Ben Swan | For The New Mexican
Posted: Thursday, June 09, 2011
Rio’s an aptly named yellow Labrador retriever. He loves the water — maybe just a little too much.
“He’s the worst of the lot,” said outdoor enthusiast and former river guide Jon Asher. “He wouldn’t stay in the raft.”
But that doesn’t stop Rio from being a spokesdog for Asher’s ecommerce retail store, Wild Mountain Online, which specializes in outdoor gear for dogs and people. And it doesn’t stop Rio from joining Asher on hikes or overnight camping trips during any season, along with the family’s other yellow Labrador retriever mix, Lilly.
Asher said he loves the companionship of his canines as he explores New Mexico’s outdoor spaces. But just like humans, dogs can’t just dash into the woods and expect to have a good time. They have to be prepared: “It’s nice to bring them along safely, especially if they aren’t used to the rigors of the outdoors,” Asher said. “You have to keep them comfortable.”
When planning a hike or camping trip, consider giving the dog a job, Asher said, which includes carrying his or her food and water — not all natural water is safe for dogs to drink, and in many places there are no water sources.
In Rio’s inexpensive but durable backpack, Asher packs water and food in separate bags, along with a portable water bowl. The waterproof bags help protect the food from damage, especially if the dog, like Rio, loves to roll in the mud.
Some dogs might need a few days to get used to wearing a pack, Asher said, although many dogs, like Rio, take to wearing the gear right away. The backpack sometimes acts a calming device for nervous canines.
Through the years, Asher has found many products that help make an outdoor trip easier for canine and human companions. Aside from water and food, essentials include basic first-aid supplies, collar, leash and identification tags. A collar identification tag that contains a cell-phone number or other information is essential in case a dog gets lost.
Asher has tested all of the products he offers online, and most are from small or local companies. Many of the same products he uses on himself — like natural inspect repellent and first-aid items — can be used on the dogs.
Asher also includes plastic bags for waste disposal in his supplies, along with dog booties and bandages in case a dog injures a paw. Dog waste along many of the area’s popular trails is a pet peeve of Asher’s. His website carries biodegradable bags called Scoopies.
“There are a few people in Santa Fe who pick up after their dogs,” he said. “People don’t realize how much animal fecal matter goes into our watershed. If you’re going to take your dog out hiking, pick up after them.”
In the wilderness, Asher believes animal companions should have the same protocol as humans: Leave no trace.
Rocks, stickers and cacti make hiking on area trails hazardous for many dogs. One product that fuels Asher’s website is Musher’s Secret, a natural wax product that helps protect canine pads. He discovered the Canadian-made product while cross-country skiing with his border collie, Bo, many years ago near the Santa Fe Ski Basin.
The product, which also helps protect paws from hot asphalt and sand, also is available at several local pet stores. The product forms a semipermeable membrane that helps maintain the health of canine pads.
A similar locally made product, Heal My Paws, provides a natural protective moisturizer and conditioner for the pads. The conditioning balm helps keep the pads soft and supple and isn’t harmful if licked and ingested.
Other products hikers might consider include a quick-draw leash, microfiber gloves and towels, toys and lightweight jackets for cold mountain evenings.
Asher calls Just a Cinch Leash from Ruffwear one of the best leashes he’s every owned. The slip-adjustment collar fits virtually every size dog and the friction tab prevents collar slip-offs and escapes.
Reflective strands are woven into it for good visibility. Asher said his Labradors, which by nature can be prey-driven, quit pulling on a walk. And that leaves neighbor cats safe.
Another handy leash, also made by Ruffwear, is called the Quick Draw. The Velcro collar becomes a leash when needed. That’s helpful on hiking trails if you encounter leashed dogs or wildlife, Asher said.
While many trails require keeping dogs on leashes, some don’t. Common hiking etiquette, however, is to leash a dog if the hiker encounters another leashed dog. It’s also important to keep a dog leashed around areas where there might be snakes, bears or mountain lions.
A few dog toys can help to keep the attention on the human companion and not on wildlife.
Solid obedience lessons can also help protect a dog. Asher’s found success with simple but effective commands such as “leave it.”
“Dogs don’t understand,” he said. “They see movement and they’ll go after it. But if you voice-train them, it can be very important. We haven’t had any full-on confrontations with bears or mountain lions, but it does happen. You’ve got to be able to control or grab your dog. You don’t need an aggressive dog attacking a bear or any wildlife on the trail.”
Microfiber gloves — made with six fingers for use on either hand — are great for quick cleaning. In the winter, the gloves absorb water, mud, snow and ice and on camping trips are a great for muddy paws or wet fur.
Asher, who works as a web designer for Sangre de Cristo Mountain Works, focused on his online store after closing Wild Mountain Outfitters in 2007. The store carried some pet supplies, as does Sangre de Cristo Mountain Works now, but Asher said he decided to revise the online store to specialize mainly in dog gear. It’s what he enjoys the most.
“I’m only in it for the love of the dogs,” he said. “We have a couple of seasons where we make enough to keep it online and that’s about it. It’s not making anybody rich, but the dogs get to wear cool stuff.”
For more information about outdoor dog products, visit the website at wildmountainonline.com or read Asher’s blog at singingdogblog.com.
Love to hike and camp with your dog? Share your favorite tips and places to go with fellow Scoop readers. Email Ben Swan at email@example.com for a future article.