How to Go Hillwalking With Your Dog
Just like humans, many dogs enjoy a good walk in the hills. Some love nothing less than a full day of mountain hiking with plenty of space to run around, while others prefer less taxing strolls on lower-level trails. Again, just like us humans!
But what about weather, fitness, food and sheep...? How do you tackle stiles and fences, and should you consider scrambling with a mutt in tow? There's a lot to think about when you add a canine element to your hill days. Here are some top tips for an enjoyable – and safe – walking trip with your favourite pet.
Like humans, your dog will need to be fit enough for your chosen walk. You should build up the length and intensity of the walks over several months before embarking on a big mountain hike.
The chances are, you'll find your dog will be fit enough well before you but you will both benefit from a sensible walking fitness programme.
What's the weather?
You will know your dog and what sort of weather it can cope with. Check the forecast before you set out and if it's going to be wet or cold have a think about whether your pet will enjoy being outdoors for the length of the walk.
Some owners choose to take warm and/or waterproof jackets to aid their dog's comfort levels. If you have a skinny dog, like my whippet, an extra layer of warmth is essential in the chillier seasons of upland Britain.
Paws for thought
Dogs are generally quite robust and if you have built up the mileage during a sensible fitness programme their paws will be tough and durable enough for longer distances.
However, you can buy dog boots if you are worried about their paws being affected by rough terrain.
Mountain guide Steve Fallon, 14-times Munro rounds bagger and an experienced mountain dog walker, was left very upset by the recent loss of his dog Jake, 13. He says:
"I would recommend that dog owners are careful about terrain such as quartzite, gabbro and rough granite because paws can easily get cut."
"I was guiding a chap with a collie on Liathach and he had to return because his dog's paws started to bleed. It might be worth some owners investing in boots for dog, for example, Ruffwear with Vibram soles."
Vets and dog experts can offer advice on the right age for longer dog walks. The first six months to a year of a dog's life is when they are growing, just like children, and it can be detrimental to their long-term physical health if they are walked too far or for too long.
Check with your vet or a breeder for their opinion about your dog's breed and walking.
A summer's walk will suit most dogs but some breeds, such as whippets or those with less fat and fur, might suffer in cold temperatures. Use your common sense when planning walks, for example, stick to lower hill walks and trails when it's cold, or treat your dog to a cosy jacket.
I have found Equafleece products to be excellent value, for instance. The jackets fit over dogs like a jumper so they are easy to fit and for the dog to wear. They are also very long-lasting.
As soon as you can, train your dog to be wary of sheep and other animals that you might encounter when walking. If they are still prone to chasing animals you must keep them on a lead.
In some countryside environments, such as near lambing sheep and new lambs, it is essential that all dogs are kept on a lead all the time. Make sure you know the law on sheep and dogs (for England and Wales see here - For Scotland see here).
Not everyone loves dogs and although your dog might be friendly and eager to meet new people, a mutt that bounds up to other people can be overpowering and nerve-racking to those who aren't so keen on all things canine. Try to train your dog to stay on four paws and to not jump up at people.
If your dog continues to be jumpy and barky, keep them on a lead around people. Other walkers won't want their hike spoiled by a frightening dog.
Food and water
Just like humans, dogs need the energy and hydration provided by food and water. Carry snacks, meals and water with you so that you can offer regular sustenance.
Some dogs will be happy to drink from water available in the countryside but it's not always advisable. You should take care to ensure your dogs avoid possibly contaminated water.
Jamie Aarons finished a full round of Munros with her partner in just one year in 2013. Her dogs, Pirate and Hope, have now walked 50 of their own Munros.
"There have been many occasions with Pirate and Hope when I've been able to fill a bowl from a trickle or a difficult to reach stream, but which the dogs couldn't have sipped from themselves."
"Despite what can feel like an overwhelming amount of water or bog underfoot or overhead, your dog might not always be able to quench their thirst from it."
To be safe, carry fresh water and a collapsible dog bowl. For example, Ruffwear sell a range of travel bowls for dogs, and other products.
Head for heights
Most dogs seem to be hill, mountain and ridge friendly but there are some that are prone to suddenly erratic behaviour. Others will give chase to a small and furry animal or bird regardless of the danger they put themselves in.
If you are walking close to edges or on steep slopes it's a good idea to put your dog on a lead or look for harness style leads that allow you to lift the dog over tricky terrain.
"I was always nervous about taking Jake scrambling. He had no fear of heights and he was a bit gung-ho."
"If he did come out with me on such terrain, I had a harness for him which allowed me to lift him up any parts he couldn't manage on his own."
Mist, cloud and generally dull conditions are all typical in the UK and like humans should always carry a light for visibility, so it's a good idea to have a light for your dog.
Jamie says: "I have good LED lights for my dogs that fit on their collars. They have the option of a flashing mode so they can be easily seen even in dim light."
Tick it off your list
Jamie says: "It seems annoyingly inevitable that dogs will end up with ticks in the summer months so you should be prepared with the right equipment for removing them as soon as you can."
A tick removing device is cheap and easily found in outdoors shops and online.
A ladder to climb
Carrying a dog over fence or up a ladder, for example at a high deer fence or a dam, is fine if they are small and not too heavy but it's important to plan a route accordingly, reckons Jamie:
"People should consider in advance whether their chosen walking route has any deer fences or ladders, and whether or not you'll be able to get you and your dog(s) safely over, or under."
"Pirate is 25kg and I've lifted him over more than a few fences, but they've never been super high. If we got to a vertical ladder of anything over 4ft high I would have to abandon the route."
The poo code
Just like human waste you should bury dog poo away from a well-trodden path or take it off the hill in a bag (please don't leave it hanging on a tree - poo fairies do not exist).
Steve makes another great point. He says:
"If you're thinking of posting a picture on Instagram or other social media networks, a dog can bring to life almost any scene. I always think that a dull bit of scenery always looks a bit better with a smiley dog in the front."
About Fiona Russell
The brains behind the popular Fionaoutdoors blog, Fiona Russell has combined a freelance writing career - now mostly online - with her passion for outdoor sports.