Are Blue Heelers good hiking companions?
A well socialized and trained Australian Cattle Dog makes an excellent hiking companion. They were bred for the outdoors herding cattle all day long. They are able to travel long distances over uneven terrain while herding which makes them excellent hiking dogs. They are an active outdoor breed that has a high level of stamina. Blue Heelers are tolerant of warmer weather and reasonably able to cope with cold temperatures.
What traits make a Blue Heeler a good hiking dog?
Australian Cattle Dogs are athletic dogs that have many traits that make them excellent hiking companions. In fact, walking long distances over varied and difficult terrain is what they are born to do. Traits that make them good hiking dogs include –
Endurance: A dog needs to be able to go the distance and have the ability to travel long distances over varied and sometimes difficult terrain. Blue Heelers were originally bred to be herding and droving dogs which involved walking or running long distances. They have a high level of endurance and energy compared to many other dog breeds.
Blue Heelers also make excellent running partners. A healthy adult Blue Heeler can easily run 7 to 10 miles (11 to 16km). With the right training and conditioning, a Blue Heeler could run much longer distances. A full day of hiking with rests along the way is well within the ability of an Australian Cattle Dog.
Weather Tolerance: The weather conditions can vary depending on the time of year. In summer it gets hot while in winter it is much cooler. Despite the time of year, the weather can change quickly. A good hiking dog needs to be able to cope with different and varying weather.
Blue Heelers are robust and hardy dogs that are reasonably tolerant of cooler temperatures, even as cold as freezing or below. In temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celcius) it is best for them to wear a coat.
For cold weather tips for Blue Heelers see here.
Being bred for the scorning Australian sun, they are also fairly tolerant of warmer weather. However, heat exhaustion or even heat stroke is a genuine concern when exercising any dog in hot weather. The ideal temperature for this breed is around 55 to 70F (13 to 20 degrees) but they are fine in hotter weather as long as you take precautions.
For hot weather tips for Blue Heelers see here
The type of weather is also relevant. If it is a sunny, dry 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celcius) outside, most Blue Heelers are fine as long as they are moving around. If it is a wet and windy day it can feel a lot colder. Blue Heelers have a water-resistant coat and thick undercoat to keep themselves warm but a coat is recommended in this type of weather.
Any dog that you chose to take hiking must be smart enough to be aware of its surroundings and any potential problems. They must also be easy to train and be obedient. A Blue Heeler is a very smart (learn just how smart a Blue Heeler is here) dog and is easy to train. With consistent training, they are generally very obedient.
A dog on the hiking trails needs to be sure-footed and agile enough to manage the terrain. They need to also be able to react quickly if the terrain moves underfoot. A regular exercise routine will ensure your Blue Heeler is in the right shape for hiking. For a guide to Blue Heeler exercise with suggestions see here.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a protective and alert guardian. They will fearlessly protect you from any threats or dangers out on the trail. This includes both human and wildlife threats. They make excellent guard dogs. For more on Blue Heelers as guard dogs see here.
Things to consider if your Blue Heeler is ready for hiking
Overall, a Blue Heeler is a suitable hiking companion. However, there are things to take into consideration as to whether your RBlue Heeler is ready for the trails.
Age of your Australian Cattle Dog
Hiking is not a suitable activity for a young Blue Heeler puppy. They simply don’t have the endurance and their muscles, tendons, and joints are still growing and developing. It is best to wait until they are at least a year old.
For an older Blue Heeler puppy, over 9 months old, it is possible to start to take them for short hikes to get them used to the activity. A puppy should only be walked for approximately 5 minutes for every month of age at a time. For a 9-month-old puppy, a walk of 45 minutes should be the maximum.
For a senior Ridgeback over 7 or 8 years old, hikes should be adjusted to suit them. As a dog gets into their senior years their energy levels decrease and their bodies can not cope with the same levels of stress. This is especially true if they are starting to develop arthritics or hip dysplasia.
If you going to take your older Blue Heeler hiking, keep to a shorter distance, and monitor them. Rest or end the hike if it seems to be too demanding on them.
Behavior and obedience
It is important that your Blue Heeler is well trained, socialized, and obedient. An untrained, out-of-control dog can potentially get you both into trouble out on the trail.
You may come across other hikers, some with dogs along the way. You need to be confident that your Blue Heeler is social. If they are unfriendly to strangers or other dogs the situation could turn bad quickly. A well-socialized Blue Heeler is generally good with other people and dogs.
If your Blue Heeler is to be off-leash on the hike, they need excellent recall. There may be many distractions such as small wildlife. If your Blue Heeler takes chase they may become lost. Blue Heelers are usually good off-leash as long as they have had consistent training. For more on recall training for a Blue Heeler see here.
If you are walking your Blue Heeler on a leash you don’t want them pulling. This can be dangerous to you if they pull you over. They are stronger than their size would indicate and are capable of pulling over even a strong adult. For a guide to loose leash walking a Blue Heeler see here.
Level of fitness
The fitness level of your Blue Heeler is an important consideration. If your Blue Heeler is not getting regular exercise it may not be able to cope with the riggers of hiking. For a full guide to Blue Heeler exercise see here.
How far can a Blue Heeler hike in a day?
Australian Cattle Dogs were bred to travel long-distance while out herding and droving. The distance your Blue Heeler can travel in a day is dependent on their level of fitness and experience with hiking.
For a Blue Heeler that is less active, in their senior years, or is newest to hiking, a hike of up to 10 miles (16km) is more than sufficient. A Blue Heeler that is fit and goes on regular hikes can go for hikes of between 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48km). They are even suitable for multiple-day hikes.
If your Blue Heeler is not an experienced hiker, it is best to start off slow and over shorter distances. Hikes of 2 to 5 miles (3 to 8 km) are more than enough. Gradually increase the distance over time. Ensure you give your Blue Heeler and yourself regular breaks and monitor them for signs of fatigue.
You will know the fitness level of your own Blue Heeler so set a distance that you feel is within their ability.
How to prepare your Blue Heeler for a hike
It is important that your Blue Heeler is conditioned and fit enough for the length of hike you want to go for. If your Blue Heeler is not getting regular exercise and is not fit enough for the journey you have planned you may have problems. I am sure you don’t want to carry a Blue Heeler back.
In the weeks leading up to the hike, walk your Blue Heeler daily gradually increasing the distance you walk. You can also schedule some short hikes on similar terrain. Monitor your Blue Heeler to see how they cope with the activity. If you have any concerns they are not ready for a longer hike, postpone the trip until they are.
Hiking Gear you need for your Blue Heeler
You know that it is important to ensure you have the right suppliers and gear for yourself when you go hiking. It is equally important that you have everything that your Blue Heeler will need. Your Blue Heeler may also be able to carry some of its own gear in a backpack.
These are some essential suppliers you will need.
Leash and harness: Even if your Blue Heeler is to be off-leash on the hike it is still a good idea to have a leash for them. Ensure that you have a leash that is comfortable for you to hold and a collar or harness that is comfortable for them.
It is also a good idea to have a long line so that you can maintain control while giving them a little more freedom to explore. Check out the range of long lines on Amazon.
Dog BackPack: a good quality backpack will enable your Blue Heeler to carry its own gear and maybe even some of yours. Be careful not to add too much weight to avoid overloading your Blue Heeler. Around 10% of their body weight is probably about right. Remember that 1 liter (33 ounces) of water weighs about 1kg (2.2 pounds).
You will need a backpack that is strong and durable. I recommend the Mountainsmith K-9 Dog Pack available here on Amazon.
Food and water: Ensure you give them plenty of water to keep them hydrated. Also, have some treats or snacks for them but be careful not to overfeed them. See below for more on feeding. For more information on dog hydration see here.
First Aid Kit: You should have a first aid kit with suppliers suitable for both your Blue Heeler and you. If your Blue Heeler gets an injury, even if it is a small cut, this will be invaluable in patching them up until you can get to a vet.
Paw protection: You will obviously be wearing hiking boots or good-quality shoes to protect your own feet. Your Blue Heeler’s paws also need protection from twigs, rocks, and uneven terrain. Durable dog boots are a good idea.
The RUFFWEAR, Grip Trex Outdoor Dog Boots with Rubber Soles for Hiking and Running are ideal for a Blue Heeler. View on Amazon.
If you do choose to put dog boots on your Blue Heeler for the hike, make sure they are used to wearing them. You wouldn’t go hiking wearing brand new boots that weren’t broken in.
If you choose not to use dog boots, it is a good idea to carry some Paw Balm in the first aid kit to treat any cracks or cuts that may occur to the paw pads.
Dog jacket or cooling vest: You have the appropriate apparel for yourself to suit the conditions. You will also need the appropriate apparel for your Blue Heeler.
If you are hiking in a colder climate or the weather is likely to change, bring a warm fleece-lined and waterproof jacket for your Blue Heeler. View winter dog jackets here on Amazon.
Should you feed your Blue Heeler before or after a hike?
Your Blue Heeler will obviously require energy stores for the hike. However, there is a risk involved with feeding a dog too soon before exercise or activity.
The minor risks are stomach pain or vomiting. This may be caused by their stomach being too full and they are trying to run, jump, investigate, and roll in the grass.
The more serious risk is that feeding a dog too soon before vigorous activity can lead to bloat or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV). Bloat is where the stomach blows up like a balloon. GDV is where the stomach twists and it cuts off circulation as well as access. Both of these issues are extremely serious and can be fatal.
You should feed your Blue Heeler not less than one hour before the hike, but two hours is better to be safe. After the hike, you should wait at least one hour to feed, but again longer is better.
Hiking etiquette when hiking with your Blue Heeler
As a hiker, there are certain rules and etiquette that are expected. As a dog owner, you are responsible for your dog. It is important to respect the rules and environment to make it fun for everyone – you, your Blue Heeler, and other trail users.
- Check that the trail you plan to hike on is dog friendly and check if dogs are required to be leashed.
- Yield trail right of way when you come across other hikers on the trail. Not all people are dog lovers. If you meet other hikers with dogs, be sure to check with the owner before allowing the dogs to greet. For more on Blue Heelers with other dogs see here.
- Yield right of way if you come across anybody on horseback. Ensure you keep your Blue Heeler calm and don’t allow them to bark or lunge at the horse.
- Yield right of way to cyclists. It is easier for you and your Blue Heeler to step to the side than a cyclist having to lift their bike to the side.
- Pick up your dog’s poo. Not only could someone step in it. It can be very toxic and damaging to the environment including waterways.
- Stick to the trail to avoid any environmental impact. Also, ensure that your dog doesn’t bother any wildlife. In short, leave all plant and animal life exactly as you found it.
If you are planning to take your Australian Cattle Dog hiking, we hope these tips and information have been useful.