If you have a hectic work schedule or other obligations, it can be difficult to make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. One option is to hire a dog walker who can walk your dog as part of a pack or solo. If your dog enjoys hiking, you might consider signing them up for a hiking group, where handlers take several dogs out on a hike together.
Dog hiking groups provide an opportunity for dogs to socialize with each other, all while getting exercise and fresh air. But since this also means that your dog is going to be interacting with unfamiliar dogs and people without you being present, you’ll want to make sure that hiking groups are good for your dog. It’s not the right fit for every dog, and you should find hiking groups organized in a way that ensures dogs have safe and positive experiences.
Are Hiking Groups Right for My Dog?
Dog hiking groups take the concept of doggy daycare on the go, offering dogs mental and physical enrichment through long outdoor walks. The idea is to take a group of dogs out together so they can run and play outside. Companies offering this service may pick your dog up from home or work, and drive them to a hiking trail, beach, or dog-friendly park.
Before signing your dog up for a hiking group, there are important questions to ask yourself. Has your dog been on successful public outings without you? Would they feel comfortable riding in a car with a group of dogs they may not be familiar with? Since you know your dog best, here are some points to consider when deciding if your dog is a good candidate for hiking groups. Dogs well-suited for hiking groups should be:
- High endurance and energy level. It’s important to consider things like your dogs age, breed, and fitness level
- Up-to-date on preventative care and vaccinations for conditions like rabies (given the increased potential for encounters with wildlife)
- Well-socialized in group settings with other dogs
- Comfortable wearing a collar and harness and able to walk on a loose leash
- Happy spending time outside, even in rain or snow
- Have basic obedience skills
Along with obedience training, your dog needs to know how to behave on the trails. That means not disturbing other dogs, hikers, wildlife, and plant life. Accordingly, hiking groups aren’t a good match for dogs that show reactivity or aggression toward humans or other animals. A better choice would be a solo session with a walker who can help them work through any behavioral issues.
Avoiding rocky terrain or steep slopes is wise if you have a senior dog or small-breed dog, so talk with your dog hiking group to make sure the trails are right for your dog. Given the risk of falls or injuries, it’s best to hold off on hiking groups with puppies, as they are still growing and their immune systems are still developing. It is good to be aware of the trails that the hiking groups are going to be walking to make sure they are appropriate for your dog’s age, size, and physical capability.
How to Identify Reputable Dog Hiking Groups
The goal is to find a dog hiking group that will offer your dog a safe and stress-free experience. In addition to asking thorough questions, it’s important to stay alert to signs that you’re dealing with a reputable business. Make sure to check websites and verify the group before giving them any personal information. A group with no profiles, ratings, testimonials, or reviews is not a good sign, as you should be able to identify the handlers and team members to help guarantee that they are licensed and insured.
Walks should be tailored to your dog, with respect to length, location, and the size of the group. If there are too many dogs that can be handled safely, this is another red flag, as handlers need to be able to control and keep up with groups while hiking. It also helps when companies offer notifications on when the walk is in-progress and completed. It’s also a plus if groups provide regular photo or video updates of your dog. Some employees will post updates about their walks on the company’s official social media pages, while others may use GPS to provide real-time updates on your dog’s whereabouts, so it’s good to ask. If they don’t reply to messages promptly or keep you in the loop about your dog while they’re out, they may not be a good option.
Price points for dog hiking group sessions are another indicator of whether or not the group is reputable. When you’re researching dog hiking groups in your area, finding ones that offer much lower prices than competitors can be exciting, but it also may signal that they are not reputable or not a real dog hiking group. Before you choose a dog hiking group, you’ll want to make sure you do thorough research and ask questions, which reputable hiking group companies will be happy to answer.
How to Find a Dog Hiking Group
Word-of-mouth recommendations are a good place to start in finding dog hiking groups near you. The next time you go to the dog park, ask around and see if other owners have suggestions for hiking groups and what services they’ve tried themselves.
You can also search online and reach out to companies in your area. Reputable operators will be happy to share information that’s not already available on their website and can provide a free phone consultation to answer any questions you may have. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask when you contact them.
What Questions Should You Ask When Choosing a Dog Hiking Group?
Who Will be Walking Your Dog?
The handlers are the ones who will be with your dogs for the duration of the hike and make sure they’re safe and accounted for at all times. You’ll want to ask if they have any professional pet first aid, pet CPR, or training certifications, and whether they’re insured. Walkers should always have a pet first-aid kit and fresh drinking water for the dogs. You can find out from the company if they perform background checks on employees.
What Vaccinations Are Required for Your Dog?
Does the company require dogs to be fully vaccinated? Consult your veterinarian about your dog’s vaccination status for rabies, kennel cough, distemper, and parvo. Your dog should also be on a flea or tick preventative, in case they venture into tall grasses or forested areas. Ticks are more prevalent in wooded areas, so it’s important to be prepared.
What Pet Supplies Are Included, If Any?
You’ll want to ask what pet hiking supplies you are responsible for providing. They may ask you to supply things like a collar, harness, leash, and poop bags. Also, make sure to confirm if your dog will be in or near the water. If so, your dog may also need a canine life jacket.
Depending on how long the outings are, you may also want to ask if the service includes feeding your dog. You may need to provide food, so it’s important to ask and be prepared.
How Large Are the Hiking Groups?
Walkers can only handle so many dogs at once, so you’ll want to ask about the maximum number of dogs they walk with. They may also have a protocol for introducing new dogs to the group, so you can ask how many they introduce at a time and how they make the dogs feel comfortable with one another. What does the group take into account when choosing dogs that will do well together, and are physical capabilities taken into consideration? You want to be confident that the hike proceeds at a pace that is comfortable for your dog, and that your dog has the energy and endurance to keep up with the rest of the pack.
It’s also important to ask how many dogs will be in the car at a time, whether the car is equipped with safety harnesses or crates, and if there will be air conditioning during warmer months.
What Does the Day Look Like?
Feel free to ask the group for specific details about the excursion. How long will it last, where they’re hiking, how long the trail is, and how will they be picked up and dropped off after the hike are all good questions to ask. If they drop your dog off at home but you’re not there, they should let you know as well so that you can give them access to your home or apartment building.
What is the Illness or Injury Protocol?
Make sure walkers have plans for what to do if your dog shows signs of illness while out on the trails. For emergency situations, give them clear directions on how to proceed. In such cases, you can request that they contact you and arrange for your dog to see their regular vet. Knowing they have a plan can give you peace of mind, if your dog gets lost, injured, suffers from heat exhaustion, or has an encounter with toxic plants or wildlife.
How Is Good Behavior Enforced?
If there is an issue or aggression between dogs, you’ll want to ask how walkers would handle that. It’s also possible on hikes that dogs may bark, lunge, chase wildlife, or fun off, so ask if they use positive reinforcement techniques, such as praising or treats to stop the behavior.
Are Walks On- or Off-Leash?
You’ll want to ask whether dogs are kept on- or off-leash while hiking in compliance with trail rules and leash laws in local or state parks. Hiking groups should primarily be on-leash, only going off-leash when granted your permission. This should only be an option if your dog has reliable recall and after they’ve developed a relationship with the walker.
A good indication that your dog is enjoying the group is seeing them arrive home, tired and relaxed. They’ll be excited to see you but will settle down faster, having worked their muscles and enjoyed their own adventure. Make sure when you’re researching dog hiking groups that you consider your dog’s temperament and social skills, as it won’t be the right fit for every dog.