Pets

Your guide to exploring a national park with your pooch

Expert advice for keeping your dog safe and comfy on all your adventures.

Expert advice for keeping your dog safe and comfy on all your adventures

A woman hiking a mountain with golden doodle dog at sunset. They're sitting atop a rock formation overlooking the ocean with islands in the background.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Whether you're seeking magnificent views of the wilderness or dreaming of kayaking across a glowing emerald lake, a trip to one of Canada's national parks could make for an unforgettable experience for you — and your furry best friend. If you're a dog owner who's planning an adventure to one of these stunning spots, you may be considering bringing your pooch along to enjoy the sights and smells. Before you start packing, take a look at this expert advice to ensure you can keep your pup safe and comfortable on your trip.

Before you travel     

First, consider if your best friend is ready for this kind of experience, and if the activities you're eager to try are suitable for a canine companion. "You're going on a long backcountry hike? Perhaps it's not best to have a dog with you the whole way and have to manage some of those impacts as you go," said David Argument, resource conservation manager for Jasper National Park. "The impacts on the ecology, the ecological integrity in some of these sites is something you might want to think about as well. So in some cases, perhaps leaving a dog at home is something to consider for your safety, for your dog's safety and for the benefit of the wildlife."

If you believe your pooch can handle the trek, and you're prepared to manage the impact on your surroundings, the next step is determining which areas in the park you're visiting are dog-friendly. For example, certain trails may be off limits to dogs, said Argument. "It's really important, first of all, to make sure you understand the local context of the park you're visiting and what those restrictions may be," he said. "All that information is readily available on the website for each park."

Argument also recommended locating veterinary clinics close to the park and keeping their contact information on hand. He said there's a vet in Jasper, right in the middle of the park, but if you're bound for another spot, which might be further from a town and its services, you'd be wise to plan ahead. "You'd really have to be prepared to manage in the short term with what kind of common injuries you might run into with the dog … cuts and scrapes and things like that," he said.

Once you've done your research, it's time to check if your dog's vaccinations are up to date. Depending on where you're headed, your pet may need extra protection. Dr. Andrew Cohen, a vet at Atlantic Veterinary College, said vaccines for Lyme disease and Leptospirosis may be useful in some areas. "Leptospirosis can be a pretty dangerous disease that dogs can get from drinking stale standing puddles of water," he said. "So, vaccination is a great way to double-protect your animal." 

Cohen said a dog should be vaccinated at least two weeks before travel since canine vaccines take 10 to 14 days to build immunity. Once your dog has got their shot, he added, it will be effective for a year. 

If your dog is prone to travel anxiety, Cohen also recommended speaking with a vet about medications that can help. 

What gear and supplies to pack     

The most important item to have with you on your trip is a leash no more than three metres long. Without this, your dog can't join you in the park. "It is the law that you have to keep your dog under physical control at all times while travelling in any of [Canada's] national parks," said Argument. "This is advisable even if you're staying overnight with your furry friend at a campground."

Julie Cossette of Cape Breton Highlands National Park noted that dog owners must also bring bags for their pet's waste — and dispose of it properly in garbage bins scattered throughout the park. She calls it the "leave no trace" approach. "We often see people putting their bag on the branch of a tree … or on the ground," said Cossette. "Pick it up, but if you leave it there, it's even worse because now it's a plastic bag on top of this."

Argument echoed that sentiment. "You're introducing things into the environment; you're leaving behind those unsightly deposits. They can introduce disease," he said. "Carry it with [you] out to the trailhead to dispose of it properly in a bear-proof container."

Along with a leash and waste bags, Alexandra Protopopova, who researches animal welfare at the University of British Columbia, suggested packing a few other key items: a portable water bowl; a pet first-aid kit; proof of a rabies shot; and if you have a large dog, an emergency sling you could use to carry it to safety. 

It may help to acquaint your dog with some of these elements before your adventure. "Consider practising putting the sling on with your dog at home and make sure to use plenty of positive-reinforcement training to get them accustomed to the sling," Protopopova said. "If your dog is anxious about being picked up, it may be a good idea to purchase and habituate the dog to a basket muzzle."

If you're staying overnight at a park, Protopopova also recommended a secure crate for your dog to sleep in but warned of the dangers of heatstroke. "You absolutely need to make sure that the dog will not be exposed to sun when contained," she said. "If you must leave your dog in the car overnight, make sure that the night temperature is sufficiently low and that you wake up earlier than the heat from the morning sun."

For Cohen, the ideal scenario would be for your dog to share your shelter. In some cases, he said, inflatable dog beds or heavy blankets can suffice for bedding. 

Aside from the proper gear for comfort and safety, dog owners must ensure their best friend has enough food throughout the trip. Cohen suggested organizing the portions for each meal into small bags instead of simply packing a large bag of food. "So, if you're able to portion out each meal, you'll be making sure that you're bringing enough for your morning and your evening feedings," he said. 

Safety in the park

While you're wandering the park, your dog must be kept hydrated. "Allowing your dog to drink as much water as they like is crucial to keeping them safe during summer travel," said Protopopova. "Owners should offer fresh, cool water every one to two hours when on the move.… However, don't feel that you need to force your dog to drink. Unless your dog has medical problems, your dog can identify when they are feeling thirsty."

It's also important to allow your dog plenty of rest in the shade so it doesn't get heatstroke. If you're concerned your pet is overheating, Cohen recommended checking the colour of their gums. "It should be a nice healthy pink," he said. "If it's looking like it's a little pale or it's trending towards white, that is a super emergency." At that point, you should get your dog assessed by a vet as soon as possible.

If the park you're visiting has a beach, be careful your dog doesn't drink salt water or swallow too much sand, which can become impacted. "If we're playing with balls or Frisbees on the beach and your dog is constantly picking those toys up, they are ingesting sand little by little," Cohen said. "[And] dogs sometimes really like the taste of the sea water, and so they'll start lapping that up, and that can make them pretty ill." If it gets to the point where your pet stops eating, it's time to take it to a vet. 

Once you've taken all the necessary steps to keep your furry friend safe and comfortable, you'll be ready to start making new memories together in some of the most scenic spots in the country.

"Vacation is often a way to create memories with friends and family — and dogs are a part of our family," said Cossette. "It is great to plan well so that everybody's happy and you meet your expectations and have a great time in the park."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacqueline Martinz is a Toronto-based writer. Her writing is often focused on issues impacting education, politics, philanthropy and animal welfare. When she isn’t writing, Jacqueline loves exploring the city and staying active with her dog, Oliver. Connect with Jacqueline through her website, jacquelinemartinz.com.

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