A Letter to Backcountry K-9 Customers

 

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August 15, 2016

Dear Backcountry K-9 Customers,

Three years ago this September, a nice boy I had met at a running club a few years back drove up to Chautauqua Park in Boulder with a Subaru filled to the brim with all of his worldly belongings, and a sweet little black and white dog in the back seat.  He had just moved all the way to Colorado from Maine.

Yes, I’m talking about Pat and Bella.

As time went on we all ran together more often, went out for beers together, went backpacking, took walks around the lake after work, watched episodes of “Chopped” while Pat searched for jobs and I studied for graduate school while simultaneously grading my middle school students’ papers. Bella slept on a balled-up towel in Pat’s basement apartment, and only had a tattered orange collar and simple black leash to her name.

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For our first Christmas together, I got Bella an orange Ruffwear Approach Pack from this little website I found called BackcountryK9.com.  I spent a long time searching for the best deal on the web, because I was a part-time teacher then and didn’t make anything close to a livable wage.  The money I was about to spend was hard to come by.  I was also training for my first marathon at the time, and frequently ran six miles from my house to Pat’s apartment while he was still at work, then leashed up an ecstatic Bella and ran back home with her.  One day as a kidnapped Bella and I ran up to my front steps, there was a box from BackcountryK9 containing Bella’s first pack, sitting by the door.  It was so new yet rugged-looking.  I could only imagine the adventures this orange pack would take the three of us on over the next few years.

Since Bella’s first orange pack that Christmas, we’ve all moved in together and Bella has not just one dog bed in our house, but TWO dog beds.  Bella has become an ambassador for BackcountryK9, and the poster child of their online sales.  We’ve run our first marathons and ultra-marathons, learned how to skijor, hiked 14,000′ peaks, backpacked in wilderness areas we’ve never known existed, tried stand up paddle boarding (SUPing) for the first time, and snowshoed into frigid Rocky Mountain winters.  We’ve won medals from the Rocky Dog Trail Run at the Vail GoPro Games for two years in a row, and road tripped  to Salt Lake City in Utah to represent BackcountryK9 at the Outdoor Retailer show where Bella got to wear her own official badge and eat bacon popcorn off the floor during happy hour. Thanks to quality gear from BackcountryK9, Bella has been there every step of the way with us.

Why am I telling this story?  I’m telling this story because I believe that our stories are what make us human.  It is the individual stories like mine and yours that make up what has made BackcountryK9 so great for all of these years. We all share something in common:  believing that adventures are better when our canine friends get to come along as part of the family, and wanting them to be prepared for anything they might face out there with us.

We’d like to thank you for joining us on this journey as BackcountryK9 ambassadors, for reading our stories and sharing yours, all while supporting a wonderful little small business that always had the best deals and the latest gear.  As Jason and BackcountryK9 move on to new adventures, we plan to tag along for the journey.  Just like this isn’t the last you’ll hear from BackcountryK9, this isn’t the last you’ll hear from us.  We hope you’ll join us as we explore this new territory.

So adventure on, BackcountryK9 family, and we’ll see you a little further down this fork in the trail.

Cheers,

Devin, Pat and Bella

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Running with your dog: What’s holding you back?

IMG_5562Lets face it, every winter many people make New Year’s resolutions to be more active.  Oftentimes, life gets in the way, and  by the time Spring rolls around we realize that maybe we didn’t quite get where we wanted to be.  The good news is, Pat, Bella and I believe that you can make new resolutions any day, or revisit old goals any time you want.  Why wait for January?  It’s never to late to try something new. Besides, spring is the perfect time to enjoy increasingly pleasant weather.

Or, maybe you are like us and have been running for a long time, and are gearing up for a season of long endurance runs and scheduled races. Or, maybe you are attempting a longer race than you ever have before (I’m running my first ultramarathon this spring).  Sometimes conditions, length of runs, or other factors make you question whether your dog should come along for your training run.

Running with your dog is not only an extra motivator, it keeps you focused on something other than the miles you are hoping to cover, that cramp you have, that cold beer waiting in your fridge…We find that Bella keeps us focused on the present moment, and our runs are simply not the same if she can’t come.

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Our goal with this blog was to offer something for everyone, whether first time runner or seasoned marathoner.  With Bella’s extensive gear closet (courtesy of BackcountryK9) and the extremes of Colorado weather, we’ve had the chance to try out many different items which have been important to Bella’s health, happiness, and wellbeing while running the trails and roads. You certainly don’t need all of the items here to enjoy running with your dog, but perhaps you will find one particular piece of gear that improves the experience for either for you, your dog, or both of you.


So, what’s your excuse?


My Dog Has To Run on Leash

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At some point, you are likely to need to run with your dog on a leash. This may be because of trail regulations, road traffic, or perhaps you have a reactive dog.  A great place to start when running with your dog is to invest in a waist-worn leash.  A leash with a little stretch really helps to absorb shock for both you and your dog, making the experience much more pleasant for everyone.  A harness is also important for dogs that run on leash, as it takes the pressure off of the neck, which can lead to neck and back issues down the road. Have a dog that likes to pull?  Consider trying out a skijoring harness to channel pullers, and give yourself an extra “boost!”

Gear We Like:

  • Ruffwear Flat Out Leash:  Can be hand-held or waist-worn. Good if you want more control and want your running leash to also be a multipurpose leash for everyday needs.
  • Ruffwear Roamer Stretch LeashCan be hand-held or waist-worn. Great for running and hiking, more freedom for you and your dog, and the shock absorption makes a big difference in regards to comfort when running.  Not as great for control around traffic, other dogs, etc…
  • Ruffwear Front Range Harness:  Great multipurpose harness, we use this almost every day and have now had ours for two years.  Very easy to get on and off, strong, and does not chafe.
  • Ruffwear Omnijor Harness: Pulling specific harness we use for skijoring in the winter.  On longer runs, we have started using this harness, because it does not restrict Bella’s breathing, and she gives us a little “lift.” She loves pulling us in it and it gives her an intense workout. A little more difficult to get on, and takes some training to get your dog used to the concept.

I Don’t Like Carrying My Dog’s Leash

If your dog runs off-leash, you probably still need to leash her up at some point.  In our area, you are required to have a leash with you at all times, even on off-leash trails.  Not having a leash can result in a ticket. However, carrying a leash in your hand is uncomfortable and inconvenient. There are many options available for leashes that are integrated into collars, small lightweight leashes, etc… We can personally recommend Ruffwear’s Ridgeline Leash, which we clip around our waist when running. It is simple, lightweight, and easy to use.

Spring Precipitation

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Bella wears her Ruffwear Aira rain jacket in a cold and soaking snow shower.

We get a wide variety of precipitation in Colorado in the spring.  Oftentimes, spring precip is cold and wet.  Snow this year can soak  to the bone and cause chills. However, jackets on a spring day can still overheat overheat Bella in milder temperatures (30 degrees+). You might also have a dog with long hair that creates  a mess after running in rain, mud, and slush. On long, wet runs, Bella has recently started wearing Ruffwear’s Aira Rain Jacket, which just arrived this spring. Don’t forget to get outfit yourself with a waterproof jacket, too.  You’d be surprised how fun running in the rain can be, and chances are , your dog will be thrilled to run in the rain. Let your dog’s enthusiasm motivate you to go out the door.  We have never regretted going for a run in the rain!

Gear We Like:

  • Ruffwear Aira Rain Jacket: Breathable, non-insulated rain jacket is perfect for spring and summer showers.  This updated design is breathable, and has a velcro opening on the back to accommodate a harness and leash. Storm collar keeps precip from running down your dog’s neck.
  • D-Fa Subwoofer: We primarily use this jacket in the winter, but if you have a thermally fragile dog, this is the perfect all-season running jacket for you.  Designed with athletic dogs in mind, we love the stretchy fabric and non-restrictive design. Water resistant and lightly insulated, perfect for chilly, damp mornings or evening.

There’s No Water Along My Route

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Consider a lightweight backpack so your dog can carry her own water, along with a collapsible bowl.  These have been some of the most critical gear additions to Bella’s closet, which allow her to come on longer runs with us in the summer when there are no active water sources.

Gear We Like:

  • Ruffwear Single Track Pack:  If you are someone who enjoys running 5+ miles with your dog during warm weather, than we can’t recommend this pack highly enough.  It comes with two water bladders, and extra pockets (for a few treats, poop bags, and a collapsible bowl). Low profile design doesn’t flop around while your dog runs, and doesn’t get hung up on rocks or branches. Light color reflects the sun. Also a great pack for day hikes and crewing races!
  • Rad Dog Pocket Bowl: Folds up ridiculously small and weighs nothing.  Fits easily in the Single Track Pack. Starts to lose its shape a bit once saturated, but a great and simple way to offer your dog water on the trail.

I Hate Dealing with Poop Bags

IMG_5625Carrying out your dog’s waste while running is necessary yet extremely unpleasant.  Sometimes, you may have several miles until the next public trash can, or maybe you prefer running on trails where there are no trash cans. Anyone who has run several miles with a full poop bag in hand or gotten a wiff from a personal running backpack on a hot day can contest that this is a pretty repulsive side of running with a dog. Again, enter Ruffwear’s Single Track Pack.  Double bag, and make your dog carry it out!

 

My Dog Gets Too Hot

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Bella wears her Ruffwear Swamp Cooler to beat the heat on Mount Sanitas.

While we don’t condone running with your dog in extreme heat (in the hottest months aim to run with your dog at dawn or dusk), there are times when you can help your dog feel more comfortable while running on a warm day.  We have discovered two products that help us take Bella along on days when we would normally have to leave her behind due to heat.  They also help her keep up her speed, reduce the amount of water she needs, and reduces the number of recovery breaks she needs in the shade.

Gear We Like:

  • Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest:  This item takes a little explaining, so we suggest checking our our full review here.
  • Dog Buff: Ok, so we realize that this sounds a little ridiculous.  We ourselves use buffs a lot when trail running to keep hair out of faces, protect our necks from sunburn, cool off with water on a hot day, etc…You don’t necessarily have to use the dog version of a buff, but soaking the buff in a stream really helps to keep your dog cool.  The light fabric of the buff doesn’t weigh your dog down, and the airflow combined with cool water helps your dog artificially “sweat.”

I’m Concerned For My Dog’s Physical Safety

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Bella’s Stunt Puppy collar and bear bell help to keep her safe in coyote territory.

Hunters, mountain bikers, car traffic, and low light conditions are all reasons why you might be worried about your dog’s physical safety.  We’ve discovered a few items that help us in these situations.

Gear We Like

  • Stunt Puppy Go Dog Glow Collar: Bright orange and highly reflective, a simple way to up your dog’s visibility. Rugged construction.
  • Ruffwear Beacon Light: Keep track of your dog during dark or foggy runs. Expensive for a light, but this light allows for multiple settings (on, fast flash, slow flash), is waterproof, and allows for multiple attachment options (clip or quick ring attachment). Great for many different activities.
  • Ruffwear Track Jacket: Excellent for visibility to car traffic as well as mountain bikers on the trail. Ruffwear’s visibility jacket is ideal, because the chest pieces stretch while your dog runs for an active fit. When running on shared trails with mountain bikers, this jacket is visible from across a large field, giving fast-moving bikers the chance to see off-leash Bella from far away.
  • Bear Bell:  We’ve been using the model linked here, but there are other options available.  Typically, we don’t use the bell for bears, but rather for coyotes and as an aid for listening for Bella’s proximity to us.  One of our favorite weekday evening runs is an off-leash trail that runs through meadows that are heavily populated by coyotes. People often ask us on that trail, “does it work?” We don’t really know the answer to that, because we try not to give her the opportunity to get close enough to chase a coyote, and quickly leash her up each time we see one.  Probably the best benefit of the bell is that we don’t have to stop or twist our necks every time Bella pauses to smell something or munch on some grass.  On runs through coyote territory when we want to keep her close, we can quickly realize when we haven’t heard the bell for more than several seconds and can then stop to make sure she catches up. To be honest, the bell is as annoying as heck, so we only use it when we really need it.

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Final Hint…

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Turbo Pup bars offer convenient fuel on the trail.

Looking to keep your dog fueled up on the trail?  Turbo Pup bars are a nutritious and convenient way to give your dog some easily digestible calories while out on a long run.


Hopefully, you’ve been able to find something here that has been useful as you set out to accomplish your running goals with your dog is by your side this season. For us, Bella is a critical part of our running team, and so far we have only left her behind for three reasons:  1) She is feeling under the weather. 2) It is too hot. 3) Our mileage gets too high…We try to limit Bella’s runs to 15 miles at a time, or less.

If you’ve gotten this far, then you are probably either a dedicated runner who already understands the rewards that are gained by running with your dog, or you are someone who already has the drive to get started on a new journey with your best running-partner-to-be. Enjoy the journey!

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Happy Trails!

 

 


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Urban Skijoring GoPro Video

After a big dump, we practiced skijoring in the streets and neighboring open space.  Bella is getting much more used to the noise and motion of the skis and poles.  I was able to skate behind her a bit in addition to double-poling, although skating was a little difficult without a groomed course!  We are signed up for a skijoring clinic in Frisco, CO this January and February, stay tuned for future updates on our training!


 

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Winter Fun For You and Your Dog

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Let’s face it.  As the days get short, the weather gets cold, and conditions get snowy and icy, it is sometimes difficult to find the motivation to get up from that cozy spot by the fire and hit the trails. You and your dog can both experience negative pent up energy from a lack of fresh air and changes in routine during the holidays.  We’ve put together a list of tips to help you and your dog make the most of the cold, dark days this season!

  1. Try something new.  Winter is full of snow-specific sports and activities that will help you maintain enthusiasm and motivation with your dog.  Snowshoeing is a sport that requires minimal gear or skill, and can be enjoyed by everyone in the family.  Hit up the same hiking trails you love in the summer, but bring along snowshoes to see them in a whole new way.  Already snowboard or backcountry ski?  You may enjoy taking your dog to some of the safer slopes on a laid-back rest day. Sometimes, Pat takes Bella backcountry snowboarding with him in areas with the least danger of avalanches. We are also trying skijoring this season, a sport that involves a pulling-specific harness for the dog and cross-country skis for the human. Instead of dreading that next winter storm warning, you may actually find yourself welcoming it.DSC_0108.JPG
  2. Invest in the right clothing.  Winter is only fun if you dress appropriately; what you wear can make or break your trip. There is nothing worse than being miserably cold or wet for hours, and in theDSC_0222 winter being cold and wet can be just plain dangerous.   It is better to layer with lots of thin, wicking and insulating layers  rather than one big, bulky layer, so you can adjust accordingly when going uphill or downhill, or for changing weather conditions.  Out for awhile?  Bring extra gloves and socks.  I get colder a lot easier than Pat, so I always bring more warmer layers than he does. He gives me a hard time sometimes, but I hate being cold! I sometimes bring a lighter pair of gloves for hiking uphill, then warmer gloves for the colder trip down. Bella has a jacket to keep her warm in cold weather, and to help prevent her from straining muscles when active in cold temperatures.  We suggest checking out Sierra Trading Post for human gear, and Backcountry-K9 for dog gear.  These are our favorite retailers with the best gear and the most affordable deals.  Looking for something specific? Shop around and wait for sales, you should rarely have to pay full price for something you need.  DSC_0390
  3. Be prepared.  Extra dry clothing, hand warmers, and a small first aid kit are a good idea.  Bring a headlamp, even if you think you have plenty of daylight.  Darkness can creep up, especially after one wrongDSC_1086.JPG turn!  If you plan to spend time on a summit or stop for lunch, you will need to bring extra-warm layers and maybe something insulated to sit on. A thermos of a warm drink can help lift spirits in the cold.  Bring some booties for your dog, in case of paw injury or sensitivity to the cold.  Musher’s Secret is a great product if your dog has cracked paws, long hair that causes snow to ball up, or if your dog will be exposed to salt or other irritants. Bella wears booties in very very cold conditions, as snow sticks more aggressively to paws in colder temperatures. Tell someone where you are going!  Be safe!
  4. Know the conditions.  It’s a bummer to start out on a hike, only to realize half a mile later that you can’t continue on without snowshoes or traction devices, such as Microspikes or Yak Tracks. DSC_0102.JPG
  5. Know your dog.  Dogs love the snow, but be aware of her needs during cold temperatures.  Notice if she is shaking, falling behind, or showing signs of discomfort.  Bella eats a ton of snow, and oftentimes won’t drink water.  However, snow doesn’t properly hydrate a dog.  If this sounds like your dog, be sure to give her plenty of water when you get back inside, you might be surprised by how much she drinks!  An active dog will also need more calories during an active day in the cold, as she will burn calories like a furnace.DSC_0331
  6. Light it up.  Don’t have time after work to get out for a trek or a run during daylight hours?  If possible, set up weekly time to get out in the dark with a buddy or running group in a safe area.  Make sure you and your dog are very well-lit and visible to bikers, motorists, and other pedestrians. Really pressed for time?  Invest in a glowing ball or toy to throw to your dog in the backyard or local park.    Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 3.41.27 PM
  7. Don’t push it. Feet and hands are freezing and you can’t warm them up?  The wind suddenly picks up or the temperature drops? Unsure of which fork in the trail to take?  In a backcountry area with avalanche danger, but don’t know what to look for or don’t have a beacon and shovel?  Notice that you, a friend, or your dog are showing signs of frostbite (very white, waxy looking skin)?  Then head back, it’s not worth it today! If you are feeling particularly unmotivated and aren’t sure you are up for a major challenge, change up your typical winter activity, and keep it fun.  Perhaps, go sledding or finally go check out that beautiful, yet shorter trail you never go to. Sometimes, taking along my Nikon and attempting to capture the winter scenery can help motivate me to get out the door. DSC_0190
  8. Notice the beauty around you. Some of our best winter memories are from those extra cold or snowy days when we didn’t feel like going outside.  While others may opt to stay in front of the television, you’ll have the privilege of seeing the outdoor areas around you from a brand new perspective.  You will feel invigorated and the bond between you and your dog will be stronger than ever.  DSC_0315

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Worth it.  Trust us.