Cruising the trails in a UTV or side-by-side (SXS) is always a fun adventure. But leaving your pups at home? Significantly less fun.
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to leave your dog behind! With the right training and dog gear, as long as your dog is in good enough shape, they can get in on the fun. Dog trainer and founder of West Coast Heeler Pack, Ali Erskine has been taking her dogs with her on off roading adventures for over 6 years and it’s become one of her dogs’ favorite activities.
Erskine says as soon as her pack hears the UTV fire up, “they get so excited, bark and run down to get going.”
Before you roll out with your self-proclaimed SXS dog, it’s important for everyone’s safety to be prepared. Off roading can be a blast, but it can also be dangerous, so you need to take it seriously.
To help you get out there with your pup safely, we caught up with Erskine and got her top tips for off roading with dogs.
Head out on an outdoor adventure in a Polaris RZR SXS
1. Make Sure Your Dog Is Physically Capable
Erskine usually has her dogs run along with the UTV, but she stresses that this is not an activity for dogs who are overweight, out of shape, or who don’t get regular exercise. Just like you can injure yourself if you push your body too far too quickly, the same thing can happen for your dog.
If you’re not sure whether your pet will be able to keep up, don’t do a long trail and have a safe spot in the SXS for your dog to ride with you when they get tired.
2. Take It Slow
Whether your dog is super fit or still building muscle, start off slow. Running with the UTV is a different experience than simply going for a hike or trail run and it may take time for your dogs to get comfortable with it — both physically and mentally.
Sharing the trail with a big, loud, rolling thing? That can be scary for some dogs!
When Erskine started off roading with her first two dogs, she didn’t do much preparation with them. “We just went off and they came running along,” she says. However, with her second two dogs, Erskine took some steps to make the introduction smoother.
These are her recommended steps to familiarize your pup with the SXS before you head out on the trail:
- Do simple obedience tasks for food and play with your dog around the UTV while it’s off. Let your pup sniff it and check it out if they want to.
- Have someone turn on the UTV while you and your dog are a ways away from it. Then slowly work your way closer they can adjust to the sound.
- Play or feed your dog while the SXS moves around slowly. Make sure your dog can associate the SXS with positive reinforcement and can concentrate on other things while the UTV is moving.
3. Have the Right Safety Gear
The main piece of gear Erskine recommends is Rex Specs eye protection. Erskine says it’s common for there to be rock kick back from the UTV and to have branches snap back at the dogs if they’re close behind, so eye protection is vital.
Along with Rex Specs, she also uses a Ruffwear Web Master Harness. The harness has a tag with her number on it and offers a bit of protection for the dog’s chest. Erskine also likes that the harness has a handle on the top, “so if I need to hoist a dog onto my lap, I can with ease.”
4. Ensure Your Dog Has Reliable Off Leash Recall
Running with the UTVs is an off-leash activity. If your dog doesn’t have reliable recall or doesn’t always listen to you while off leash, don’t take them running with the UTVs. In case you run into other trail users (or a wild animal), you need to be able to easily call your dog back to you.
Erskine always allows others on the trail the right of way when she’s riding with the dogs.
5. Let Your Dog Warm Up Before
Just like you might warm up before a hard run or workout, your dogs should do the same. It doesn’t have to be a serious warm up — Erskine lets her dogs do it on their own just by running around the area where they park — but it does need to happen.
“If they didn’t do this on their own, I would leash them and walk a few large circles, changing directions for 5-10 minutes,” says Erksine.
6. Cool Down, Rest, and Recovery After
When you start to get to the end of your route, slow down so your dog is at a walk or slow trot. This gives them a chance to cool down after the effort. “Afterwards, I allow the dogs to move and rest how they please while we load up, so they can have the cool down they need,” Erksine says.
Erskine puts the pups in Back On Track therapeutic jackets for the rest of the evening to let them chill out and rest. She’ll also give her dogs a “dose of TRI-ACTA, which is a joint and mobility supplement,” but you should speak with your dog’s vet before starting any supplements.
It’s important to remember, while you were sitting in the SXS, your dog was running the entire time. Your dog is a hardcore athlete! You want to make sure they have the gear and attention they need to stay in top shape.
Bonus Tip for Small Dogs
If you have a smaller or older dog who can’t run along, there are still ways you can take your furry friend with you. Erskine will occasionally take her older dog with them and have the dog ride on the UTV between her and her husband.
If your pup will always be in the seat next to you, you can get accessories for many UTVs to make the ride safer and more comfortable for your dog. You’ll find removable dog beds, carriers, crates, and harnesses that can provide additional crash protection and stability for your dog just in case.
Above all, be safe and have fun out there with your dogs!
Written by Johanna Flashman.