Some of my trail friends are the best friends I’ve ever had. One in particular shows up and pushes me on every single run. All she asks for in return as a little love and scratches behind the ears. Like most dog owners, my Aussie-doodle pup has become my most reliable and often best training partner.
Trail runners in general are suckers for a good trail dog. No one shares the excitement of bagging a peak or the freedom of a new trail like our furry friends. They become such amazing partners in the journey we share. They appreciate us more than we could ever appreciate them.
Having recently brought home a new trail pup and spending the last few months training her for a summer of adventure, I’ve learned a couple things along the way. Whether you’re preparing to adopt a dog or already have one, it’s important to know a few things about getting them ready for the trails.
Find your breed
Finding a breed that works for you is a lot like finding a good shoe or proper nutrition… everyone has an opinion on what works for them but it’s all different from person to person.
Your first step is finding out what kind of attributes you need from your new fur baby. Because of Caitlin’s allergies, we needed a hypoallergenic breed. I wanted something that’s still pretty active and has a great trail demeanor. We live in a downtown department so we wanted a small to medium breed that fits our home. And we absolutely didn’t want to be cleaning up hair all time and we needed a warm coat for our Wasatch winters.
After a couple weeks of research and asking around, we landed on an Aussiedoodle (Australian Shepherd/Poodle mix). She’s been a perfect fit and we’re still figuring out things like hair cuts and the right lengths for trails and seasons, but overall we’re super happy with finding the right breed for us.
Proper training plans
You shouldn’t really run with your puppy until it isn’t a puppy anymore. A good rule of thumb is a long run of 1 mile per month of age until their bones are properly fused. A veterinarian can help properly assess when they’re ready, as it’s different for all breeds.
It’s also important to remember that we didn’t start off running 10-20 miles a day so we can’t expect our puppies to, either. Train them properly to handle the distance and staying happy. I’ve often done my workout and hard training run and swung back to pick up Roo for a handful more miles and I never take her over 10-12 miles.
Make sure they have plenty of water along the way. They can’t sweat like you and me so they are more dependent on hydrating than we are. Collapsible water bowls and a hydration pack for your dog are great investments if you want to get out into the mountains for a couple hours.
Train them for more than just miles
It’s important to make sure that your pup is properly trained in trail manners. If they can’t handle being off on their own then keep them leashed to protect them from other wildlife and to protect other runners.
We had to work really hard at keeping Roo’s natural instincts of herding at bay when she saw others runners on the trail. Continuing to work with her at least 15 minutes each day on obeying commands and even teaching her new ones has been really rewarding for both her an I. Dogs are pack animals that instinctively want to make their alpha (you) happy, so training with rewards is something they actually appreciate.
Although the idea of running wild through the trails sounds perfectly ideal, it’s extremely important to keep your pup on leash until you’re confident that they can obey your commands should they find a game of chase with fauna or other runners particularly important. Also, understand the local rules of trail use for dogs. We have some of out favorite trails that only allow off leash use every other day.
Salt Lake City is also known for it’s many watershed protections that limit dog use on certain trails and it’s always widely posted and marked at each trailhead or at certain section turnoffs. Keeping authorities and other trail users happy is integral to protecting trail use for our four legged friends. And for the love of everything holy, just because it’s bagged up doesn’t mean that disappears off the side of the trail! Pick up your shit!
The right gear
There are a couple things I’ve found that make great products to help with your pup on the trails. Ruffwear, the leading dog running brand, has been kind enough to share with us a couple products that have made a huge impact for us. First off, a good leash is always a necessity. The Roamer leash is a stretch weave leash that I can wrap around my waist or turn it into a handheld as needed for 5 ft of leash the reaches up to 7 ft. I like the bungee stretch because it gives Roo a little reminder that she’s starting to get a little too far out.
Another piece I couldn’t do without is the Dirtbag car hammock. Most of our adventures involve snow, streams, rain, sand, dirt and mud that Roo tends to sniff out. Which is great to keep her cool and happy, but it makes for a messy back seat. I’m a little particular about keeping my car pretty clean and this is the best tool for the job. Water resistant and full fitting coverage of the back seat reaches from headrest to headrest and can easily unclip off the front seats to transition to a drape rather than a full wander-limiting hammock. Probably my favorite pieces Ruffwear offers.
Lastly, the technical stuff. Roo got a lot of use out of her booties. There are a few different options out there depending on where you’re adventuring and the conditions you’re going out in. Some dogs have great paw splay that allows more dexterity and grip, while others are more compact for agility and speed. With Roo’s wider paws and deeper web-space, she collected a lot of snow in her paws that turned to ice chunks that froze to her hair and paws. I could only imagine how painful that would be after a couple of minutes. Getting some booties was a life saver for those conditions and will continue to save her paws over talus fields and rough surfaces.
I’m not sure who loves her pack more… me or her. Throwing this on allows me an extra handle for helping her up and down steep or rocky slopes and also lets her carry 2L of water with her on long adventures. Just throw in a collapsible bowl and your set for all sorts of multiple hour adventures.
Roo has been a great addition to our family and especially my training plan. Sharing many summits and trail hours with her is sure to be the highlight of my running this summer. Not mention that face… who wouldn’t love that face! Being a dog owner is a lot of fun but also a responsibility. Know your pups needs, care for them properly, understand local rules and laws, respect other runners and get the right gear to keep your dog running with you happily for miles and miles of smiles!