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One thing that I love the most about hosting the Adventure Dog Blog Hop is meeting (at least virtually) so many great people and dogs. Other people who love to spend time with their dogs doing all kinds of activities. One of these bloggers is Mark, from Damien’s Best Dog Toys. Mark and his dogs spend a lot of time outdoors hiking through stunning scenery, and these adventures are shared weekly over on his blog. Mark also makes fantastic dog toys that are perfect and extra durable for the active dog (you can find a review of the toys here), while also donating many great toys to shelters.

Spotlight on Adventurer Mark and his dogs, from the Damien’s Best Dog Toys blog

I was lucky to catch up with Mark this week and ask him a few question about his adventures for this week’s Adventure Dog Blog Hop’s spotlight on an adventurer. Keep reading to learn about some amazing hikes in the Vermont area, about how to assess your dog for a hike, and essentials to pack for the trail.

Blog: Damien’s Best Dog Toys | About

What motivates you the most to go out on hikes with your dogs?

I really enjoy being outdoors and bringing the dogs along just makes it all the better. I love watching Ava as she runs back and forth across a wooded trail as she tries to catch a little red squirrel or her surprise when she accidentally flushes a grouse. Her antics out on a hike are very amusing. But perhaps the best part is just being able to be out in nature and sharing that time with the dogs. It provides a little break from the hectic pace of everyday life and it is nice to be able to just spend some quality time walking the trails.

Ava from Damien's Best Dog Toys blog

Ava. Photo courtesy of Damien’s Best Dog Toys blog.

I have often thought I would really enjoy being a wildlife photographer or wilderness travel writer. My dream is to spend days out in the woods waiting for that perfect picture photo red fox emerging from his den or a barn owl in flight. I would document the wonders of the natural world in pictures and text to share with eager readers. But until I am able to make that work, I will just walk the woods of Vermont with the dogs waiting enjoying the squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and blue jays that accompany us as we wander.

Do you have a favorite location? What makes it your favorite hike?

I guess I have several favorite hikes, and which one I pick really depends on the time of day that I am hiking and the weather. For example, I really enjoy hiking Stowe Pinnacle. This is a fairly short hike which makes it ideal for after work or early morning. The Pinnacle is also a good winter hike as long as you have a good set of snowshoes and you are ready for an icy cold breeze on the summit. However, I do avoid the Pinnacle during Stowe’s peak tourist season. At that time the trail can get a little crowded for me.

One of my favorite Saturday morning hikes is Sterling Valley. This hike is a little longer and provides the dogs with lots of places to get water. The volunteers that maintain this section of trail have really done wonderful work over the past couple of years and have turned this loop into a wonderful place to hike.

Then, if I have a whole day to go hiking, I really like heading to the White Mountain National Forest. The Lincoln woods trail is our favorite because it is fairly flat, lots of water access, and some great beach locations to hangout and eat lunch.

How do you tell if your dog is physically matched for a particular hike? Have you ever had to turn back, and how did you know it was time to do so?

Several years ago when Damien was in his prime and Kona, my first dog, was still around we would hike just about anything. Damien would easily hike 8-12 miles in a weekend and Kona would go on overnight hikes. Kona would carry some of his own food and gear on these hikes and would sleep in the tent with me. But now, with Veruca and Ava as hiking partners, I have become a little more calculating about our outings.

Veruca ready for an adventure: let's go hiking!

Veruca is ready to set off on a hike! Photo courtesy of Damien’s Best Dog Toys.

When Veruca lost her back leg, and as Damien became older, it was really prompted me to become aware of the difficulty of different trails. A trail that is longer than three miles has become too long for Veruca. Steep trails are also very hard on Veruca. As a result Veruca hikes mostly flat trails or the shorter trails.

Ava is a little more ambitious and can complete most mountain hikes. Consequently, Ava gets to go on the steeper and longer hikes. Everything over 3 miles or with a decent elevation gain goes to Ava.

Steeler, our foster dog, can tackle just about anything. He can climb up rock faces and keep a slow trot up a 4 mile incline. However, Steeler was adopted last week and is now hiking with his new family. Happy trails to him and his new family.

Steeler in a visibility vest on a hike.

Steeler, recently adopted, off on an adventure and in brightly colored orange for visibility. Keep reading to learn why such a vest is important! Photo courtesy of Damien’s Best Dog Toys.

Any non-obvious must-haves we should be packing for the trail?

I have a packed bag that is always ready to go when we head out. For my longer hikes my bag will contain my first aid and emergency gear which includes band aids of several sizes, compression bandages, iodine for water treatment, emergency blanket, duct tape and athletic tape, aspirin, matches and a lighter. Then I have my small plastic shovel and a couple of sheets of tp just in case. All of these items are all place in a plastic bag to protect everything from moisture.

I also carry a small compass which is always in the bag and usually a trail book. Even though I know many of the trails fairly well, I usually bring the trail books along. There is often some interesting reading in these books beside just how to get to the trail head. These books usually have a couple of maps in them just in case.

Then there is the food and water. I always carry enough water for me and the dogs even if I know that there is usually water on the trails. I also carry a collapsible bowl for the dogs.

Some of the extras that I carry are plant and animal identification books, a camera, an extra leash, and my phone.

Hunting season also means that everyone wears orange reflective gear. Winter hiking means that dogs wear coats and I bring along a small stove for water on the longer hikes.

How do you keep your adventurous dogs entertained when the weather doesn’t cooperate with a hike?

We usually cover at least 2 miles a day. Our morning walks are 1.5 miles and this happen every day, even in the rain and snow. In bad storms sometimes we cut back the mileage a little. However, in snow storms we are lucky enough to have our house next to 10 acres of wooded land. So snow storms mean playing in the snow and breaking new trails. You don’t need to cover many miles when the snow is shoulder high on the dogs.

The times when we resort to alternative exercise is usually when I don’t really feel like going for a walk. Then we either use the yard for playing fetch with Ava’s own rope toy or a good game of tug with one of our tennis ball toys. Steeler loved his tennis ball toy and would play fetch and tug for hours in the backyard if we let him. Steeler’s favorite toy was the Kane style toy.

Steeler loved the Kane style toy

Steeler and the Kane style toy (find it here!). Photo courtesy of Damien’s Best Dog Toys.

We also do some nose work drills around the house. This is becomes a little challenging because Ava and Veruca have to take turns finding the treats. But it is a fun way to spend an evening inside.


Many thanks to Mark for sharing about his amazing hiking adventures! Be sure to follow his blog so you don’t miss a post (not to mention amazing photos of the great outdoors… with the dogs of course).

This is part of the Adventure Dog Blog Hop!

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DOGthusiast and Tiffany’s Diamond Dogs co-host the Adventure Dog blog hop every Tuesday. We’re also partnering with YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner.com who hosts a monthly Twitter Chat called #AdventureDogChat. The blog hop and Twitter chat focus on doing stuff with your dog: adventures, activities, training, sports, and more!

How to join the Blog Hop:
Here are the details on how to join the hop. For more information about this blog hop, and blog hops in general, see our page about the Adventure Dog Blog Hop.

  1. Grab the badge: Download (right-click to save) or Link to it using the following code, your choice!
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    This post is part of the Adventure Dog blog hop, hosted by DOGthusiast, YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner.com, and Tiffany's Diamond Dogs every Tuesday.
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About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Great post-really enjoyed reading about his adventures and the pictures of some of the scenic places!

  • Great interview – I love reading/knowing more about the bloggers I follow. Mark is awesome; and I agree that being out in the woods with my dog is one of the most freeing feelings one can get – especially when comparing it to the normal work day. I’m glad to hear that Steeler was recently adopted; I know he’s going to be a great companion for his new family.

    • Isn’t it great? I’m sad that I won’t be seeing more Steeler pics, but how wonderful to have found his forever home.

  • Mark S

    Thanks so much for asking me to participate in the Adventure Dog Blog Hop. It was a lot of fun answering these questions. I love the Veruca picture you picked. She looks so happy in all of her tri-pawed glory.

    • Thank you so much for the interview! And I adore that picture of Veruca too – speaks so much about the benefit of getting outside with our dogs :)