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.

13 thoughts

  1. Thank you for this post and for those of the commenters. My dog failed his off leash trial…no “come here” understanding and would rather run off than get a treat. He is a leash lifer- with all his Ruffwear gear- but as long as he is walking he is happy. He is also reactive to strange dogs. I hate when others say “my dog is friendly.” I end up responding, “well mine is not!” I’m very good about getting my dog off the path when strange dogs approach to avoid any confrontations and I just wish others could be as considerate with their loose dogs.

  2. This is a great post!! There are so many benefits to keeping your dog leashed, even when they don’t need to be. And I’m glad you added in the disclaimer of being aware of those around you and what they’re doing with their dogs, being unleashed or not. Too many times I’ve run into dogs that should be on leash because of how they approach my dog, yet their owners are completely unaware that they should be.

  3. My Lab 3yrs old loves to go on walks but I have to be very careful where I take him, he loves people but on a leash he is very protective of me with other dogs. He turns into what appears to be a very aggressive dog with other dogs, not people. I can take him to a dog park off leash he is fine? Help! There are so many places and friends I would like to take him on walks with. Any advice is welcomed. Yes he’s been to training, he’s very hipper and high energy. Linda and Hank

  4. Started “off-leash” training using an e-collar with my Brittany. Learning to walk w/o pulling first. Walks are much more enjoyable but when I hike I use poles, so there’s no way that my dog can be right at my side. I don’t “urban hike” I enjoy trails w/little to no people on them so having him a little in front of me leashed (most trails require that) seems like it would be ideal. The problem is…this e-collar training “corrects him” if he’s the least bit ahead of me! How does one transition?

  5. Off leash dogs can (will) chase wildlife, disturb nesting birds and babies, and leave poop anywhere they please. Our dog was leash reactive and very anxious when we adopted her, but with lots of training time we have come a long ways in one year. However, she is not at all comfortable (i.e. tail tucked and hackles up) when a new dog (off leash) comes along and sniffs (“he’s really friendly”), or growls (“he’s really friendly- most of the time”) etc. It does not inspire confidence when someone approaches with an off leash dog and is unable to call the dog to them. Ours has a strong prey drive and poor recall when distracted. No guilt for keeping her on a leash and please, no judgement! And hey, if this is your off leash dog, please teach them good manners and perfect recall, keep them on the trail, and away from other dogs and people until invited. We hike miles with our on-leash dog and she is plenty happy and tired at the end of the day. Thanks for this great advice RuffWear!

  6. I don’t feel guilty about keeping my dog on-leash. I do feel guilty that we avoid certain trails and parks because others blatantly refuse to follow leash laws.

  7. It is ALWAYS better to have your dog on a leash. You may know your dog is friendly and may come back if called, but I run into a lot of people who do not like dogs, especially dogs off leash and will never hesitate to get into a verbal altercation with you about it. Worse yet are those people that carry bats, sticks or golf clubs and will never hesitate to club your dog if they approach. I’ve seen it & read it that this frequently happens on desert trails in AZ. I think my dogs are friendly, but other people and their dogs do not know my dogs nor do I know if their dogs are friendly. So for everyone’s safety, to avoid ER visits, yelled out or worse sued, keep your pets on leash. I will add to, that in AZ, with the warm weather – you want your dog on short leash so that they don’t get too close to bushes to sniff and get bitten by rattlesnakes. Use Common Sense!

  8. Thank you for this! I struggle with the guilt a lot and am constantly comparing my beagle’s quality of outdoor life with other, more free roaming dogs. I do tell myself that it is safer for both of us, but it is nice to hear it from a fellow dog owner as well! All of my friends dogs are offleash, and sadly it makes hiking with my friends unenjoyable. My little beagle will follow a scent no matter what, but she doesn’t understand why she can’t run free with the other dogs, so hiking alone is better for us.

  9. This was a great read. My Smooth Fox Terrier is always on a leash when off our land. I suspect she will be a “leash lifer”. I sometimes feel guilty, maybe I’m not a great dog carer, maybe my dog is defective…..but reading that others are in the same situation helps. She is very reactive, will chase cars, birds, deer anything that moves!

  10. Thank goodness it’s not just me! Would love to know more about how you manage Star with other dogs on trails because that is my situation too!

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