WHILE WANDERING the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, N.Y., in the summer of 2019, I came upon a raucous crowd of people. My wife and 8-year-old daughter in tow, I shouldered my way through to the front, half-expecting to find a bare-knuckle boxing match. Instead, the big reveal was a German shepherd sitting patiently on a long platform at one end of a waist-high oval pool. Athletic, regal, focused and, in an instant, gone. On command, he bolted across the deck, leapt off and soared after a toy his trainer had tossed. When the splash settled, we saw that the canine, a star in what turned out to be a DockDogs competition, had cleared a good 25 feet.
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That adventurous canine represented everything I had aspired to for our pet Chloe—then a 3-month-old, chocolate brown labradoodle—at least before this year’s pandemic grounded our plans. This fall, with our bond forged by 6 months cooped up together indoors, and with Covid-19 restrictions slowly relaxing, my best friend and I are yearning to break free for some kayaking, hiking, cycling and a ride or two on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP).
“ Any canine can become your ride-or-die companion that’s willing and able to share in all your Instagram-worthy adventures. ”
In a weird way, there’s never been a better time. For weekend warriors who don’t want to leave their dogs behind, brands have stepped up with gear designed to make exploring easier and safer for all. As long as your dog is smart, takes to training and is one of the breeds with the endurance to keep up, he can become your ride-or-die canine companion, able to share in all your Instagram-worthy adventures.
If you’re a runner, a sprint with your dog will likely be your first foray outdoors together. The leash you clip on him for casual strolls, however, won’t cut it. Instead, find one that cinches around your waist like Tuff Mutt’s Hands Free Dog Leash (from $ 29, tuffmutt.net). With Fido strapped to a point lower on your center of gravity, your hands are free to focus on running form. Bonus: You’re more likely to stay upright should he dart after a passing squirrel.
When you’re ready to head out for a more ambitious hike, consider outfitting your dog with Kurgo’s Step-N-Strobe boots ($ 72, kurgo.com), essentially trail running shoes for canine companions. Once strapped on, the treads protect sensitive paw pads from rocks and sticks, provide better traction on dirt, snow or ice and help insulate against scorching stone or concrete for summer days in the city.
Camping, an activity dogs are well-equipped to enjoy, is also easier with gear scaled for your pooch. You don’t want to share a sleeping bag with a hot, large mutt squirming as she slumbers. Ruffwear Highlands Dog Sleeping Bag lets you both rest easier (from $ 100, ruffwear.com). During the day your dog can chill out on top of the pad’s water-resistant shell, comfortably protected from the terrain. At night, she can curl up in its zippered pocket where synthetic down keeps her toasty.
However, just as lacing up a pair of Nikes won’t make you faster, strapping gear onto your dog won’t make him an able adventurer without proper training. Developing a pup obedient enough to follow voice commands and body language while in the wilderness can take years, said Mike Stewart, owner of Wildrose, an Oxford, Miss., training group that preps dogs for hunting, adventuring and service work. “They never stop learning so the training happens every day,” he said, but the fundamentals are surprisingly simple: stay, come and heel.
Whether you aim to take a chihuahua or a Great Dane into the wild, you’d better master these familiar commands indoors first. “If your dog doesn’t mind your commands at home, he won’t in an uncontrolled environment like a trail or park,” said Ronnie Smith, co-owner of Ronnie Smith Kennels in Pawhuska, Okla. “It’s the same thing with kids: If your kids don’t listen at home, they won’t at the state fair.”
This is especially true of getting your dog on the water. Whether you aspire to introduce her to kayaking or an SUP, let her get comfortable with the craft on land first, said Mr. Stewart. Let her eat next to it, coax her to get on and off it—then to sit on it for an extended period. Then add water: In the shallows, set your dog on the craft and lead her to practice getting off and on again. Then attempt some paddling.
When you leave land behind, you’ll want a vest to keep your furry friend safe. The Outward Hound Dawson Swim Life Jacket (from $ 29, outwardhound.com) is svelte, but boasts enough buoyancy to keep even larger dogs afloat should they get into trouble. The pair of top-mounted handles are also helpful if you have to quickly yank Rover out of the drink.
All of this adventuring doesn’t stop with the fair weather. If you can train your dog to tolerate snow, you have a sledding partner for life. Teach him to ski and you’re looking at a social-media influencer. For all the same reasons you wear goggles on the slopes—better clarity, protection from the sun, wind and debris—you’ll want to strap Rex Specs Goggles on your dog (from $ 80, rexspecs.com). Dogs’ eyes are particularly sensitive when they’re out in the wild. “Check their eyes at the end of every day,” said Mr. Stewart. “Their eyes collect the debris and that can quickly become an abscess.”
Is your pooch more town than country? Smaller dogs not built for long treks can still come along in a backpack built just for them. The Timbuk2 Muttmover Luxe ($ 139, timbuk2.com) is an easy way to haul your hairy friend to breakfast, the vet, the office or a friend’s place.
But before you start planning your route along the Appalachian Trail with the family beagle, honestly assess him. “Every dog is trainable, but they are susceptible to habitual behavior, just like humans,” said Susanna Love, co-owner of Ronnie Smith Kennels. In other words, it can be harder to teach an old dog new tricks.
My pup Chloe may not be ready to propel herself off a dock in front of a crowd yet, but a ride on the SUP beats a few lazy leaps through the sprinklers any day.
EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAYGLO GOGGLES
Gear for keeping your pup safe and happy while exploring the great outdoors
1. For Hiking
Kurgo Step-N-Strobe Dog Boots
You wouldn’t take on a rocky trail while barefoot, right? Neither should your dog. These booties protect your pup’s pads from rough overgrown paths, no matter if the ground is hot or cold, while providing a better grip on sketchy terrain. The water-resistant shell keeps your dog’s feet dry in snow and rain and the battery-powered LEDs flash with each step to help during evening walks. $ 72, kurgo.com
2. For Camping
Ruffwear Highlands Dog Sleeping Bed
Trust us: Splurging on a dog bed will make you both more comfortable in a tent. When your dog wants to relax fireside, he’ll plop on top of the bag’s water-resistant polyester shell. And when the temps drop, he can slip inside the cocoon filled with synthetic down. Come morning, it all packs into a sack that you can toss into the car or onto your backpack. From $ 100, ruffwear.com
3. For Kayaking and SUPing
Outward Hound Dawson Life Jacket
Even if you own a Labrador retriever, don’t assume your dog can paddle in the water. This personal flotation device (PFD) is sleeker than most while still providing enough buoyancy and insulation from the cold for even large German shepherds. The floatie that straps around your dog’s chest keeps his head above water. And the two grab handles on top make it easy to yank him out of the rapids if he falls in. From $ 29, outwardhound.com
4. For Running
Tuff Mutt Hands Free Dog Leash
This leash system wraps around your waist, letting your dog move in any direction while remaining tethered to your torso. The built-in shock absorber helps you keep your balance and remain upright if your dog darts off the path after wildlife. From $ 29, tuffmutt.net
5. For Urban Exploring
Timbuk2 Muttmover Luxe Backpack
There’s no sleeker way to carry dogs under 20 pounds around town, either on foot or a bike. Zip open the flap and load your dog into the bag, like a laptop, before you traverse the city. A clip keeps her leashed in, while expandable sides let her peek out the mesh windows. Or if she prefers to sit, she can stick her head out of the top. $ 139, timbuk2.com
6. For Sledding and Sidecar Rides
Rex Specs Goggles
The bombproof polycarbonate lens in these goggles are UV400 and block 99.9 percent of UVA and UVB rays, so they’ll protect your dog’s eyes from sun damage and drying winter winds. And the impact-resistant frames include breathable mesh that drains quickly—helpful if your pup loves the water. From $ 80, rexspecs.com
LESSONS FOR LESS ADVENTUROUS PUPS / How to train any dog to accompany you anywhere
Mary R. Burch, Ph.D., director of the American Kennel Club’s Family Dog program, on how to best train your pet to endure short- and long-distance travel, be it by plane, train or automobile:
Q: How do I get my dog comfortable with long car rides?
A: Before you leave home, do some simple training. First, make sure the car is the right temperature—not hot or stuffy, but not freezing. Put the dog in the back for a few minutes, close the door and stand outside. When she appears quiet and calm, give her a treat, then get her out of the car. Next, put the dog back in the car, hop in the driver’s seat, praise her in a happy voice, then start the engine and wait a few minutes. Then get everyone out again. Once she can tolerate this, start taking short car rides, like down the street or to a fun place like a park where the dog can run or walk with you. Remember, if the only time a young dog is in the car is for veterinarian visits, he might grow to dislike cars.
Q: How can I get my dog to like her travel crate?
A: Baby steps. Don’t start with leaving her in a crate for hours on end. Tell the dog to get inside, and when she’s in the crate, give her a treat and close the door. Wait a few seconds and release her. Then gradually increase her time spent in the crate. Plan to be near the crate in full view at first, and as your dog begins to feel comfortable you can move away from the crate until you are out of the room, and eventually out of the house. Consider leaving your dog with a toy that is filled with peanut butter or treats so she has something to do. When you release her, stay calm. If you jump up and down and shriek with joy, you might give your dog the impression that being in the crate is a bad thing. If you’re traveling to a pet-friendly hotel, it’s helpful for your dog to view the crate fondly, so don’t use the crate as a punishment.
Q: How do I prep my dog to fly?
A: Whether you have a larger dog that will be in cargo, or a small dog that will ride in the cabin, you’ll need to teach your dog to tolerate and sleep in her crate or carrier for several hours. You won’t have access to a plane to practice but you can go to an outdoor restaurant, when it’s temperate, and leave your small dog in a carry bag under a seat. Gradually lengthen the time your dog will stay in the bag, working up to a few hours. During training, periodically reward the dog with a treat for being quiet in the carry bag.
Q: My dog doesn’t love his carry bag. How can I get him to relax?
A: Start by letting the dog get familiar with the carrier. First, put it on the floor, toss a treat near the carrier and tell the dog, “Get it!” Then put some treats inside so your dog has to get into the carrier through the side opening if she wants the treats. When she is comfortable with this, pick up the carrier and walk for a few steps, then set her down and let her out. Increase your distance gradually until you can walk around the house with your dog in the carrier and with the top and side openings zipped shut. Then go outside and eventually get into the car or onto a bike to ride short distances before working up to longer rides.
Q: How do I prepare my dog for the subway or train?
A: This is mostly about getting your dog comfortable in a carrier since many trains and subways require them. But you can still get your dog used to the routine: Walk down the steps to the subway, walk along the platform, and go home. Then work up to getting on the train.
Q: How do I get my dog comfortable in a new environment, like a hotel room or Airbnb?
A: Bring along familiar things that will make your dog feel comfortable, like her crate, bedding, toys and the food and medication she normally has at home. Then, stick to her normal schedule, including walks, meal times and sleep. Exercise can help too—a tired dog is a happy dog. If you are going to leave the dog in the crate in the hotel room, leave the television on and give the dog something to play with in the crate, like a toy stuffed with a treat. And consider your trip: If you are going to theme parks while your dog is in a hotel room alone for 12 or 14 hours, your dog might be more comfortable at home with a pet sitter.
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Appeared in the October 3, 2020, print edition as ‘Ruff and Ready.’