A new breed of doggy daycare in Wisconsin takes to the woods—rain or shine.

By Erica Krug
February 22, 2021
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Doggy by Nature
| Credit: Beth Skogen Photography

When Craig Michaels moved his nature-based dog hiking and training business from Austin, Texas, to his home state of Wisconsin in 2013, he struggled at first to find clients who were open to his style of care. "It was like crickets," he says. Today, Michaels and the Doggy by Nature crew, including his work and life partner, Lindsey Decker (who owns a boarding biz called Madison DogMa), hike in groups with a total of 65 to 70 dogs a day. Staff pick the dogs up from their homes and drive them to a private property in the country for a 1.5-hour hike. "Clients will text a photo before they leave for work of their dog looking out the window for the van, because they know it's hiking day," Decker says. Can we get an aww?

Craig Michaels of Doggy by Nature
| Credit: Beth Skogen Photography

Go Dogs Go

"We all need time in nature, but dogs especially feel a connection to the outdoors," Craig Michaels explains. "Teaching them to hike provides that opportunity."

UNLEASH WITH CARE

Doggy by Nature trains its charges to hike off-leash on its private acreage, but most public trails require leashes. Michaels recommends a 6-foot lead with an Easy Walk Harness. If you're lucky enough to have access to less-legislated wilderness, Michaels says not to let pets loose on trails unless they have an extremely good heel command and recall ability.

MIND YOUR MANNERS

Check trail regulations before your hike. You must be able to keep your dog calm, and always step off the trail to yield to others (who may include single-track cyclists or horseback riders). Bring poop bags and plan to pick up after your dog, even in the woods.

PLAY IT SAFE

Think about hazards like heat and cold. Bring water for your pup to drink. Start slow and build stamina, monitoring your dog's energy level. Always check your dog for ticks post-hike.