Many of us in the “outdoor enthusiast” crowd fantasize about having a dog who can accompany us on our adventures. The idea of a loyal companion, happily trotting by your side as you venture together through the depths of a pristine wilderness, is one that warms the soul on an almost primal level. You may even already have a pup who you’re eager to introduce to the outdoor life. But is your dog ready for the rigors of your next excursion?
“We prepare ourselves for a journey – buying new shoes and breaking them in, going on a longer walk or parking on the far side of the lot, and going to the gym a little extra – but we often forget to prepare our dogs in a similar fashion,” says Bridget Stewart, a trainer with Penn Vet Working Dog Center and Capable Canine. “They too should begin preparing for the great outdoors as we do.”
Bridget shared some great tips for getting your favorite four-legged friend ready to take on the wilder parts of the world:
- Always check with your vet first. Make sure your dog is healthy enough to take on the objective you have in mind.
- Hike or bike with your dog regularly beforehand get their stamina up and their pads ready for rougher terrain.
- Teach your dog “Leave it!” This is often a life-saving skill for dogs on the trail. It can range from that stick hanging a little to far out of the fire to a snake you find sunbathing on a rock. (For more on keeping the peace between venomous snakes and your dog, check out Beyond the Blue Coat’s excellent post.)
- Bridges are often a novel and scary thing for dogs, particularly the semi-rickety ones out in the woods. Do a little agility plank work with your dog. It doesn’t have to be fancy – in fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. A few pieces of wood in your backyard or set up at a park will do. Start them low – remember this is an exercise to build confidence, not a race.
- Where will you be spending the night on your adventure? No matter where you’ll be resting your head, be it tent, hammock, or cabin, make sure your dog is comfortable with those surroundings. Set that tent up in the backyard and spend a night out there.
- If your dog will be wearing a backpack and carrying supplies, introduce this before you go. Start with just the pack, nothing in it. Then add some weight to it, increasing the load every few days (this is the essentially the doggy version of lifting weights). Be sure not to push your pup beyond their limits before they’re ready and check with a vet to see how much your dog can safely carry.
- While on the trail, be mindful of what your dog might be consuming. Some plants, insects, and stream water (with its accompanying bacteria) could leave your dog with diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration, which could then lead to even more serious problems. If you boil your own water before drinking it, be prepared to boil your dog’s as well.
Do you have a favorite adventure dog? Tell us about him/her in the comments. (And yes, proud dog parents, this is your chance to brag!)
Many thanks to Bridget for sharing her passion and expertise with us!