There's nothing better than seeing your dog running up the trail ahead of you, or having him on your board when you go out for a paddle. But—as we are all reminded thanks to stories like the one about the German Shepherd who was abandoned during a hike in Colorado when her paws were too injured to continue on—we need to prepare for a few bumps in the road. We turned to Eleasha Gall, director of animal behavior and training who oversees the care of all the animals at Long Beach's offshoot of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, for her guide to keeping Fido happy, healthy, and safe while playing outdoors.
Get your dog vaccinated.
This is a no-brainer, but it never hurts to have a reminder. "The big one is the rabies vaccine," Gall explains. "Unless you live in Hawaii (which has zero cases of rabies), your dog must have this shot, even if he only travels to your backyard." Every state has different regulations for how often your dog needs the booster shot, so check local laws.
Take a few obedience classes.
If you let your dog off the leash, you need to have a plan for getting her back again. If your dog won't come back to you in the yard, why would she do so in the great outdoors? "A simple, easy recall manual is called the ‘Really Really Reliable Recall’ by Leslie Nelson," Gall says. "It's a small, cheap book with amazing information. But buying a book isn't enough—you have to practice!" If you don't have a recall, a long-line leash is a great bet. They come in a few lengths up to 100 feet and will keep your dog safe.
"We use it," says Gall, "so why not put some on our dogs? My favorite is Ruffwear's Bark 'n' Boots. If you're going to be on rocky terrain, it's good to err on the side of caution. Plus, if your dogs are anything like mine, they usually cover two to four times the distance you do with all the running back and forth. Yes, it does take some time to get your dog used to wearing boots, but it is well worth the initial time investment."
Depending on your activity, having a harness on your dog may be essential. For quick hikes, they may not be necessary, but if you are going out for a long day or even overnight hike, why not have your dog carry some of his own stuff? Gall explains that "the added bonus of a harness is that it takes the pressure off the dog's neck when you do want to clip a leash on, and if you need to pick your dog up, it will be a lot easier." For everyday adventures (anything that includes a car trip), harnessing and belting your dog into his seat is the safest way to go. The Ruff Rider Roadie actually has a crash test rating!
If you have your dog on the water, this is absolutely essential. "Before bringing my dog to any water activity, I teach them to swim in shallow water where they can walk in and out," says Gall. "But once we get to the deep stuff, like where I go paddleboarding, they can't touch bottom. That's when I grab the vest. One time my dog, Monster, was being dive-bombed on the front of my board by seagulls and I fully expected him to jump off, but I used the paddle to scare the birds away. Better to be cautious!"
Keep in mind
Make sure your dog is fit enough for your activity level.
If your dog is a couch potato, even a 5-mile hike on hilly terrain could be too much. "Last year, some people had to have their dog airlifted out of the Los Angeles National Forest," explains Gall. "What was supposed to be a nice day hike turned into an overnight affair when they couldn't carry their 80-pound dog out. These dog owners, unlike the owner from Colorado, chose to stay with their dog overnight until help came." Slowly work up your dog's endurance close to home until it matches your own, and always give your dog a break during hikes.
Know when to leave your dog at home.
If it's a new trail or you aren't sure how many days you'll be out, leave the pups at home until you know what you're dealing with. "They put their lives in our hands," says Gall. "So we need to weigh that against our desire to have them out with us sometimes."
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