Outdoor Activities with Dogs
Participating in outdoor activities with dogs often requires thinking ahead. The necessary tools and items needed for making an outing successful and fun vary according to activity. With planning, however, you and your dog may reap the many benefits of enjoying the great outdoors together.
Preparing for Outdoor Activities
Training and Socialization
Outdoor activities may bring you and your dog into contact with other people and animals. Your dog should be thoroughly trained to obey basic commands such as “come,” “sit,” or “stay.” Making sure that your dog is accustomed to being around strange people and dogs also helps chance encounters go well, and your dog is less likely to experience anxiety or stress in unfamiliar situations.
An outdoor excursion may expose your pet to disease or parasites. “Ensuring that your dog has all of his vaccinations is necessary to protect him from transferable diseases,” writes Deidre Grieves in Dog Park Safety. Check with your veterinarian to keep up-to-date on all standard vaccines, and ask about any additional vaccines they may recommend, particularly if you are traveling to an area with certain health risks.
Watch Your Dog
Closely supervise your pet, particularly if they encounter other dogs. In 4 Tips for Taking Your Dog to the Beach Katie Finlay warns: “Be prepared to intervene…to prevent any fights from breaking out.” Even nonviolent encounters may not be positive: some dogs may be aggressive and intimidating, so it’s important to make sure your dog becomes neither bullied nor the bully.
Microchips and Identification
In case your dog runs out of sight or goes missing, always make sure to have up-to-date information on the dog’s collar and ask your veterinarian about microchipping. “You can also opt for a dog ID tag…with a unique location code that anyone can use to help you find your dog,” adds Grieves.
Popular Outdoor Activities
When choosing a dog park, make sure that it is not only a convenient location but safe and free of any potential hazards. Other factors to keep in mind are:
- Familiarize yourself with any rules for the parks you visit. For instance, many parks contain sections for certain sizes of dogs.
- Don’t bring young puppies to the park.
- Avoid bringing toys. Dogs tend to be possessive or territorial about their things—or items which they imagine to be their things—and this may cause conflict with other dogs.
Dogs are pack animals, but not all enjoy going to the dog park. In an article for PetMD, Victoria Schade explains that this may be due to several reasons, such as:
- Overcrowding, especially if the park mixes dogs of all sizes
- As they mature, many dogs outgrow the need to play or rough-house
- High levels of physical activity may be hard on a dog’s body, especially if they have conditions such as arthritis or are recovering from an injury
If your dog doesn’t enjoy a certain dog park, Schade recommends a change of scenery, going at “off-peak” times to avoid overcrowding or encounters with problem dogs, or arranging one-on-one “play dates” with a dog friend to provide socialization in a smaller, more controlled environment.
Hiking is an excellent way to combine exercise with exploration and enjoyment of nature. Keep these things in mind when on the trail:
- When encountering other hikers (with or without dogs), step to the side of the path and allow them to pass.
- During warm or humid weather, hike during the early morning or late evenings.
- Be aware of the terrain, such as cliffs, drop-offs, and bodies of water.
- Rodgers points out that “many state parks and nature preserves allow hiking with dogs, but only if they’re leashed.” This “eliminates the potential for negative interactions between dogs or between your dog and other people” as well as protects the environment and wildlife species.
- NPS’s “Leave No Trace” principles ask that hikers pick up their dogs’ waste to avoid spreading diseases or interfering with natural ecosystems.
PetMD’s Tips for Safely Biking With Your Dog explains that having your dog run alongside as you bike is like a dog’s version of jogging, so consult your veterinarian to be sure your dog is physically fit for this activity. Some dogs may be too young, old, overweight, or small to safely keep up with a bike. Others may have underlying health conditions that would make less strenuous activities more suitable.
If the veterinarian deems your dog fit for “jogging,” you should do a few things to acclimate your dog to this new activity. Establish a regular walking routine to increase their stamina. Meanwhile, teach your dog verbal cues they will need to know when you transition to biking. Choose simple words, such as “this way” for changing directions and “watch” to get your dog’s attention amid distractions, and reinforce good behavior with treats.
You will need some special equipment to bike safely and successfully with your dog:
- A bicycle dog leash. Rather than holding onto a regular walking leash near the bike’s handlebars—which is dangerous for both rider and dog—a bicycle leash attaches to the bike in a way that keeps the dog away from the tires. Bicycle leash attachments often have a built-in spring system that compensates for pulling motions; this protects both dog and rider from being jerked in the wrong direction.
- A reflective dog harness. It isn’t safe to attach a bicycle leash directly to the dog’s collar. Instead, attach it to a fitted body harness. This harness should have built-in reflective material to increase visibility, or reflective tape may be applied to an existing harness.
- Blinking lights attached to your dog’s collar and your bike increases visibility to other people on the road or bike trails.
- Additional supplies may include hiking-grade dog boots (for slippery, hot, or cold surfaces), reflective rain gear, and gear for cold weather.
Allow your dog to first investigate the bike while it’s stationary, and then slowly begin walking the dog while rolling the bike alongside. Ease your dog into the habit of jogging by taking short “walks” at first, riding your bike at a low pace over a short distance. Choose easy bike paths, preferably of soft materials such as grass or dirt.
While biking, watch your dog for signs of fatigue or overheating, such as heavy panting, excessive drooling, or loss of coordination. If your dog seems tired or begins to slow down, take a rest and give them some water. If you need to stop or park your bike, do not leave your dog attached to it, as it may accidentally fall on and injure your dog.
On the Beach
Some beaches allow dogs, while others are designated as dog beaches. Dogs of different sizes, breeds, and temperaments may be grouped together, often unleashed. This underscores the importance of having a well-trained and socialized dog.
On (and In) the Water
Some dog breeds, such as spaniels, have a natural affinity for water, while others, like Bulldogs, may have difficulty swimming and staying afloat due to their body type. Regardless of breed or swimming skill, if your dog is going to be around water—whether swimming in a pool, playing on a beach, or accompanying you on a boat—you should be aware of basic water safety as well as procure a dog life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).
There is a difference between life jackets and life vests for dogs. In an article for the American Kennel Club (AKC), Randa Kriss explains that life jackets “cover more of your dog and provide both buoyancy and visibility. They’re recommended for boating and other water activities.” However, life vests are lighter-weight and tend to cover less of the dog, making it easier for casual swimming in a pool.
“If you and your pup plan to spend time in or on the water, a dog life jacket is a wise investment,” says Kriss. “Even good swimmers can tire, have trouble staying buoyant, and struggle to keep their heads above water.” While dog PFDs are not necessarily held to the same standards as PFDs for humans, a few vital features to look for include a handle to help you grab your dog and a D-ring for attaching a leash. Many dog life jackets come in bright colors or with reflective strips to make it easier to see your dog in the water.
Before digging out your sleeping bag, consider whether camping is suitable for your dog, and consult your veterinarian to ensure your dog is fit for camping. New experiences involved with camping—long car rides; exposure to unfamiliar people, animals, and environments—may cause stress, whereas senior dogs or those with health conditions may not be physically up to the challenges camping may entail.
Make sure the campground allows pets, and research any rules they may have as well as any safety or health concerns. In addition to many human campgrounds that allow dogs, certain overnight camps are specifically marketed for dog and human trips.
Prepare your dog for camping by pitching a tent in your backyard and allowing them to explore it. Plan how you’ll handle your dog at the campsite; bring tie-out stakes, leashes, and a “crate or portable dog run to keep your dog safe while you are setting up or using the restroom,” recommends Maura McAndrew in 6 Ways to Prepare for Camping With Dogs. Tour the campground with your dog as soon as you arrive to familiarize them with their new surroundings, and bring toys or “comfort items” such as a favorite blanket to put them at ease.
Engaging in outdoor activities with dogs promotes physical, mental, and emotional health, and improves the bond between human and canine. In addition to these benefits, you may find these experiences to be worthwhile simply because they are a fun way to spend time with your dog.
- Grieves D. Dog Park Safety: 6 Tips for Pet Parents. https://www.petmd.com/dog/pet-lover/dog-park-safety-6-tips-pet-parents?utm_source=NewsletterSubscribers&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=031919Newsletter&utm_campaign=Newsletter. Reviewed by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM; March 11, 2019. Accessed March 2020.
- McAndrew M. 6 Ways to Prepare for Camping With Dogs. PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/dog/slideshows/6-ways-prepare-camping-dogs?view_all=1. Accessed March 2020.
- National Park Service. Hiking With Pets. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/trails/hiking-with-pets.htm. Last updated: July 25, 2018. Accessed March 2020.
- Finlay K. 4 Tips for Taking Your Dog to the Beach. American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/tips-for-taking-dog-to-beach/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20180731-nibble&utm_content=home_living-tips_for_beach-p1&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTW1KaE56QXlOVE0xTnprNCIsInQiOiJmdHlVMmp5bFRKdEFqZWRiZDVZNkZsZldreFRuREY3bTVxU0Nqa0VIM3lTb2FkOTdCVW9BemdyYjZKUUpJQjFUSUh6SHR0amx1enJyZlRaSG9EbDB1NmNmaTZnN0twaEF3QnZhR3ArMUR3S3B3a0t6VllUMTdLWlp5bzduUXpHNCJ9. August 2017. Accessed March 2020.
- Rodgers L. Trail Etiquette and Safety Tips for Hiking With Your Dog. https://www.petmd.com/dog/pet-lover/trail-etiquette-and-safety-tips-hiking-your-dog?utm_source=NewsletterSubscribers&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=052819Newsletter&utm_campaign=Newsletter. Reviewed by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM; May 13, 2019. Accessed March 2020.
- Schade V. You’re Not a Bad Pet Parent if Your Dog Hates the Dog Park or Dog Beach. PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/dog/training/youre-not-bad-pet-parent-if-your-dog-hates-dog-park-or-dog-beach?utm_source=NewsletterSubscribers&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=032619Newsletter&utm_campaign=Newsletter. Accessed March 2020.
- Tips for Safely Biking With Your Dog. https://www.petmd.com/dog/wellness/evr_dg_biking_with_your_dog_safely. Reviewed by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM; June 6, 2019. Accessed March 2020.
- Long B, AKC Staff. Teaching Your Dog to Swim. American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/teaching-a-dog-to-swim-canine-swimming-lesson-101/. June 2015. Accessed March 2020.
- Kriss R. Dog Life Jacket: 4 of the Best Options for Your Dog. American Kennel Club. May 2019. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-your-dog-needs-a-dog-life-jacket/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190606-nibble_lifestyle&utm_content=lifestyle-dog_life_jacket-p2. Accessed March 2020.
- Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. https://lnt.org/. Accessed July 2020.
- Lotz K. 7 Activities to Do With a Dog That Loves Water. American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/dogs-that-like-water/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20180731-nibble&utm_content=lifestyle-7_activities_dogs_like_water-p3&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTW1KaE56QXlOVE0xTnprNCIsInQiOiJmdHlVMmp5bFRKdEFqZWRiZDVZNkZsZldreFRuREY3bTVxU0Nqa0VIM3lTb2FkOTdCVW9BemdyYjZKUUpJQjFUSUh6SHR0amx1enJyZlRaSG9EbDB1NmNmaTZnN0twaEF3QnZhR3ArMUR3S3B3a0t6VllUMTdLWlp5bzduUXpHNCJ9. July 2018. Accessed March 2020.
- Mullally LB. Backpacker Magazine’s Hiking and Backpacking with Dogs. Guilford, CT; Morris Book Publishin, LLC.: 2014.
- Reisen J. 15 Outdoor Activities That Will Keep you and Your Dog Entertained This Summer. American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/outdoor-activities-for-dogs/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=20190822_nibble_outdoor-activities-for-dogs&utm_content=lfst_p1. May 2018. Accessed March 2020.