The Outdoor Dog Training, Safety, & Gear Tips You Need
Hitting the trail (or river, or campsite) with your dog might sound like a dream: You and your best buddy, the great outdoors, a wagging tail, a welcome snuggle at the top of the mountain or the end of the day.
But all too often, the combination of dogs and outdoor adventures means off-leash shenanigans, a constant stream of “Leave it!” and “Come back here!,” or even serious risks to your dog’s health and safety.
Utah is blessed with an abundance of outdoor dog trails, parks, and campgrounds (see “Hiking With Your Hound” and “Have Dog, Will Travel” at sportsguidemag.com for some of our favorites). Equipped with proper training, safety awareness, and pup-friendly gear, you and your four-legged friend can look forward to a lifetime of exploring together.
Your Canine Companion
Which dog will make the best buddy for your hikes, runs, or paddling trips? Most likely, the dog you already have. Even toy breeds can be great trail companions, though they may tucker out early and need a lift.
If you’re considering adopting a dog, however, some breeds and traits are definitely better suited to river and trail than others. In particular, brachycephalic breeds—“flat-faced” dogs such as pugs and French bulldogs—often struggle to breathe on long trips or at high altitudes.
Sturdy working dogs such as Australian shepherds or water-loving breeds like Labrador retrievers make rugged, reliable companions for all sorts of adventures.
But whichever breed you’re considering, take into account how often you’ll actually be outdoors with your dog. If you’re a weekend warrior with two weeks of vacation a year, that’s a lot of downtime for an active breed of dog such as a border collie, and understimulated dogs tend to get into trouble.
Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
Dog behavior experts and veterinarians agree: The most important part of having a positive outdoor experience is ensuring that your dog is trained to react properly to distractions and dangers both on- and off-leash.
“The number-one most important skill for a dog that will be off-leash is rock-solid recall,” says Ty Brown, professional trainer and owner of Ty the Dog Guy. With all the distractions that being on the trail involves, “You need to be able to call your dog off a rabbit, a deer, or another dog and have it respond to you instantly.”
Even a dog that’s perfectly trained to abandon a distraction and come back to your side can get into trouble on the trail. Steep dropoffs, stray snakes, or tempting but toxic plants may lurk just around the corner. Keeping your dog within a 30’ radius at all times, whether with a long leash or simply a watchful eye, can help stave off unforeseen dangers.
For even the best-behaved pup, spotting other dogs along the trail can pose a nearly irresistible temptation—and a potential hazard. “Most people see being outside as an activity where a dog should go up to and play with every other dog it sees,” Brown says. “But that’s not a good way for dogs to meet.”
Instead, Brown suggests that dogs should look to their owners before making any movements toward other dogs or people. “Proper dog socialization looks a lot like human socialization. When you’re in line at the bank, you don’t engage everyone else in conversation. You mind your own business and respond in a polite way if you’re approached by someone else.”
While a watchful eye goes a long way toward preventing doggie distress on the trail, there are still plenty of hazards that can befall your pup. Keep an eye out for these common issues and injuries.
Heat Exhaustion: Even in cooler fall and winter months, an active dog can overheat in less time than you’d think. Long-haired breeds such as huskies are at particular risk, but any dog is susceptible to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Take frequent breaks for rest and water, and keep an eye out for symptoms such as increased drooling, red gums, and uncontrolled panting: all signals your dog is in distress.
Painful Paws: Sun-scorched trails, sharp rocks, and icy snow can all wreak havoc on your dog’s tender paw pads. Before starting a hike or trail run, test the ground’s temperature with your hand: If it’s too hot for you to touch comfortably for five seconds, it’s too hot for your dog’s feet. Protect those paws with a properly fitted set of booties.
Sprains and Strains: Dogs are just as vulnerable as humans are to wrenched ankles and twisted knees. In fact, injuries to the cruciate (knee) ligament are the second most common outdoor injury among dogs, according to Dr. Carol McConnell, DVM, chief veterinary officer at Veterinary Pet Insurance. She recommends keeping an eye on your dog’s weight to help prevent these painful and frequently costly problems: “A common cause to all sorts of knee problems is obesity. Of course, keeping dogs lean can’t always prevent this injury, but it may help lower your dog’s risk.”
Bites and Stings: The backcountry is filled with insects that are seemingly lying in wait for your pup. The warning buzz of a bee or a wasp may keep humans at bay, but it sparks dogs’ curiosity and invites investigation. Most bee or wasp stings are simply painful annoyances, but if your dog manages to get a sting inside its mouth or throat, the resulting swelling can block its airway.
Tick bites pose another painful problem. Fortunately, Lyme disease isn’t endemic to Utah, but there are several other tick-borne diseases that can be transmitted to dogs, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Be sure to inspect your dog for ticks after rambling through wooded areas, especially the tender skin around and inside its ears: a perfect place for these little critters to hide.
Another dangerous bite comes from the common mosquito. While mosquito bites themselves aren’t particularly dangerous, they can transmit heartworm larvae, leading to a debilitating and potentially deadly infection. Year-round protection with a monthly chewable tablet or topical liquid is your best bet to keep your dog heartworm-free.
If you’re hiking or camping in an area known to be particularly buggy, you may be tempted to spritz your dog with some of the DEET repellent you carry for yourself. Don’t do it! According to the ASPCA, dogs exposed to DEET may exhibit symptoms ranging from conjunctivitis (pink eye) to breathing problems and seizures.
As we head into Utah’s crisp fall months, there’s no better time to take your dog for a long walk, run, or paddle. Make this your best season yet with a trail-ready outdoor dog.
Having the right gear can make the difference between a great trip and one that’s memorable for all the wrong reasons. Check out these options to help keep you and your dog safe and happy on your next adventure.
Switch easily between a short leash, a long leash, or no leash at all. The adjustable length gives you and your dog the freedom appropriate to any situation, and it folds and clips neatly around your dog’s neck so you don’t have to carry it. $18
This high-visibility life jacket keeps dogs securely afloat. Bright colors maximize visibility, even in choppy waters, while the ergonomic grab handle lets you pull your pup to safety in an emergency. $19
Smaller and older dogs may not always be able to keep up on the trail, but that doesn’t mean they want to stay at home. Give them a welcome boost with this comfortable and secure backpack-style carrier. $120
This comprehensive kit keeps you and your dog safe in the backcountry with first aid essentials for all your adventures. $50
Available in both lightweight all-weather and fleece-lined cold-weather models, Muttluks protect your dog’s paws from heat, cold, cuts, and bruises. $55
In-Person and DVD Dog Training Programs by Ty the Dog Guy
Whether you’re teaching a puppy to sit and stay or trying to cure an adult dog of aggression problems, professional guidance means a smoother, happier experience for both you and your pet. Ty Brown teaches in-person classes in Salt Lake City and offers video training wherever you are.