Hiking is a rewarding hobby for both human and hound, but hiking off-leash requires some extra planning. Here are some tips to help make your next outdoor adventure a success!
WHERE TO GO
We are often lucky enough to find local places to hike off-leash with Whiskey (around the Vancouver, Canada area) as well as when we travel. Wilder places are usually less crowded and organized, and are better for quiet walks in nature with a pup. National Parks in the US don’t welcome pups off-leash, and there are very few that allow dogs on-leash on the trails. State Parks and Wilderness Areas are friendlier but can still be limited, so research the rules before going. When we are looking for places to hike, we look for BLM land in the US or Queen’s Land in Canada. These tend to be friendlier towards off-leash dogs but check before you go to make sure these lands aren’t active hunting grounds, and wear orange if they are.
BUSIER TRAILS WITH OFF-LEASH PUPS
This is not to say all the busier trails are not recommended, but I would suggest aiming to start at sunrise or close to the end of the day on busier trails. Off-season or shoulder seasons are also wonderful, especially if the day starts with precipitation and clears up. I find those are the best days, as the rain/snow clears everyone off the trails!
KEEP IN MIND
For hiking off-leash, keep your dog within sight and vocal range and control. The distance can vary between dense areas or wide plains, as well as cliffs and windy locations. Make sure you can recall your dog even in difficult situations such as wildlife or sighting another dog or person. Put your dog on-leash when meeting people on the trails or have them heel, especially if you see children or if your dog is large and can be seen as scary. If your dog pulls, a harness can be great for hiking, but please take off the harness if you’re letting your dog go off-leash (especially in bushy areas because your dog might get caught).
For collars, I recommend a strong collar with one or two clear attachment points, if possible. There are so many great collars out there these days, just make sure the collar fits correctly and has your information on it (cell phone/email). I don’t recommend choke collars or prong collars for off-leash hiking.
As for leashes, I prefer to hike with a 6-foot leash if the entire hike will be on-leash. Otherwise, I prefer a 4-foot (or shorter) leash if we are hiking off-leash but still leashing her up when we meet people or animals (I have much more control with a short leash). I really advise against the retractable leashes as they can cause injury to your pup or yourself should one of you pull unexpectedly, and there have been many incidents with them. Choose a leash that’s lightweight but strong, and will not burn your hands should your dog pull suddenly. Be sure the clip is easy to use with one hand. We also prefer that the leash can clip onto itself so you can sling it over the shoulders and that there’s at least one ring with which to attach a couple poop bags.
Put a friendly looking bandana and/or lit collar on your dog during dusk/dawn, especially if your dog might look like a coyote or wolf. I would advise making sure your dog has the proper training and bomb proof recall should you be hiking off-leash, hiking or camping in popular areas, and to keep your dogs from swimming in water people are using as a water source. Of course, pick up poop or bury it away from the trail. We try to bring a thick freezer zip-lock for storing poop bags on longer trips (so they don’t leak or smell). Leave no trace!
Do you prefer hiking off or on-leash? Give us your tips in the comments!
Adele is a photographer, adventurer, visual effects artist, entrepreneur, and most importantly, mom to Whiskey. Whiskey is a Hungarian Vizsla, one of the most active breeds, and captain of all hiking, camping and roadtrip adventures. Follow their adventures on @mywhiskeygirl on Facebook and Instagram or their blog, The Dog Walks Me.