This year, I adopted my brand new puppy Cody. He’s a cute, fun, rambunctious Miniature Australian Shepherd. He loves to run, fetch and play with his brother C.J. who lives with my parents. And you know I couldn’t wait to take him on a hike with me!

But I quickly learned that puppies aren’t born ready for the trail. When you take your dog hiking too early, it could put you and your puppy in a bad position. There are a few items you need to check off your list before your pup is ready to go. Here are the questions you should ask yourself before taking your new puppy out on the trail.

Is my puppy old enough to hike?

The first thing to remember before hitting the dirt path is the age your puppy will be ready to hike. You wouldn’t put a baby on the trail, so you shouldn’t expect your young puppy to be ready for a long hike.

The main reason you should stick to paved paths during these early months is to protect your dog from injuries. Your puppy is more vulnerable to growth plate injuries for the first eight months of his life. In general, don’t start taking vigorous hikes with your dog until he is past this age.

If you do choose to hike with a younger pup, look out for signs of growth plate injuries, such as limping or swelling. For any other health concerns, talk to you vet about hiking with your puppy.

Is my puppy well-trained for a hike?

Mastering basic behaviors is crucial before going on a hike. Generally, your dog should be able to behave appropriately around other people and dogs, as well as listen to you with and without distractions. The trails are a new environment for your pup, so make sure he has mastered commands even when distracted.

More specifically, your puppy should be able to sit, stay, lay down, come, and heel when prompted. Although recall is an important skill as well, your dog should be wearing a leash at all times on the trail.

Some of these skills may not seem vital during a hike, but they can be a deal breaker with a crazy pup. This was one thing Cody struggled with when we hiked together in Colorado. Along with constantly pulling the leash, he was extremely uncomfortable with other dogs and barked at them uncontrollably whenever he saw one nearby. Before our next hike together, I will be sure he has corrected these behaviors for both our safety.

Is your puppy fit enough to hike?

Although it may seem like your dog could run forever, young or lazy pups may not be able to handle hiking longer distances. Cody, especially during our first few months together, could hardly walk a mile without hopping into my arms to be held. With time and training, he slowly became the active dog he is now.

Before taking your dog out on the trail, he should be able to go on long walks around your home. Each day, take your pup several miles around your neighborhood. Your pup should keep a constant pace without falling behind or needing to take long breaks.

Your dog should also be a practiced hiker on shorter trails near your house. We often underestimate the effects of unpaved terrain. Make sure your pup can walk in different environments so he is prepared for anything.

The process of getting your puppy in shape should be gradual. Increase the distance you walk your dog over time to prepare him for longer hikes in the future. That being said, no dog is bulletproof. Be sure to take breaks on the trail every once in a while, providing your pup with water and shade.

If you’re like me, you want to hit the trail with your new puppy as soon as possible. But for your dog’s safety and your own sanity, be sure your dog is ready to hike before you take him on the trail. That way, you’ll both be ready to have a great time together in the great outdoors.

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