Hiking can be great fun for dogs. It’s a chance for them to tap into their wolf-like instincts and to revel in the sounds, sights, and smells of the outdoors. Before you bring along your hound on your next hiking trip, there are some things to consider—from the harshness of the untamed Australian bush to the laws prohibiting poochy hiking companions. Read on to discover what you need to know and how best to prepare.
Finding a dog-friendly hiking trail in Australia
It can be hard to find a hiking trail in Australia that welcomes dogs. Unfortunately, the majority of Australian national parks, nature reserves, and state conservation areas do prohibit pooches. That being said, there are some exceptions, and state forests are generally A-okay with canines. If you live regionally—or if you’re up for a regional adventure—regional parks tend to be dog-friendly, too. You just need to do your research and be prepared to hike in a less popular location.
Image: Stylish Hound
To help you out, here is a link to AllTrails. This website allows you to search for hiking tracks and filter results by dog-friendliness and leash laws.
Taking safety precautions whilst hiking with your dog
Humans and hounds are not the same, so it follows that safety requirements for hounds will vary from what humans need. Hounds, for example, need tick protection—something a human needn’t worry about unless they’re unusually hairy! Both native and feral wildlife can carry ticks, and you need to be particularly cautious along the Eastern Coast of Australia, which hosts the parasite known as the paralysis tick. As the name may suggest, paralysis ticks cause tick paralysis. In a worst-case scenario, this disease can be fatal to dogs.
This isn’t to say that ticks are exclusive to the East Coast. On the contrary, you can run into cattle ticks and brown dog ticks nationwide. This is why you should use tick treatments including chews, spot-on gels, and preventative collars. It also can’t hurt to get your vet’s opinion.
Even worse than ticks, though, are 1080 baits. These poisons are made from sodium fluoroacetate and are used to control feral cats and foxes. Keep your dog away from these at all costs. If you’ve heard of baiting taking place near your hiking trail of choice, choose a different spot.
If hiking locations or national parks have been baited, there will sometimes be warning signs in these areas or warnings published online. However, warnings aren’t always present, and baiting has become so commonplace in Western Australia that, as of September 2020, the Parks and Wildlife Service of Western Australia advised against bringing your pets holidaying. If you are concerned about 1080 baits, keep your dog on a leash throughout the hike and fit them with a muzzle, ensuring that your dog cannot remove it. If your dog is unused to a muzzle, you will need to undergo muzzle training, too.
Finally, a threat to humans and hounds alike is snakes. Though not always common, they can be stealthy and hiding in places you would least expect. As a general rule, the snake is more scared of you than you are of it. Should you encounter a snake on your hike, your best bet would be to gradually back away and—ironic as this will sound—let sleeping dogs lie. Don’t respond with fear or aggression or the snake will be more likely to strike.
The best way to avoid snakes is to keep your dog on a lead. Also, don’t let them stray into long grass. If you suspect your dog has been bitten, abandon your hike and get them to the vet pronto.
What to pack in the doggy bag
Now that we’ve got all the doom and gloom out of the way, it’s time to load up the doggy bag. When hiking with your dog, you should bring supplies such as:
- Water and a collapsible water bowl—these are so compact and convenient for travelling. Hiking trails won’t have dog bowls or guaranteed water sources safe for drinking, so these items are really important to bring.
- Dog treats, to reinforce favourable behaviour and also to give them an energy boost
- Poop bags, as well as zip-lock bags. The last thing you want is to be carrying those odorous little gifts around in your hands. Bins are scarce on hikes and it’s better to have something that will at least contain the smell.
- A doggy (rain) coat for cooler weather and/or wet weather conditions
- A towel, because you don’t want dirty dog or wet dog smell in your car afterwards.
- A leash, though this will be in use rather than in the bag
- Tick treatments (as detailed above), just in case
- The number and directions to the nearest vet clinic or hospital, just in case. You’ll be glad to have this on hand when out in the wilderness without phone reception.
- A dog sling or backpack, because it is possible to overexercise your dog. Having something in which to carry them can be a convenient backup.
Stylish Hound’s Complete Adventure Kit contains a travel water bottle, biodegradable poop bags, and compartments for treats and other doggy essentials.
While we’re on the topic of overexercising your dog, there are some dogs that you shouldn’t bring on long-term hikes. These include puppies, for whom excessive exercise can affect musculoskeletal development, as well as older dogs, who don’t have as much puff as they once did. Pugs in particular have compromised breathing and should not walk more than 40 minutes per day—one hour at the absolute maximum. If your dog falls into any of the above categories, you can still bring them along on shorter bushwalking adventures.
Walking with consideration for other humans and hounds
When you’re hiking with your doggo, standard ‘dog-walking etiquette’ applies: obey the leash laws, and even if you’re in an off-leash area, you should still keep your dog on-lead when passing other people or other pets. Always pick up your dog’s poop, and avoid the temptation to leave the poop to the side of the hiking track. It may not be in the way for walkers, but its bacterial composition can render it harmful to native plants and wildlife. Just pick it up, taking it home with you if there are no bins in sight. Obey these rules and you will give your local Parks department all the more reason to keep the space dog-friendly.