The Dogs on the Bus

Golden retriever Orly runs through a snowy meadow
Orly loves to run and play in the snow!

If you haven’t seen this story yet, you’re definitely missing out.

I thought Orly’s dog hiker was doing well to manage her minivan filled with dogs of all sizes and shapes (though some days a disproportionate number seem to be golden-retriever-sized and -shaped…). But this Alaska dog hiker is impressive. (Check out the TikTok video.)

The dogs have assigned seats! And wear seatbelts!!

I love the ones who are all dressed in their coats, waiting for the bus …

Dog hiking is a much bigger Thing than I ever guessed.

Orly goes two or three times a week, depending on everyone’s schedules. I stay home and work to pay for her expensive hobby.

She gets picked up, greets her friends, and settles into the van. After all the dogs are on board, the pack goes for a nice long hike out in the woods. In the spring and fall, there was often the opportunity for a mud bath (and Orly is not one to pass up such a stellar opportunity). Winter seems a little cleaner.

Many, many treats are involved.

Golden retriever Orly rests her head on a small pillow whose pillowcase has drawings of cartoon dogsThe dogs hike off leash, with frequent check-ins (snack breaks). They race around chasing each other through the woods. It’s a pretty good life for a dog.

She shows up back home a few hours later and often heads to the bedroom for a nap. (Her newest trick? She likes to nap on my pillow.)

Orly’s pack includes some of the other dogs of the neighborhood, so their hiking friendships extend to occasional play dates.

Very much unlike Jana or Cali, Orly is a dog who really loves and needs to play with other dogs. Often. And very much like both of them at the same age, she has boundless energy. I alone cannot offer her enough exercise and stimulation to tire her out. I am not sure that any human can do that for an adolescent golden retriever. Hiking gives her what she needs. Well, some of what she needs. Two hikes per day, seven days per week might come close to tiring her out … maybe.


Hiking? Don’t Forget the Doggy Trail Mix!

Bag of Mud Pie Oh My dog treats from Bocce's BakeryI have a Dog Hiking Backpack that is always ready for our next adventure. Problem is, it weighs more than Orly does!

So I select essential items for each hike. Number one on that list is doggy trail mix.

6 small heart-shaped dog treats
The heart shape is a nice bonus

This homemade delight was invented by Deni. And, dare I say, perfected by me, with copious input from Cali. Perfected for our hikes, that is. Your recipe needs to be created and tweaked by your dog(s), of course.

Doggy trail mix is simply a mix of treats. The base, as in any trail mix, is some basic and relatively inexpensive ingredients. I don’t use peanuts (choking hazard) or raisins (dogs can’t eat them); instead, the base mix is about two parts Cheerios (generic are fine) to one part Charlee Bears — any flavor that doesn’t include chicken, for my girls.

To that I add generous amounts of medium-value treats. This mix changes every time. I am partial to the tiny treats from Bocce’s Bakery that my local dog grocer stocks. Cali and Orly love the Mud Pie and Duck flavors. Again, your dogs’ preferences may vary. I have also used many other kinds of dry and semi-soft treats. The key is to use small pieces or treats that are very small.

Topping off the mixture is a few handfuls of high-value treats. I often use freeze-dried liver.

The trick is to have enough good and great treats to

  • Keep the dogs interested and hopeful
  • Provide some variety in their rewards
  • Lend scent and flavor to the other treats as everything jumbles around together

That last point might seem a little deceitful. But come on, who doesn’t eat the bits of chocolate in their trail mix with a bunch of the peanuts or raisins to make it all taste better? If it works for us, why not for the dogs?

Leave out the BEST treats

Our highest-value treat is currently a duck jerky treat that I get in big bags from Costco. It’s soft enough to break into small pieces. But I don’t put it into the trail mix because I save it for the most important use. That’s right: When we’re hiking off leash, I always carry a lot of duck jerky. This ensures that whenever I call the girls, they come running at top speed, screech to a halt, and sit right in front of me, eager for their reward. Duck jerky is truly magic. (Orly’s hiking guide uses the same stuff).

Hiking trail mix, like many human-oriented snack mixes, has crept into daily use. I mix up enormous batches and keep treat jars filled with it on every floor. It’s the default reward for training, cooperation during grooming, and recall practice outside. Each batch is a little different, and no one has complained about (or turned up her nose at) the Cheerios yet.

What else is in the backpack?

The backpack has:

  • A first aid kit
  • Binoculars
  • Dog water bowl
  • Long leashes for swimming, recall practice, or hikes in places I don’t want to let them off leash
  • Insect-repelling dog bandanas
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Wet wipes & sanitizer
  • Strong wire cutters in case we run into traps or snares (I hope NEVER to use them)
  • Bear spray (ditto)
  • Flashlight
  • Extra poop bags
  • Extra leashes
  • Extra sunhat

Often, the pack stays in the car while we hike so the heavier stuff is nearby if needed. But a treat bag stuffed with trail mix and/or duck jerky is always with me. Happy hiking!