As we merge off the highway and turn onto the windy road leading to Dreamy Draw Recreation Area in north Phoenix, JoJo can hardly contain his excitement as he peers out of the window. JoJo is a city dog, through and through, and because of his small stature, he is often underestimated. Despite his size, I’ve hardly ever seen a better hiking companion than him when it comes to hiking with dogs.
He loves spending time in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The winding paths and rugged terrain of some of our dog-friendly parks and nature preserves are the perfect outlet for his never-ending curiosity and boundless energy. As we pull into the parking lot at the foot of the recreation area, JoJo’s squeals of joy grow louder. He knows what awaits him.
I grab my backpack, leash JoJo, lock the car, and off we go on our morning’s little adventure. We take a few steps and I pause. The Arizona sun is already high in the sky, even at this early hour, and the air is warm. I double check our supply of cold water in my pack; we’re good to go.
I love being outdoors, but during the warm weather months, particularly at the height of summer, adapting your hiking routine is essential to ensuring a safe and enjoyable time. Hot weather hiking with dogs, in particular, requires a few extra steps. Here’s how I approach hiking to prevent heat stroke in dogs and any other heat-related injuries.
As a very first step in the planning stage on taking your dog for a hike, ask yourself if dogs are allowed on the trails. While there are many great pet-friendly park trails out there, there are also a number that are not. Double check that your desired destination will welcome your pal as well as you. You don’t want to be disappointed after making the drive there only to be turned away.
Along with confirming your dog is allowed, familiarize yourself with the leash and, by extension, the off-leash rules. Many of us trust our pets to roam close by while we walk, but park rules may require your pet to be on-leash at all times.
If you’re unfamiliar with the area, and your pet’s fitness level isn’t the best, weigh it versus the difficulty of the hike you’re planning. You don’t want to overestimate their stamina and be stuck carrying them back to the car halfway through. Believe me, that’s no fun at all, and it’ll be a long trek back.
Check on the day’s projected weather conditions, so you can tailor your hike with your pet accordingly. This way, if it’s stormy, you’ll know to dress appropriately, and if there’s a heat wave, you’ll be prepared to pack extra water, or even move your plans to a cooler day. This is especially important during the warmer spring and hot summer months.
If you’re brave enough to hike with your dog during hot weather, avoid hiking during the hottest times of the day. In general, it’s smart to set out early in the morning for your hike or wait until the sun is setting in the evening. Also, it helps to familiarize yourself with summer-specific park rules. In Phoenix, for example, it is illegal to take your pet on the trails in triple-digit temperatures. Of course, this should be common sense, but for those who ignore it, tickets and fines await.
Always pack enough water for yourself and your dog. My rule is to pack what I think we’ll need, plus some extra just in case of emergency. You never know if you’ll need it.
Along with water specifically for your pet, bring a collapsible travel bowl or a special water bottle with a built-in bowl, like the one I have for my dogs, pictured above. On our hikes, we take frequent water breaks, especially on strenuous ones during hot weather conditions.
Evaluate what type of leash will work best for your dog and your planned hike. I personally opt for a sturdy leash over a longer lead when on the trail. A hands-free leash fastened around my waist is what I use most often these days. It gives the dogs some freedom to move around, but I can easily reign them in when needed.
For rough, rocky, and steep terrain, I recommend a short leash for more control and to keep your dog close. In Arizona, we’re always on the lookout for snakes, scorpions, and larger creatures, like mountain lions, out on the trail. We are in their territory after all, so it pays to keep your dog close.
All year round, dog hiking boots can be helpful when walking on rocky paths. The same goes for very hot surfaces in the summer. The locals like to brag that you can fry an egg on the pavement on Phoenix’s hottest days. Hiking booties for dogs can help protect your pet’s paws from wear and tear on long hikes and from burning their pads on hot days no matter where you’re hiking with dogs.
When you carry a pet emergency kit with the essentials, like alcohol wipes, tweezers, and bandages, you know that you can address any minor injuries that may come up on the trail. For more hiking must-haves, check out our helpful dog hiking gear guide.
Don’t forget to bring along enough poop bags to clean up after your pet. You may be out in nature, but as long as you are making use of public land that others have access to it’s good to follow the honor code of leaving a place nicer than you found it. If we stop for a snack during a longer hike, I always make sure to collect the trash and drop it in the trashcan in the parking lot before we go home.
Most dogs love getting a special reward, and that doesn’t change when hiking, so don’t forget to pack a few treats to reward her for being a great hiking partner during one of your breaks. And for longer hikes, bring a snack or even a bowl of food for your pal to keep their energy up, especially when you’re both exerting yourselves on a hot weather hike.
All photos are © Melanie Lewis.