Hiking with your dog can be a bonding, energizing and just plain fun experience for both of you.
But hiking with a dog involves more than just going to the park alone on a leash. There are a few preparations that can help an outdoor excursion go smoothly.
For starters, not all trails are dog-friendly. And if it’s your first time hiking with your dog, you’ll need to consider how much he can handle. Then there are safety considerations, such as wildlife, pests and potentially dangerous plants.
“Some things I try to keep in mind when selecting a place to hike with dogs are opportunities for shade and water; access, popularity and likelihood of crowds; trail width; and terrain,” says Marjorie Anderson, manager of the Woodland Hills REI store. “While some dogs can tackle just about anything, my most recent experience is hiking with an older dog and a 9-month-old puppy: very different energies, and both require a little more thought about location when hiking.”
SoCal dog hiking
Anderson has his own favorite places to hike, depending on the situation; all places can be found with a little help from Internet search engines.
If you don’t mind getting wet, he says Switzer Falls, just off the Angeles Crest Highway in the Angeles National Forest in Tujunga near Pasadena, is a great hike that includes plenty of creek crossings along the way to keep your pup cool.
“This trail can be very popular, so I recommend going first thing in the morning to get parking,” she advises. “If you prefer not to be alone or are just getting used to hiking with your dog, this is a great transitional hike where your dog can meet other people while still being outdoors.”
A popular trail like this also means a lower likelihood of having to worry about things like snakes and other problems your dog might accidentally encounter on the trail’s edge, he says. “Foot traffic usually keeps them farther away, and the trail is very well maintained.”
In the Santa Monica Mountains, Solstice Canyon, off Corral Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, is another of Anderson’s favorites. There are informational posts with historical facts along this route, and much of it also follows a creek.
“Although part of the route is exposed, the rest, near the creek, is shaded,” he says. “This trail offers a great middle ground between an exposed challenge and a nice shady walk with the sounds of the water.”
If you have a very active and experienced dog and consider yourself ready for something a little more intense, traveling north from Riverside to the Icehouse Canyon Trail on Mount Baldy offers a great physical challenge with amazing views as a reward.
This trail can lead to multiple areas depending on the adventure you choose. From this trailhead you can access several mountain peaks, or you may decide to simply head out for a shorter hike at Cedar Glen Campground, a small backpacking campground where you’ll often find the place to yourself. Or head to Icehouse Canyon Saddle, which offers magnificent views without having to climb any higher.
“You can see the breathtaking view of Mt. Baldy from many of these spots,” he says. “This area can be exposed at times and doesn’t offer the advantages of streams and water, so it’s incredibly important to make sure you carry enough water for you and your dog as you tackle some challenging slopes here. Keep in mind that this means you’ll have to carry extra weight on some steep slopes.
“The trails are also narrower,” he adds. “If you’re just starting out with your dog or have an older or younger dog, I recommend starting with some of the other hikes mentioned and working your way up to the [trails] in this area.”
Moriah Quinn, an REI sales specialist in Woodland Hills who hikes with Siberian Husky Ranger, says her favorite Southern California hikes tend to be less crowded.
“Many of the popular dog hikes are very crowded, with lots of hikers and dogs, which is great, but what my dog and I love most is enjoying the peace of nature together,” Quinn says.
One of Quinn’s best hiking spots is Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, which has many different trail options to choose your own adventure each time.
“It’s also very quiet and we usually only see one or two groups of visitors,” Quinn says. “This means we see more wildlife and explore the beautiful vistas in solitude.” It’s in Agoura Hills and only 10 minutes from Highway 101, but once in the park, you feel completely isolated in the lush rolling hills, rippling creeks and birdsong.”
Ash Miner, a dog trainer and behaviorist in Orange County (IntuitiveChoiceK9.com), has been hiking with her own dogs in Southern California since 2010 and professionally since 2011. She offers Nature Venture training hikes to her dog training clients.
“We go to local regional parks to work on decompression walks, off-leash walks, socialization and general manners in public if reactivity is an issue,” she explains.
Her favorite hiking spots are O’Neill Regional Park in Trabuco Canyon, Irvine Regional Park and Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange, Serrano Creek Park in Lake Forest and Black Star Canyon in Silverado. He also likes the Cleveland National Forest, especially the Maple Springs Trailhead in Silverado, and Morgan Trailhead and San Juan Loop Trail in Lake Elsinore.
“I tend to stay away from the Cleveland National Forest when spring comes because of the ticks, but it’s fabulous in the colder months,” he says. “I really like these parks because they allow dogs, have plenty of space in case the dogs I work with are reactive, great trails with critters to sniff, chase and enrich, and, in the rainy seasons, there’s a creek the dogs can play by.”
Keeping dogs safe
Once you’ve decided where to go, there are things to keep in mind for safety reasons.
Miner notes that the trails he frequents often allow horses and bicyclists.
“Although trail signs say that everyone should yield to horses, and bicyclists to hikers, it doesn’t really work that way, in my experience,” he says. “Allow cyclists and horses to pass by keeping to the right, and practice sitting while rewarding good behavior with some treats.”
Horse manure can also be lethal if horses have just been wormed, so keep your dog away from it.
“All of these areas are for leashed dogs only, by law, so don’t let your dog go off leash and especially don’t let him near other dogs on leashes,” she says. “Don’t feed the animals, but carry plenty of water and a collapsible bowl. I love to hike with a hands-free leash.”
Also, watch out for rattlesnakes, especially in sunny areas. If you see one, stay away and give it a wide area to pass through. (This may seem obvious, but just in case: If it coils up, it’s going to strike. If it ignores you, nothing happens.) Miner advises that mole, racer and king snakes are usually quite docile and harmless, but give them room to move away from your dog for their own safety.
For your own safety, learn to identify poison oak and don’t touch the leaves or branches. In winter, the sticks may be free of leaves but still produce a reaction.
“Dogs are immune for the most part, so don’t worry if they smell it or touch it,” he says.
Not so with sago palms, often used in landscaping.
“Don’t let dogs even chew on anything from a sago palm,” he says. “They can be lethal by saliva contact alone, not even by direct ingestion.”
Miner advises using a towel to wipe everyone down before returning to the car to avoid bringing ticks home. Look for ticks on the towel and shake it off, then place the towel in its own plastic bag.
Also, watch for signs of heatstroke or overheating by watching your dog’s tongue for swelling and curling, panting rate and intensity, loss of gum color, water intake and squinting under stress.
“Dogs on the verge [of heatstroke] may stagger, insist on lying down or try to dig a nest in a shady spot to cool off,” she says.
Dr. Ilana Halperin, chief of the Community Medicine service at UC Davis Veterinary Medicine, says dogs don’t regulate their temperature as well as humans, so even in conditions where we feel hot but are fine, dogs can be at risk.
“The risk is higher in overweight dogs, dogs that are not used to this level of physical activity, and brachycephalic breeds,” he says. (Brachycephalic breeds have broad skulls and short noses, such as pugs and bulldogs.)
Heat stroke can be fatal, so he advises these precautions Carry plenty of water. Take plenty of breaks. Walk in the shade whenever possible. Find out if a cooling vest or scarf is appropriate for your dog. And consider not hiking on hot days. Try to go out first thing in the morning or in the evening, when it’s cooler.
It’s also a good idea to check your dog for foxtails after hiking. Foxtails are pointed grass seeds with small barbs on the outside. This means they can pierce the skin with the pointed end and the barbs cause them to stick.
“They can advance through the skin and move through the tissues, dragging bacteria with them and causing infections,” Halperin says.
Another thing to keep in mind: your pup’s paws. Halperin warns that walking on rough surfaces can cause lacerations or blisters and abrasions on paw pads. Consider training your dog to wear well-fitting booties and check his paws regularly.
“Among the benefits of hiking are physical activity, mental stimulation and human-dog bonding time,” Halperin says. “If you are aware of the potential risks and take steps to manage them, hiking is a wonderful activity to do with your dog.”