates and carriers designed especially for transporting and protecting pets. An unsecured dog in the open bed of a pickup truck is an obvious recipe for injury. He can become a canine projectile if you have to stop, accelerate or turn suddenly.
  3. Stop every few hours on long trips to feed, water and walk your dog (and your kids). Carry plastic bags for use in picking up your dog’s waste.
  4. Walking your dog


  5. Leash your dog before you let him out of your vehicle. Untethered dogs, anxious for a moment’s freedom, can disappear in a heartbeat, never to be seen again.
  6. Bring some toys and treats for your dog (and your kids).
  7. Do not leave your dog closed in your car with the windows rolled up on a hot summer day. If the air temperature outside a vehicle is 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the air temperature inside the car, if it is closed tightly, can climb swiftly to more than 140 degrees. Your dog can cool himself only by panting and sweating through the pads of his paws. He can suffer heatstroke and even death very quickly.

Pets Welcome

With a little research, you’ll find a number of “pet-friendly” hotels. For example, AAA publishes a North American Pet Book that lists AAA-rated hotels and resorts that accept pets. You can take your dog – leashed! – into national and state parks, although he may not be allowed on trails. I would never plead that I didn’t see a sign prohibiting dogs on a trail. As a former park ranger, I can tell you that I would not get much sympathy, and I would likely get a ticket.

Hiking with Your Dog

Usually, you will be required to keep your dog on a leash in park areas and trails, but you may be able to let him run free in wilderness areas. If I let our family dog off her lead, I clip her leash around my waist so I can reach it quickly should I need it. Some overnight hikers use a carabineer attached to their backpacks and a longer lead for their dogs. On the longer hikes, I sometimes equip our dog with a dog pack. She carries some of the weight. She moves less boisterously. Make sure the pack fits snugly. You might also take your dog swimming with an empty pack. This will help prepare him for hikes that might involve stream crossings.


Your dog will likely explore and lay claim to your campsite as a temporary home. Our dog sleeps on her own blanket in our tent. Some dogs are even more privileged. They sleep on their blankets in their own quarters—pet vestibules attached to some of today’s tents.

If your dog is like ours, he may defend the location and you from intruders, including people and wildlife. If your dog is like ours, you should keep him under control in camp, if not with voice commands, then with a leash. Otherwise, what once happened to us might happen to you. Our dog bolted from camp. Twenty yards away, she met the friendly neighborhood skunk, which welcomed her with friendly neighborhood skunk spray. Our dog had a hard time understanding why she was not a particularly welcome occupant in our tent that night.

Even worse things can happen. For instance, dogs sometimes get bitten by a venomous snake, usually on the face or nose. One of our local veterinarians suggests placing a cold pack on the wound, stabilizing the animal and seeking prompt medical care. The immediate concern is that swelling might occlude the dog’s airway, causing suffocation. Depending on the seriousness of the bite, a dog may need no more than an anti-inflammatory treatment, but he could need an anti-venom to save his life.

A dog may also sometimes try to make friends with a porcupine, an obvious big mistake, for the reward can be a mouth or nose full of quills. This may mean a quick trip to the vet and a general anesthesia before the quills can be extracted.

First Aid

A little extra protectionMany of us – like me for example – sometimes don’t always think about pet first aid until it is needed. Once I had to carry our injured sixty-pound German Shepard about a mile back to our vehicle for first aid. I’m not sure who took longer to recuperate.

Here are a few items you will find useful for treating pet emergencies in the field.

  1. A clean tube sock for wrapping around the head to secure a lacerated ear.
  2. A bandana for a makeshift muzzle.
  3. Flat-bladed tweezers and a small container of mineral oil for tick removal.
  4. An emergency fold-up blanket (space blanket) for treating shock, cold or, for smaller dogs, even to carry them.
  5. A folding tool that has needle-nosed pliers for extracting a large thorn or a porcupine quill or two.
  6. A small container of hydrogen peroxide, which, mixed with baking soda, water and liquid soap, will cut the aroma of skunk perfume. Keep the mix away from the dog’s eyes.
  7. Booties for protecting injured paws. They can also be used to help to prevent ice and snow build up between the toes.
  8. Vaccination and rabies certification. This may keep your dog out of the pound should he happen to bite someone.
  9. A small first aid book with instructions for treating pets.

Have a Grand Trip

While no one can ever guarantee that your dog (or your kids) won’t misbehave or have an accident during a trip, you can minimize the risk with some preparation and planning. Your dog can contribute to the fun, not spoil an outing.


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