We see many people joining dog hiking groups and asking what their dog needs to start hiking safely. While getting information about different products is a great idea when you start a new hobby or activity with your dog, the suggestions can get overwhelming quickly.
When someone starts looking through previous posts in a hiking group, they will see that their dog probably needs a harness. Then see a post about a cut paw, and they decide that they need boots as well. Then see photos of dogs with backpacks, and they love the idea that the dog can carry things, so they get one of those as well. Then there are those fantastic looking googles to protect the dogs’ eyes from the sun or from running through bushes which also looks like a smart idea.
But are all these necessary?
The truth is that dogs don't necessarily need all these gear when you head out for an adventure. While we here at Dog Gear Review clearly love all kinds of dog gear, we don't always use them on long walks or even on easier hikes without significant elevation. Sometimes we run into people during the winter who would question why that poor dog (who is panting) doesn't have a coat on when we hike in the snow. I know she doesn't need one at the moment, and having it on would make her uncomfortable. This doesn't mean I don't have it on me for a windy peak or if we are taking a break, and she would lie down in the snow and get cold.
It's great to have all these different products, but putting anything on the dog will introduce new risks. The question is always if having them on is more likely to keep the dog safe or just make it easier for the dog to get stuck on something in the forest or hurt themselves some other way that wouldn't happen otherwise.
Boots are great to protect the paws, but having them on - especially on an icy, off-leash hike - can cause the dog the slid, fall, and have way more severe injuries than a raw paw. Harnesses are great to give a hand if your dog needs help on a steep trail, but there is always a chance that the harness gets stuck on something or cause chafing on the dog on long hikes. We also see many tightly adjusted no-pull harnesses on dogs on the trails, which are not meant to be used for an extended period. This is especially true on a hard trail where the dog has to be able to jump from rocks to rocks, and the full range of shoulder movement is incredibly important. Coats are also essential in many cases for many dogs, but your dog doesn't necessarily need them just because there is snow on the ground. The “if you are cold, they are cold” is not valid for most dogs, especially if you are out hiking, and the dog runs around off-leash.
If one goes for a short, easy forest hike in the summer, it's probably a good idea to consider if there is an actual need to put the boots, a three-strap harness with backpacks, and goggles on your dog. We see many owners doing this with good intentions, but they also risk their dog overheating much easier with all that stuff on, or “just” get other injuries. The same is true for many sports where having the dog “naked” is the best way to be sure they are comfortable, and their movement is not interrupted or restricted anyway, especially if there is no need to hold onto your dog by a harness anyway.
If your dog plays with other dogs, having a harness on can also be risky. We can hear about terrible accidents where another dog's jaw or leg got stuck in a harness, and serious injuries happened within seconds.
We wrote this article to remind everyone that just because we have all these fabulous products, it doesn't mean we should use them all the time. Using any gear also has risks like chafing, change in stride, unnatural weight distribution on the joints, etc. It isn't less professional to go for a hike with only a collar and a leash instead of a full armor on the dog ;) At the same time, different dogs have different limitation and just because one doesn't need boots or coats it doesn't mean others don't need it either.
We see this from both sides: some will criticize why dogs would need anything besides a collar and thinks that's only for “furmums,” while some will say it is irresponsible not to get everything your dog might need. There is nothing wrong with either approach (or anything in-between), because it will be very different for each dog, each terrain, each trail. We are only pointing out that it's essential to know why and when each product is smart to use and the cons to do so.
At the end of the day, you are the only one who can determine if your dog needs something on that specific adventure, and there is nothing wrong with going one way or the other. ;)