Here at Backcountry K-9, our unofficial motto has been “No Dog Left Behind”. And we’ve meant it. For over a decade we’ve represented gear to outfit your dog for day hikes, camping, backpacking, rock climbing and paddling. Our own dogs have been with us on tops of sand dunes and snowfields, on backcountry canoe trips, paddleboarding outings, snowboarding, skiing, and nearly countless camping and backpack packing trips.
If you’re new to outdoor adventures with your dog, we encourage you to give it a go. For newbies, it might seem intimidating. The whole experience may be new to you and adding to the mix another living thing that depends on you can add to the hesitation. However, dogs are so adaptable to the outdoors. They rarely complain, they don’t mind if you smell, they’ll sleep on the ground, and getting dirty is no big deal.
If you’re an old pro, you’ll know to bring your dog along on your adventures can really enhance that experience. You often get to see an energy and positive alertness in your dog that you don’t always see at home. Despite the fact that they rarely talk back, you really get the sense of sharing that adventure with your dog; they’re not just along for the ride.
With all the positive though, there are rare times when you just need to leave your dog at home. There are, of course, the obvious circumstances like areas where dogs are not allowed, such as many National Park trails, or areas where it is inherently unsafe like a class 4 summit that is too exposed for most dogs.
What about a trip you’ve done before though? Something your dog has done with you comfortably in the past. I ran into this scenario recently. Over the past couple years, my oldest son, our Lab Cheyenne, and I have paddled 3 days on the Wisconsin River in southwest Wisconsin by canoe. The river in that part of the state is beautiful. It’s wide and relatively shallow with a sandy bottom. The river in good conditions (which is most of the summer and early fall) is filled with sandbars for camping, plenty of wildlife like sandhill cranes, geese, eagles, deer, and more turtles than you can count. Paddling is easy as the current helps pull you along. Spots for swimming are plentiful and the river roughly runs west toward the Mississippi, affording many campsites some great sunsets.
This year as our trip approached, the weather looked good, no rain in the forecast. The river levels were right in the sweet spot with plenty of exposed sandbars for camping. Our pack list was dialed in and all our reservations were set. But then, it happened. As I checked the weather each day, the forecasted temperatures kept creeping up, finally landing in the high 80’s. As you can imagine, an all black dog with a double coat and no shade is a bad mix.
I painfully poured over the forecast – “Well, if we paddle before 11 am the temperatures should remain below 80 and she’ll be ok”. In the end, I knew this wasn’t right. I’ve felt her fur when she’s just laid in the backyard for a few minutes in the sun. You wonder how she can stand that kind of heat. Even if we paddled in the cooler morning, we may not have a campsite with shade. Cheyenne will be stuck under our Kelty Sun Shade trying to stay cool. I feared her being miserable in the heat and the day before made the call that she’d have to sit this one out.
I hated leaving her home but I had made the right call. Afternoon temperatures on the river soared to the high 90’s. The sand was so hot you couldn’t walk on it without shoes, and even then the hot sand poured inside your sandals. The sunshade worked well but left us confided to about 80 sq ft for a few hours each afternoon until the heat calmed down.
The moral of the story is to be informed. Don’t make rash, gut decisions that could put your dog in danger OR unnecessarily leave her on the sidelines. Just like caring for yourself, understand the climate and terrain you will encounter. Know what your dog’s limits are. Understand the potential distress signs your dog may show if those limits are pushed. Get out there and take on the adventure but be safe and smart.
Here are some other pieces we’ve written that might help:
- A Crash Course in Backpacking with Dogs
- Recognizing Altitude Sickness in Dogs
- Human and Dog First Aid for Day Trips
- Backpacking with your Dog Packlist
- Backpacking with Kids and Dogs
And, if you’re in or around the midwest, I highly encourage a Wisconsin River trip. The fine folks at Wisconsin River Outings can set you up with every piece of gear you’d need for 1 – 5 nights on the river and their shuttle services are dog-friendly.
We’ll see you out there!