How To Adventure With Your Dog
One thing you should know about us is that if we’re outside, chances are we have our dogs with us. The only exceptions are when we are actually hunting, or when we venture to areas where dogs aren’t allowed. Our boys come with us on fishing trips, any and all foraging adventures, and Joey has even learned to eat blueberries right off the bush. We love to get outside with our pups, and over the years we have learned a lot about doing it in ways that maximize everyone’s happiness.
We prepared a long list of our recommendations for things to consider when striking out into the wild with your fuzzy buddies. Whether it’s a quick overnight trip, or a longer hitch, you are responsible for you and your companion’s health and happiness. So read on, and please feel free to get in touch with us with any other helpful tips you have come up with during some of your adventures!
When venturing out into the wilderness, safety comes first, and the same rules definitely apply for your dogs. We pack a decent first aid kit, and in it we include some items for the pups, and some that work for both human and canine. A trip-ending injury or illness can hit you or your dogs any time, so you may as well be prepared! Considering us humans aren’t careening around in the bushes, sticks whipping us in the face, drinking dirty water, and chewing on soggy sticks, we should probably worry about our pup’s health a little differently.
Here are some of the items we keep in our first aid kit that can be used for the dogs.
-Ace bandage: a twisted limb can hurt and slow you down. Even if you have 3 other legs to walk on, wrapping it up in a supportive bandage can really help your pup out and make the trip back to the car more bearable. It can also be used to hold a dressing in place in case your dog gets a cut or abrasion that needs to be dressed and kept secure.
-Dressings: We keep a few non-adherent dressings with us to slap over any cuts or abrasions. They won’t dry and stick to the wound, which is great for when it comes time to remove it; no tearing whatever has healed back open. You and your dog will appreciate it. Sterile gauze, gauze wraps, and “vet wrap” or coban are good to wrap dressings up to keep them clean and in place. Coban can also be used like an ace bandage in a pinch.
-Vetbond: this is basically superglue for skin. It shouldn’t be used on humans (there are some brands out there that are approved for people) but it can prevent some suffering if your dog gets a good cut. It dries super fast so be ready to apply it and hold the wound shut. We have been told that it stings, so give your doggo some extra pats during the process.
-Meds: this is where we get into some tricky territory that we aren’t very comfortable advising people on. We do keep Benadryl in our first aid kit for both us and the dogs. Our boys have never had an allergic reaction to anything, but our old vet did recommend carrying it for rattlesnake bites. We STRONGLY urge you to talk to your vet about any medications you would consider giving your dog before relying on it in the backcountry. We keep the dosages our vet recommended in the container with the Benadryl for quick administration in case of an emergency.
-Doggy shoes: These don’t live in the first aid kit, but they do come with us on the bigger backpacking trips. Our boys are used to spending long days on their feet, so their pads are nice and tough. However, a cut to the paw can be dressed and then protected by the booties very nicely. We have also thrown them on when walking through really rough granite shale that slipped and slid under our feet. It was great peace of mind knowing that our dogs’ paws weren’t getting torn up by the hot, jagged, shifting granite under them.
2. Food and water
Obviously your dog has to eat! Just like us, he probably appreciates some extra tasty meals after hiking all day. Plain kibble, or whatever your dog is used to, is fine. But we like to account for the extra calories burned and give them a little something more at each meal. We have also experimented with dehydrated food, but we don’t rely on it completely. We just mix some with water and stir that into a lovely kibble slurry that the boys love.
And just as we do for ourselves, we always budget for an unexpected day or two out in the woods, just in case. We pre-scoop the kibbles into bags and throw a few extra scoops in there just in case. Be sure to keep the kibbles in something sturdy that can withstand getting thrashed around in a dog backpack if you use one, as well as swinging from a bear hang if that’s your style, too.
Another very important consideration is water. We don’t filter our dog’s water, they just drink freely from the rivers and lakes like many other adventurous canines. However, we have gone on some really great trips that just don’t have any sources of fresh water for us or them. When this is the case we “camel up” by chugging what we have already filtered, then filtering more and filling our various vessels to the brim. We have taught our dogs to “go get water” on command, but you know what they say. You can lead a horse to water…Our boys don’t always understand planning ahead. So, if you’re adventuring somewhere arid, or hanging out up on a ridgeline without any streams or springs, plan to carry some water for your dog, or throw an extra bottle in their pack.
3. Leashed areas
Planning ahead is our motto. If you’re brining your pup along, you better check and make sure he’s even allowed. There are plenty of areas that are not dog friendly. For example, dogs are only allowed on paved areas on leash in national parks. Certain state parks don’t allow them at all. Wildlife refuges can vary, but chances are they’re not allowed or must be on leash. I hate putting the dogs on a leash when I know they would be much happier scampering around freely, but thems the rules! Also, there’s usually a pretty good reason the powers that be want them on a leash in the first place. Wildlife to harass, precious, native plants to pee on, and more. We can’t ruin it for everyone else. And let’s face it, a jaunt outside, on leash or not, is the best day ever for our pups, so just do it.
Speaking of harassing wildlife, sometimes it’s best to just keep your dog on a leash, even if it’s not required. Not a lot of dogs can resist a tempting wild animal that’s just asking to be chased. Big game, porcupines, skunks, anything that can bite really, is something you probably don’t want your dog mixing with. If your dog isn’t able to be controlled by your voice, it may be safer to keep him with you on the trail.
4. Knowing when your pup has had too much
Accidents happen, we all get tired, and not everyone is made for long-haul adventures. I am guilty of trying to keep going when the trail is getting a little too icy, or “I swear the lake is just around this next corner”, but you need to know when to quit while you and your dog are ahead. We have come across people very, very far out with a dog that just doesn’t look happy or well. We have passed by a group of people carrying their enormous dog out on a makeshift litter after he ran his paws bloody, and they had miles to go. Monitor your companion for any signs of fatigue, dehydration, heat exhaustion, or injury. They can’t speak up and tell you when they’ve had enough, and often they don’t slow down even when they should. You probably wouldn’t feel great getting up and hiking 15 miles barefoot with a fur coat on without any sort of physical conditioning, so why would your dog fare much better? If you want your dog to join you on your adventures, make sure he is physically ready to make the trip.
We love our dogs to a ridiculous degree, and they are pretty spoiled, but they still have to carry their own weight. They each have a backpack which usually holds their kibble, collapsible bowls, booties, jackets, a few odds and ends like our bear bag rope, and then on the way out, our garbage. The packs are a little more like saddlebags, and they take some finessing to get just right. They are adjustable in all the right places and most quality brands have a sizing chart on their website. Our boys know that when the packs come out, some fun is in store. If you’re going on a multi-day hitch, you’ll have to play around with your packing arrangement to keep the weight even on both sides, so your dog isn’t running around with one side higher than the other, but it’s really quite easy and so worth it. The packs really can carry a lot and we certainly appreciate them.
6. Sleeping arrangements
We keep our dogs in the tent with us at night. They both weigh around 50 lbs, and we have a fairly compact 2-person backpacking tent that we all fit into pretty comfortably. One of our dogs prefers to stretch out away from us, the other always snuggles up inside my sleeping bag with me. The reason we keep the boys in the tent is to keep them and the wildlife safe, and to keep them warm. They have pretty short fur, and they get very chilly. They would definitely freeze their tails off at night if they slept outside. We also don’t want them to patrol the tent site all night and get into mischief.
We do have some friends that let their dogs sleep outside the tent. Their pups are much fuzzier, MUCH larger, and are very happy to hunker down next to the tent and let nature be in the name of a good snooze. These dogs are the sort that prefer to spend all day out on the porch getting snowed on during the winter than come inside. Our boys are not that tough. Just be sure there is enough room for the whole gang to sleep comfortably in your tent, or think ahead about safely letting your dog sleep outside for the night. Nighttime temps can get very low, so don’t leave your buddy out there to freeze while you’re happy and warm in your sleeping bag.
Finally, everyone’s favorite topic. Poop. When out backpacking, we let our dogs do the deed without much worry. Our old boy Joey does have an affinity for pooping in the middle of the trail, so we of course get rid of it with a quick flick of a stick. Our other boy, Koda, is much more of a shy pooper, so he just disappears into the bushes to manage things on his own. However, when we are on more heavily used trails closer to civilization, we like to bag up their poops and toss them in the nearest bin. We opt for a biodegradable poop bag that works just fine. And please, if you’re going to scoop some poop, throw it away. There is no point in bagging it just to plop it on the ground or on top of the nearest fence post. Just toss it when you can.
As always, be courteous to your fellow adventurers, no matter the species. Be aware that not everyone loves being approached by a dog, no matter how friendly that dog may be. Try to preserve the flora and fauna and leave no trace as best as you can!