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7 Essentials for Desert Hiking with Your Dog

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When Bailey and I set out on an extended road trip last year, I knew we would be spending a lot of time hiking in the desert. Coming from the Midwest, I had some concerns about the precautions we’d need to take, as well as the dog gear necessary for desert hiking. When a search for resources came up empty, Bailey became my guinea pig, and we developed this list of essential dog gear for desert hiking to make your trip planning easier!

Dog-Friendly Hike in Sedona

Desert Dog Essential #1: Water

Yeah, this might sound obvious, but you need to pack A LOT of water in the desert. I’ve always carried some water for Bailey, but being a dog, she’s also used to sampling from streams, lakes, and puddles. These generally don’t exist in the desert, aside from monsoon season.

In addition to carrying the water for your dog, you’ll also need an efficient way to let her drink. My old dog, Duke, would only drink out of a bowl, so whatever he didn’t finish was wasted. Bailey and I have an awesome system down, but it has taken some practice. Every so often, I ask Bailey if she wants water. If she does, she faces me and sits down. If not, she’ll keep on hiking. This has taken all of the guess-work out of watering my dog on the trail!

Since it’s not natural for dogs to drink like this, they might sputter a bit until they get the hang of it – just go slow and only give a little at a time.

Using the collapsible water bottles that came with our Ruffwear dog backpack works well. The key is the pop-top, which allows me to create a “drinking fountain” for Bailey. Of course, any water bottle will do, but I like that these roll up for easy storage, and they’ve lasted us several years!

Desert Dog Essential #2: Dog Boots

Initially Bailey’s dog boots were for hiking in snow and protecting her from salt on Chicago’s snowy streets, but now that we live in the desert, her boots are always in my backpack. Since dogs regulate their body temperature through their paw pads, they aren’t something Bailey wears constantly while hiking, because I don’t want her to overheat. I consider them emergency equipment – carried in case of an injured paw, or if we come across really bad surfaces on the trail. However, if you are hiking on hot sand, like we did at Great Sand Dunes National Park, they’re 100% necessary. We like the Ultra Paws Rugged Dog Boots for their 2nd velcro strap, which really keeps the boots in place.

Desert Dog Essential #3: Sit Pad

On an all-day hike, you’re likely to stop and take a few rest breaks. I always carry a small sit-pad for myself (a smaller version of my Therma-Rest sleeping pad) and, after seeing Bailey struggle to find a comfortable place to rest, I decided to throw one in for her, too. This may seem like overkill, but the ground in the desert is littered with rock shards and cactus needles. If you’re looking forward to a leisurely lunch stop, think about bringing something your dog can lie down on; even an old blanket will do.

7 Essentials for Desert Hiking with Your Dog | GoPetFriendly.comDesert Dog Essential #4: Fine-Tooth Comb

This was a brand-new addition to my hiking kit. A fine-tooth comb makes cactus spine removal much easier than trying it by hand (ouch!), or attempting to grab them with tweezers while your dog is wiggling. So far, I haven’t had to use it, but the $2 investment is well worth the peace of mind.

Desert Dog Essential #5: Tweezers

Speaking of tweezers, they are another essential desert hiking tool. For cactus spines too small for the comb to catch, thorns, splinters, or even a bee stinger, this simple implement can save the day. A fun fact I’ve learned is that, even if your dog isn’t bothered, you can get poked by spikes hitching a ride in their fur, or hanging on the leash!

Desert Dog Essential #6: First-Aid Tape

Carrying a good first aid kit goes without saying, but most don’t come with first-aid tape for pets. This is just as important as carrying Band-Aids for yourself, and can be picked up at any pet store. The tape is self-adhesive and won’t stick to skin or fur, so you won’t cause your pet additional pain while wrapping or unwrapping their injury.

Desert Dog Essential #7: Benadryl

Dirty dog secret: Bailey likes to eat bees! Seriously, when things start buzzing around, she turns into a frog. So far, she’s caught a few and hasn’t had a bad reaction – but just like in humans, allergies can pop up at any time. Adding Benadryl to our first aid kit was important for us both.

At your next vet visit, ask whether the doctor recommends giving your pet Benadryl for an allergic reaction, and confirm the proper dosage. Then put a note with that information in your first aid kit along with the medication, so you’ll have it handy. (Benadryl dosage for dogs is much higher than for humans, so it’s important to know how much to administer.)

Hiking Essentials

Bonus Tip: Rattlesnakes!

For those of you planning to spend a lot of time in the desert, or if your dogs hike off-leash, rattlesnake aversion training is a thing! It’s relatively inexpensive (under $100) and reportedly highly effective. I haven’t pursued it yet, since we arrived in winter and Bailey is always on-leash, but if I change my mind, I’ll definitely report back!

Also, when I asked the Arizona Airedale community about rattlesnakes, I learned there is a vaccine that can give dogs more time to get to the vet if they are bit. Opinions vary, so check with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for your dog.


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  • Kate McDonald-Dotson says:

    Appreciate the informtion. We are living in Baja California Sur with our ten month old Standard Poodle. We haven’t had too many negative experiences hiking in desert, but we have stayed pretty close to civilization.

  • Hi Mark! There is snake aversion training being offered in Tucson (where Leigh, the author of the article lives) that uses postive reinforcement. Do some checking around – there may be a similar course offered in your area!

  • The snake aversion training is done with shock collars. Once I discovered that, I backed off quickly. Great list by the way … Glad you discovered the comb.

  • Hi Sharon! Yes, for people in places where rattlesnakes are common, it’s definitely something to think about. Your veterinarian should be able to tell you more. Waggin’ trails!

  • Hi Carolyn! We’ve used a Ruffwear backpack for Buster, but doing a round-up on the best doggy backpacks is a great idea. We’ll get to work on that – stay tuned and waggin’ trails!

  • Would def be interested in getting the first aid medication for rattkesndkes

  • Beautiful Airedale and great information. I was wondering if you ever have her carry her own stuff? Would love a review on doggy packpacks. Putting a fine-toothed comb in my pack now! Sand burrs are the enemy.

  • Great point using the comb for sand burrs, Pamela – I hate getting those little buggers stuck in my fingers! And now you’ll have a new trick to teach Honey with the water bottle. =D

  • Glad you found it useful – there are lots of collapsible water bottles for humans that would work just as well :)

  • This is such a great list! And not just for the desert. We’ve found a fine toothed comb invaluable for getting sand burrs out of Honey’s fur. But I’m really intrigued by the collapsible water bottle. It takes up less room the longer you hike and it would be much easier to store these in our tiny boat lockers than the hard, plastic bottles we’ve been using. Great idea!

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