7 Ways to Make Your Dog’s Life Better This Year
You don't have to spend much—or anything—to improve your dog's health and happiness
For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today.
Oh, you treat your dogs better than you would human children, too? Well, then you've come to the right person for advice on what your dog resolutions should be for the new year.
A Cozy Jacket
People might scoff at the idea of putting jackets on our three thickly coated adventure dogs, but I actually think they’re a crucial tool for taking them outdoors in winter. An insulated jacket helps Wiley, who has the thinnest coat of the three, stay comfortable for longer in very cold conditions. He’s noticeably perkier through long snowy hikes when he has it on. And, for all three dogs, their insulated jackets provide a perfect, packable sleep system. On cold nights, they stay off my sleeping bag and sleep more soundly when they’re all zipped into their Ruffwear Powderhound puffy coats. And, versus the puffy quilts and other solutions I’ve tried, the coats actually stay on them all night.
I also like to put jackets on the dogs during hunting season. Wrapping them almost completely in blaze orange makes them visible more than half a mile away, maximizing their safety in the woods. That added visibility helps me too; a few weeks ago I was able to spot Bowie from that distance after we surprised a herd of mule deer, and he gave chase. I still had to sprint after him for a solid 20 minutes, but at least I knew I was sprinting in the right direction. The Hurtta Rambler vest is made from neoprene, so it doesn’t absorb any water, and shrugs off abrasion. I’ve noticed that ours help keep mud off the dogs through snowy hikes, too.
A Healthier Diet
After a bunch of instances of horse euthanasia drug ending up in even very expensive kibble, and after struggling to find a solution for Wiley’s chronic skin irritation, I switched the dogs to a raw meat diet last year. Doing so perceptibly improved their health immediately, cured Wiley’s skin problems, and is actually saving me money. But, the thing about going raw is that it takes a little more care, time, and attention than just throwing a bowl of kibble on the floor. I learned all the ins and outs from Kymthy Schultze’s book, Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats.
A Safer Car Ride
In a 35 mile-per-hour car crash, an unrestrained 60-pound dog will become a projectile with 2,700 pounds of force. That doesn’t just risk their lives—it might kill the car's human occupants, too. I explored that issue in depth in this article, but the short version is that the Ruffwear Load Up harness is the safest, and most convenient way to enable your dog to ride along with you safely.
A Backpacking Trip
This is actually what I have given Wiley for his birthday every year for the last five years: a solo wilderness trip with dad. Your dog will like nothing better than exploring the backcountry with you, running leash-free for days at a time, laying around a campfire, and guarding the tent at night. Heck, you might even have a good time, too.
A New Leash
Climbing rope makes the best dog leashes. It’s strong, dogs can’t bite through it, and it doesn’t absorb water or dirt. But, all of the commercially available options are single strand, which as you’ve probably learned, is incredibly uncomfortable to hold. So, I make my own.
You’ll need 20 or 30 feet of eight-milimeter accessory cord, one small locking carabiner, and one large locking carabiner. I follow the below instructions (they’re for paracord, but work just fine), and attach the small locking carabiner at the beginning, as the hasp for connecting the leash to your dog’s harness. The larger ‘biner I clip to the handle loop, and use to tie the dogs up when I go in stores, or if I need to tether them to something during a hike. Use proper weight-rated climbing equipment, and you’ll create a leash that will be capable of safely restraining your dog for years of hard use.
A Better Harness
You don’t still pull your dog around by his neck, do you? A harness will shift those forces to their torso, which isn’t just safer and more comfortable, it will also help train them not to pull. With three big dogs, I’ve tried virtually every harness available over the years, but it’s the Ruffwear Front Range that works the best. Where other designs can come out of adjustment too easily, and rub the dog’s armpits raw, or just wear out over time, the Front Range fits much more securely, and is made to stand up to all the mud, brush, and wrestling your dog encounters every day.
Being a Better Dog Owner
Do you understand what motivates your dog’s behavior, good or bad? Is your dog as well-trained as you’d like? Do you feel like your relationship is close and sympathetic to your dog’s nature? For my style of dog ownership, I’ve found that the Monks of New Skete offer the best guidance. Start with the Art of Raising a Puppy, if you’re new to this. Their latest book, Let Dogs Be Dogs, co-authored by professional dog trainer Marc Goldberg, is currently helping me refresh my methods as I raise my third puppy, and evolve my relationship with my older dogs.