Getting outdoors with your dog 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 the dog and I make it a point to venture off the city streets and on to unpaved terrain weekly. 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. An older dog with early arthritis will certainly appreciate an outing, but a relaxed pace and less strenuous terrain will be appreciated. Out-of-shape dogs may need some physical training to be able to go for longer and more intense outings. 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. Glia has 5 different styles that I mix up depending on the activity. 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 with the nose strap tightening with applied pressure.
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.
Option 3, harnesses. Glia has three different style harnesses. Her first harness is a no-pull harness that we occasionally use in the neighborhood and out on short trail walks. The tightening around the ribcage discourages pulling and the fit is comfortable for her. For longer hikes, we often use 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 is a skijoring harness (if you haven’t heard of skijoring before, it is a sport where a dog pulls a cross country skier). We use this for bike rides, cross-country skiing, and other situations where is it acceptable for Glia to pull on her leash.
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.
The retractable leash is a frequently used 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 for the dog.
A good recall and stop command are recommended 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 flat 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 that (if registered) are linked with the dog’s related contact information.
6. Water supply.
Every hike that lasts for more than an hour on cool days (or really more than 20 minutes on a really 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. Glia and I 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.
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? Let us know in the comments below.