Outdoors With Dogs
Fun Fact: (most) dogs enjoy the outdoors as much as you do, if not more!
Let’s dig right into it: taking your fur child out to enjoy the outdoors is not always the slice of cake that everyone portrays it to be. Some dogs can’t be trusted off-leash, some dogs can’t be trusted around other dogs or humans, some dogs don’t want to leave your side, and some dogs lose all of their recall training in a split-second. So how do you make it an experience that it enjoyable for both you and your dog(s)….
Camping With Dogs
My number one “do not forget this” item is the night lights; our dogs each have a different night light, Zuke’s is a collar that lights up and Nezra’s has a small clicker light that hangs from her collar. For me, it was super important for Zuke to have a light because he pretty much all black fur and extremely hard to even see a shadow of when the sun falls. Nezra on the other hand is our wild child and therefore needs to be watched over more than Zuke. We have a pretty laissez-faire approach with our dogs but we do have some strict boundaries that are established, like the 3 Call Rule* and no barking in the household.
While we are up and about at camp, I usually leave their food bowls out so that they can free feed as per usual, and keep their water bowl filled. I like to pack a few toys like a frisbee and small soccer ball (mainly so we don’t lose it…RIP to the nice rubber balls we have lost to the desert and mountains). I always pack a blanket for the dogs regardless of how warm the temperatures will be and I tend to pack an extra day’s worth of food….just in case the hunger spikes while we are away from home. The free-roaming that they get to do while at camp helps keep their energy levels in check; some dogs aren’t allowed to come off their leash during these times as they cannot be trusted with the open land so I would suggest packing a brand new bone or puzzle toy that they do not get at home, to occupy their mind while at the same time tiring them out (yes, mental stimulation can tire your dog out).
While we are camping and not inside the tent or car, I always have collars with tags on the dogs, just in case they get curious and wander to another campsite. Prior to them being allowed to wander, there is usually a brief interaction with the other party to make sure they are comfortable with a dog being present; for the most part we do not let their wandering go too far but sometimes they slip through the vigilance to go say hi. This is also where the 3 Call Rule* comes in handy for us.
On-Trail With Dogs
Always. Pack. The. Leash. Even if it’s a dog friendly trail, even if it’s off-leash friendly. There most likely will be at least one dog on trail that requires 24/7 leashing because they cannot handle off-leash interactions/freedom - it’s incredibly important to respect these dogs by either having complete voice control over your dog or getting them on-leash as quickly as possible to pass. If you have overly friendly dogs like my border collie Zuke, you need to take extra precaution and demand complete control over them because they WILL want to approach to say hi which could warrant an unwanted attack/interaction.
Second must-have item: water bowl/water. I have one nalgene water bottle that is explicitly the dogs’ and attached to it is a small, collapsible bowl with a tiny carabiner. The main reason why they have their own water bottle is because about 80% of the time, I pour water into their bowl, they take two sips and walk away from it, and most of the time, I cannot afford to toss the water that they will guzzle later on, so I pour it back into their water bottle!
Poop bags everywhere: if I don’t have a roll in my bag already, I grab handfuls and stash them in the random pockets of whatever pack I have on. I personally really like that people bag their poop and leave it behind - I would much rather pick up a bag of dog poop back down trail than walk by the smell of a fresh pile.
Recall can be fun! With our new addition to the pack, we have started to pack a baggie of treats with us. Randomly, mostly when the dogs are well distracted, we will command them to come to us and sit - sometimes they are rewarded with a treat, sometimes it’s simply positive reinforcement with pitchy voices and pats on the head.
Heat exhaustion is one of the most important things to watch for earlier signs of; see the last paragraph under “Biking With Dogs” to learn more.
Biking With Dogs
Brag moment: Zuke is constantly complimented on his trail etiquette; on uphills, he will trail my back tire and if there is someone who approaches to pass us from behind, he will dip out of the way before I even have time to hear the person. On downhills, I do allow him to run ahead of me because he knows and understands the noises coming from our bikes and therefore had proven that he knows exactly when to dip off trail to let you pass.
Okay so not ALL dogs are bike-friendly. For starters, some breeds should not be running in that fashion at any point in their life; take golden retrievers for instance, while every breed does have exceptions, most retrievers should not be following you downhill on a mountain bike as they are prone to hip problems, thus making an activity like this putting them in a more at risk state for having problems down the road. This was something that I considered before adopting my dog Zuke who is a border collie/aussie mix as well as before we adopted our second dog, who ended up being Nezra, who is most likely a heeler mix. Even with us having good mountain biking breeds, I still do not include Zuke on every ride and the same will go for Nezra when she is old enough to complete full length rides. Point blank: they give it their all to keep you with you. This can create problems. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t worry about Zuke when we are on trail, he constantly takes shortcuts through the bush to keep up with us and often times loves to dip off and chase a squirrel or deer for a minute before catching back up with us. Yes - I allow my dogs to chase wildlife within moderation, why? Because they have strong recall.
When you first begin to train your dog to bike with you, expect nothing from them, they have little comprehension of what’s going on. Take it slow, take them on a quiet trail, maybe one that is a little more flat than objective. Don’t be afraid to bump them with your tire: this will be the fastest way for them to learn that they do not want to be in front of your bike. I am not saying that you run your dog over, you shouldn’t be biking that fast when you are first training them, but a little nudge and you’ll see them immediately register the consequence of them being in the way of the bigger object. Keep your trail riding on the minimum with miles, even dogs that can run and run shouldn’t be running that long and that hard. Cracked paws are usually a high factor for trail dogs, make sure to keep vaseline around to lather their paws up. Take lots of water breaks (some breeds won’t drink on trail, it’s a working dog mentality - if your dog is like this, try to plan your rides based around available water access). Know the signs of heat exhaustion before it’s too late: extreme panting, excessive drooling, pale gums/tongue, changes in mental status, wobbly or uncoordinated. Black-coated dogs can run anywhere from 10-20 degrees hotter than you (I like to wear all black when I take my dogs out so I can better gauge how hot Zuke might be getting).
*3 Call Rule: our dogs are given three opportunities to correct their behavior; I call their name once, twice, and if by the third time they are not responding, they will face the consequences. This can be done with three whistles, three snaps, three name-calls, or any series of three that works best for you and your dog.
Essential Packing List:
Dog bed or blanket
Dog Bowls (Food/Water)
Water bottle + collapsible water bowl
Vaseline (summer) or Musher’s Wax (winter)
Night light for collar
I would love to hear what practices/techniques that you have used/use with your fur-children! Feel free to comment below!