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Dog-Friendly Hiking Tips for the SF Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area is a very unique place for getting outdoors, thanks to the amount of relatively easy access to natural lands from a large urban center. There are possibilities to venture into parks and reserves to explore local trails, enjoy breathtaking views, and seek adventure from the urban jungle we call home. Often these places are just minutes away from where we live.

Hiking is a great alternative to walking the city streets, and it is a healthy activity for you and your dog. Before getting started, though, consult with your veterinarian and get his or her OK. Also, make sure your dog is physically fit enough to go on a hike with you. Hiking generally requires preparation and training, so build up the exercise level slowly, preferably by distance and then increase by difficulty. Start with something easy and then move to moderate and finally the strenuous hikes. A hike with your dog means you can only go as far as your dog can go. And vice-versa.

Access to information about hiking has become much easier over the years. Most government agencies have maps and regulations available online. It is best to check directly with the managing agency to verify rules and regulations concerning dogs. Dog Connect San Francisco Bay Area has a good overview of local hikes with links to the managing agency of that area at For more specific hiking details Bay Area Hiker is also a great resources; find it a

If you don’t want to hike the trails on your own, consider joining a meet-up group. Dog Connect SF, for example, offers free as well as paid hikes combined with training, so investigate

Here are few tips to get you started on dog-friendly hiking.

• Consult with your veterinarian. Does your dog have the physical capability to hike?

• Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date.

• Ensure your dog is protected by flea and tick medication.

• Ensure you have tags on your dog’s collar in case he breaks loose or gets lost.

• Build up the exercise level with your dog.

• Plan and prepare for any outing.

• Have a map of the area or take a screenshot on your phone of the map. Take an extra battery loader for your phone just in case.

• Be aware of local rules and regulations.

• Understand basic dog hiking etiquette: be courteous, respect other user groups, pick up after your dog, and keep your dog under control at all times. Do not allow your dog to approach other hikers/dogs unless the other party asks to engage.

• Take along important (local) emergency numbers.

• Stay on the trails at all times.

• Check the temperatures before you go hiking. Do not hike with your dog above 85 degrees F.

• Bring plenty of water and preferably a bowl for your dog. Depending on the dog’s age and breed, there are doggie backpacks available, and your dog can carry his own water.

• Hike early in the morning or in the evening.

• Trails tend to warm up. Dogs can burn their paws. This also counts for other surfaces, so use your hand to check the temperature.

• Cooling vests are available for dogs; extra water may need to be carried.

• When going off leash, consider investing in a GPS collar for your dog.

• Don’t feed your dog before a hike. If you do, feed only a small portion and at least one hour before the activity, and take treats to reinforce good behaviors.

• Gear up for you and your dog by using sturdy footwear, extra clothing, raingear, or a backpack.

• Consider bringing a first aid kit; find suggestions here:

• Work on basic obedience. Only let your dog off-leash if you have a solid recall. Remember, you may encounter wildlife such as coyotes, deer, or snakes, so you want to be able to call your dog back from such high distractions.

• Consider a dog backpack for younger and smaller dogs.

• Leave no trace behind: Clean up after your dog; A Ziploc bag is a great way to eliminate the poop odor from your backpack.

Good luck heading out on the trail. Please be respectful and obey local rules and regulations to protect dog access to public lands. Most importantly, enjoy the time with your dog.

Nathalie Mosbach Smith is the owner of Smith Dog Training and Dog Connect SF ( in Saratoga. Dog Connect SF has been a winner of Bay Woof’s Beast of the Bay awards for Best Dog Social Networking Site. Contact Nathalie at Follow her on Facebook,, or visit


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Main article photo by: Christian Mueller