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Exploring On Leash

Story and Photos Contributed by Ruffwear Ambassador Laura Patton

In an ideal world, we would all let our dogs run free. On the beach, through the forest, up a mountain, and around the desert, our dogs would be exploring with their tongue hanging out and their tail wagging and at the end of the day they would curl up, tired and content. But for many of us, the thought of letting our dog off leash does not conjure up these idyllic images, instead, it strikes fear and anxiety into our hearts. For a myriad of reasons, many of us cannot let our dogs off their leash.  Whether it’s because of reactivity, aggression, an injury, a lack of recall, or simply because the places that you explore don’t allow it, some doggos spend their time outside connected to us. And that’s ok. Your dog can still lead a fulfilling life and get plenty of exercise, even if they are on leash, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In our family, two of our three dogs have to spend at least some of their time outside on leash. For Colt, our Bluetick Coonhound, it’s because his DNA tells him to find a scent to track and then to track it with no regard for how loud his humans are calling for him to come back. When we are close to roads, or less willing to bushwhack through the forest looking for him, we have to keep Colt on a leash to keep him near. For Star, it’s because of her reactivity to new dogs. Uncontrolled meetings rarely go well, so anytime there is a chance we will encounter another dog, Star is on a leash.

Do you have a buddy who you keep on leash? Do you ever struggle with feeling that they never get tired when they can’t run free? Do you you worry that they are bored on leash? Do you ever feel guilt about leashing your dog? You are not alone! Read on for some tips that I have discovered over the years, adventuring with my dogs on leash.


Sometimes it feels like your dog will never get tired if you just don’t unclip that line and let them run until they’re exhausted. That’s not the case! There are plenty of ways to tucker out your pup while keeping them secure. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Bike touring: Biking with your dog is a fabulous way to let them run faster, while still being leashed. Bike touring is a fantastic way to see the world with your dog and there are plenty of good leash attachments for bikes so that your dog can run next to your bike without danger of entanglement.  If you’re putting in lots of daily miles, you’ll need a trailer for your pup to hop into when they’re tired. We took Titan and Star on a 250 mile bike tour on the Denali Highway; they had a blast and were nice and tuckered out each night despite being on a leash.
  2. Ski-joring and bike-joring: This is our new favorite way to run Colt.  He is still new to the family and working on his polite leash walking — in other words, he LOVES TO PULL. We have begun using this drive to our advantage and having him tow us on our bike and skis. He loves it and gets a great workout!
  3. Long distance hiking: If you can’t go faster, go farther! After Star recovered from her TPLO (knee reconstruction), we hiked the 175 mile Tahoe Rim Trail together. I kept her on a leash for the entire hike to keep her from adding extra miles to the day by running back and forth on the trail. The consistent long distances tired her out even though she was going at my walking pace. You can also give your dog a job on hikes and have them wear a pack for added exercise. Or, use the Roamer™ leash so they can have a bit more range on your walk.


If you feel that your dog is not getting enough stimulation on leashed outings, there are plenty of ways to add brain games to your daily routine that will help satisfy your dog’s mind. Here are a couple you can work in:

  1. Snuffle mats: Basically a little square of longer, thicker shag carpet, snuffle mats are a great way for your dog to work their brain looking for treats or food. Hide their treats or even their whole meal in the mat and your dog can search around and work for their meal.
  2. Nosework: These classes are becoming more and more popular. See if your local shelter is hosting one and get your dog started in searching for scents.
  3. Training: Add a new trick or skill to your dog’s repertoire to keep their brain entertained.


Last, but certainly not least, I want to address the guilt that some of us feel for not being able to let our dogs off leash.  We are constantly flooded with happy doggos on our social media feeds running free in the wilderness, and while we all may want that for our dog, it is important to recognize that you know your dog better than anyone else and that the choices you make for your fur friend are the best choices. When you are tempted to unclip the leash but have an uneasy feeling about it, or when your friend says, “Just let them off, they’ll be fine,” repeat this mantra to yourself: “Having my dog on a leash is safer for both of us.”

Maybe you are working towards being able to let your dog off leash, or maybe your dog is a leash-lifer.  Whatever the case, your dog is stoked to be outside exploring with you, and that’s what matters.

I can’t write this without throwing in that if your doggo has earned off leash privileges, please remember that if you see a leashed dog, please recall your dog and check with the leashed dog’s owner before letting your dog approach.

Do you have additional questions or ideas to share? Leave a comment below or connect with Laura on Instagram.

Learn more about Ruffwear collars and leashes.

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