Taking your dog for a hike on a nice sunny day is something just about everyone enjoys. The joy in most dog’s body language as they sniff or run their way through an open field or down a wooded path certainly brings a great amount of happiness to their human companion. Not to mention the benefits that us humans ourselves get out of being “in nature.” Don’t trust me, just google benefits of outdoor activity and find a host of articles extolling the virtues of taking time to leave our temperature controlled spaces and venture out into parks and forests.
Personally, Glia and I make it a point to venture off the city streets and on to unpaved terrain at least once a week. Over the past few years, we have discovered that there are a few items we need to take with to make every hike a success. Below is my list of absolute essentials when heading out on a hike with a four-legged friend.
1. A dog ideally suited for the hike.
While this seems like an obvious essential, it is important to note that every dog has different limits. It is important not to take an individual dog on a hike that they are not ready for.
For example, a very young puppy may not have the stamina for hours of hiking. And are at higher risk for injury until their growth is complete. A common rule of thumb is that a puppy should exercise on leash for 5 minutes per month of age. So an 8 week old puppy (2 months) should walk for 10 minute intervals, while a 6 month old puppy could handle a 30 minute outing. I find that many 6 month old high energy puppies can hike longer then this if you are hiking on relatively flat terrain and your puppy is used to daily exercise. However, I use that 30 minute reminder to pause, although the puppy to sniff around, do some training, offer some water, and give their growing body a chance to recharge.
An older dog with early arthritis will certainly appreciate an outing, but a relaxed pace and less strenuous terrain will be appreciated. If you are hiking with an arthritic dog, check out our post with 5 important considerations for hiking with an arthritic dog.
Out-of-shape dogs may need some physical training to be able to go for longer and more intense outings. But start slow and get moving. The best thing for an overweight dog is to lose weight. By getting your dog moving and reducing their calorie intake, you can add years to there life. Just check out the Purina Life Span Study.
Thankfully, most dogs quickly become about as in-shape (or more so) as their humans if the two of you are exercising together regularly. Overall, any healthy dog can be a good trail partner with a little training and time spent conditioning your dog to the rigors of individual trails.
2. An appropriate collar or harness.
There are many different collars and harnesses on the market for dogs. Choosing the right one depends on your dog and where you are hiking.
A Gentle Leader
For neighborhood walks or walks on trails with lots of traffic, I prefer to use a Gentle Leader. The main advantage to a Gentle Leader is increased contact between the handler and the dog’s head. It is much easier to redirect a dog from a distraction if your are able to gently and easily turn their head to you. A lot of dog training has to do with eye contact and with a traditional collar, tugging on the collar pulls the dog towards you, but does not turn the head towards you. Additionally, the Gentle Leader has the added benefit of reducing pulling, as the nose strap tightens with applied pressure. This reinforces loose leash walking as the pressure releases when the leash is loose.
For many dogs option 2, a flat collar, works well for a variety of walks and hikes. Glia and I have had some issues with her regular collars slipping over her head unless they are tightened further than I feel is comfortable for her. As a result, we have transitioned to martingale style collars or harnesses (see next paragraph) when we are out on less populated trails.
If you haven’t heard of a martingale collar before, a martingale collar consists of two interconnected collars. One is connected to the lead the other wraps around the dog’s neck. If a dog pulls on the lead, the collar around the neck tightens. These collars were originally designed for greyhounds and other breeds with large necks and small heads, as those dogs are at higher risk of the collars slipping over their heads.
You can find plenty of pictures of Glia in her bright pink martingale collar on our Twitter account.
Dogs… “They motivate us to play, be affectionate, seek adventure and be loyal.” – Tom Hayden
— Pawsitively Intrepid (@paws_intrepid) March 11, 2019
Option 3, harnesses. Glia has tried out multiple different styles of harnesses (all of which are still in our closet). When we originally wrote this post, we used three different style harnesses.
Her first harness was a no-pull harness that we occasionally used in the neighborhood and out on short trail walks. The tightening around the ribcage discourages pulling and the fit was comfortable for her.
For longer hikes, we often used Glia’s Ruffwear Front Range harness. The reason for this is that we often use a retractable leash (see more about this in the next section) when we are out in more remote areas. The retractable leash applies a small amount of pressure on a dog unless they are right next to the handle of the leash. As a result, no-pull styles do not work as well, as they never truly loosen to reward the dog for not pulling.
Glia’s final harness was a skijoring harness (if you haven’t heard of skijoring before, it is a sport where a dog pulls a cross country skier). We used (and still use) this for bike rides, cross-country skiing, and other situations where is it acceptable for Glia to pull on her leash.
However, today our go-to harness for almost all of our hikes is the Ruffwear Webmaster. This harness is great as it has an additional belly strap that the Front Range does not have. This keeps the harness securely on and prevents Glia from having any opportunity to slip her harness while out on a hike.
If you are having trouble choosing the right harness for your dog, read our 3 Tips for Choosing the Best Harness for Your Dog’s Next Adventure.
3. The right leash.
The best recommendation for a leash is a durable leash that is six feet or under. This keeps the dog in close proximity to the handler and thus it is easy for the handler to maintain good awareness and control of the dog. Many on-leash areas require leashes of this length of less. Even if you are headed to an off-leash area, it is necessary to have a proper leash to get the dog from the car to the off-leash site.
Glia has a 4-foot and a 6-foot flat leash, both of which we use in higher traffic areas or when regulations require them. We also have a nice hands-free leash from TuffMutt.
The Retractable Leash
The retractable leash is a frequently used leash option that has as many pitfalls as it does benefits. Glia and I love our retractable leash for one main reason – she can explore in a manner that is similar to when she is off leash, getting further ahead or behind me than a traditional leash allows. It is easier for her to pause to sniff an interesting smell or to traverse difficult terrain that does not allow for easy movement when we are side-by-side.
However, just as being off-leash requires proper training, training is necessary to use a retractable leash safely. An out of control dog on a retractable leash is a liability. The narrow cords can be a hazard. They can wrap around people or the dog and cause injury. They are more breakable than a traditional leash. A quick burst of high pressure can break the mechanism that helps the leash retract. More force is applied when the dog is further away from the handler. And the dog can get up to higher speeds before it hits the end of the leash. This can result in pulled shoulders for the human and a sore neck (or worse) for the dog.
A good recall and stop command are essential prior to using a retractable leash with your dog. Also, from my experience it is much easier for a dog to get wrapped around trees the longer the leash is – Glia has learned a nice “back-up” command to help with maneuvering out of leash tangles caused by sniffing through the woods on the side of a trail while on her retractable leash.
4. Doggy Waste Bags.
It is important to always have a way to clean up after your dog while out and about. Even in less populated areas, picking up after your dog is always the right thing to do. Orphaned dog poop can stick around for a while and can hurt the environment in addition to being a hazard for future hikers. Help keep trails open to dogs by being a good community trail user and keeping the trails as clean as possible.
5. An ID Tag.
Every adventurous dog needs proper identification. Glia always wears either a collar with tags or a harness with tags. Make sure that an updated phone number is present on all identification tags. As a second precaution, I highly recommend microchipping. Harnesses and collars can be removed/lost, but microchips are essentially barcodes placed under the skin. If registered, this permanent identification is linked with the dog’s contact information. The first thing most shelters, animal control officers, and veterinarians do with a found pet without an ID tag is scan for a microchip.
6. Water supply.
Every hike that lasts for more than an hour on cool days (or really more than 15 minutes on a hot day) should include water for the adventurous dog. There are several different options for carrying water for your dog.
Some hikers just carry a regular water bottle and a collapsible bowl. When we backpack, we use this method as a collapsible water bowl hardly takes up any space in my pack. And I am already carrying water in my hydration pack.
However, Glia and I also have two styles of dog water bottles. The first is one which has a bowl that clips to the bottle to pour water in.
The second is one which has a bowl as part of the bottle. Water can be squeezed up to drink from and then when you stop squeezing the water is sucked back into the bottle. This is a nice feature, as I often end up tossing water that I offer to Glia in more traditional bowls if she does not end up drinking all of it.
Bonus Item: Treats
We believe that every hike is a training opportunity for you and your dog. Bringing some high value treats along can help you reward your dogs excellent behavior – like loose leash walking past another dog, not barking at that squirrel, or looking at the camera so you can take the picture picture of your hike.
So there you have it.
The 6 essential items for all adventurous dog hikes. Do you have any items that you consider essential for you and your dog on an everyday hike? Let us know in the comments below.