Let’s face it, our four-legged friends make the best adventure buddies. They rarely get a grump on. They never contest the route choice. They almost never engage in mindless chatter, and their interest in everything around them is infectious.
With many of us staying close to home this summer and with the puppy-purchasing boom during the lockdown, there’s the possibility that many of us will be venturing out into the wilds with our furry sidekicks over the coming months.
With the stress involved in packing up a family for an adventure holiday, or even if it’s just ourselves, it is easy to forget that our dog has needs too.
Here are some tips to consider for anyone wanting to introduce their dog to the outdoors and adventure and for the seasoned veterans of those adventuring with their four-legged friends to remember the insane excitement of being allowed to get back and explore.
It’s easy to forget that our dogs also need to build fitness when introduced to new activities or returning to an activity after a period of rest. Most will keep going until they drop, and struggle to regulate energy levels.
Factoring rest into a hike or adventure, mixing up longer and shorter days out, and building up slowly will allow your dog to adapt. It takes four to six workouts for the dog’s physiology to adapt and be ready for the next distance increase.
Signs your dog is overtired:
- Overexcitement (the zoomies)
- Losing self-control
- Excessive panting and/or lip licking
- Excessive thirst
- No interest in playing
- Lying down
- A lack of willingness to move
Hydration and heat
Just like with fitness, dogs will often keep going until they drop, so at times we need to think for them. Planning routes that have lots of water stops to drink and cool off in is a great way to help keep your dog hydrated and cool.
Some trails won’t have so much water readily available, so carrying extra water for them is a must. There are bottles on the market with lids that double as bowls, and there are collapsible bowls where you can share your water with them.
For us humans, we cool down by sweating. The sweat on our bodies evaporates, creating a cooling effect. Dogs only sweat through glands on their paws, which is not enough to cool them.
Dogs instead rely on panting to control their temperature. When dogs pant, water evaporates from their tongues, nasal passages, and the lining of their lungs.
They also rely on vasodilation (expansion of blood vessels), particularly in the face and ears, to allow blood to flow closer to the skin surface to help cool it down through convection before sending it back to the heart. Both methods require a lot of energy and water, which needs to be replaced.
Heatstroke can be deadly for dogs and can come on quickly. Prevention, with hydration and water to cool off in, is always better than cure.
- Heavy frantic breathing
- Excessive drooling
- Bright red gums
- Muscle tremors
- Lack of coordination
- Loss of consciousness
Does fur make your dog hot?
A dog’s coat acts like an insulator. In the winter, it helps keep them warm, in the summer, it helps keep them cooler. I have a German Shepard with a thick and long coat, and a good rule of thumb I have found for my dog is if I can be comfortable outside in a t-shirt, it is too hot to run him.
This is why most of my training in the spring and summer if he comes with me, will happen around sunrise or late in the evening. Any adventures with him during the day are to areas with shade and/or watercourses – mountain streams, etc.
Sheep and other livestock
Honestly, in the spring and summer, when the sheep return to the mountains, they curb some of the fun of my adventures. My dog is a hunter, a pure predator, and he will kill a sheep if he has the chance.
This catches so many people new to adventures with their dog by surprise when even the most docile Labrador or tiniest Chihuahua suddenly turns from a cute, fluffy family pet into a murdering, slavering wild thing.
All dogs have predatory instincts in them; it is a part of their DNA. Interestingly, over this past lockdown, I have been helping out a shepherd friend of mine with his sheep and have learned that the way sheepdogs herd is actually predatory.
They are hunting with the shepherd, and they also get carried away from time to time and attack the sheep. It was quite an eye opener to find that even dogs used to being around sheep will attack them.
Just because your dog hasn’t chased a sheep doesn’t mean it won’t. Often the reason behind dogs going missing in the mountains is because they have got wind of a sheep and run off after it. Their senses are much sharper than ours, and if you have your dog off a lead, you need to become highly aware of your dog’s body language when it gets into hunt mode. You also need to be in tune with spotting sheep, which are quite good at being hidden behind boulders. Not particularly relaxing.
A way around this is having a waist harness with a bungee style lead, and a good fitting harness for your dog. This allows you to have your hands free and move more comfortably through the hills. I can attach the lead directly to my rucksack waist strap. Just be careful going downhill so that they don’t pull you off balance.
With more of us likely to head into the hills this summer, please help keep the livestock safe and stress-free.
If your dog is prone to bolting and is not mountain savvy, there are some great collar with GPS trackers on the market. These sync with your phone or a GPS unit.
Size and age
A dog’s size and age can also determine the distance a dog can travel. There is no firm answer to ‘how much exercise is too much for a puppy?’, but veterinarians and trainers say you should consider the breed.
A Labrador puppy and a border collie puppy will both love playtime, but the collie will most likely have a higher exercise tolerance and heat tolerance for outdoor play.
There have been studies that show there’s a potential link between too much exercise and orthopedic disease in larger breed dogs.
Large breeds grow quickly and mature slowly, which may mean you have to put off certain activities until they are around eighteen months to two years old. Toy breeds, on the other hand, mature more quickly.
All breeds require mental stimulation, but high-drive working breeds – such as collies, malinois, and huskies – need more mental stimulation than other breeds, so if you can’t yet take them on multi-day camping adventures, then why not tire them out by working training sessions into their exercise routine. This will get them ready for when they are strong enough.
Something that isn’t much talked about, but should be, is canine bloat. Feeding your dog just before, or within an hour of, hard exercise could prove fatal for your dog.
Canine bloat, or gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV), occurs when the dog suffers a gastric dilation, resulting in gas build-up, which fills the stomach and can cut off blood supply to the gut. It is extremely painful and can lead to death in just a couple of hours. It is more common in larger breed dogs.
During exercise, and directly after, energy and blood are sent to working muscles and is diverted away from the digestive system. It is best to factor in at least an hour before and after exercise before feeding a larger meal.
Carrying high-protein snacks for your dog on your adventure can help keep energy levels up, and aid in training, but keep this to a minimum.
If your dog trusts you, they will literally follow you anywhere. Trust has to work both ways, though, and this is built up through experience and over time. My dog is eight now, and although there are things I don’t trust him with, like sheep, I am happy to take him to areas I would never advise anyone to take a dog.
Trust also extends to me trusting myself and my skills, as some sections of our hiking paths are pretty technical, and my dog wears a dog climbing harness and is on a rope. As he is not a human, and I can’t communicate with him in a way, I would a person to even consider following a difficult trail, and I have to know I can look after both myself and her. I need to be fully aware of how he is feeling and how he might react.
This is why I advise starting off any adventure lifestyle with your dog slowly and not putting yourselves into a situation you cannot handle. They will learn fast, but not all dogs will like heights or water.
Check-list for your dog
If you want to introduce your dog to the wilderness, make sure you bring the following items along:
- Collar with contact details
- Water bottle
- Collapsible bowl
- Treats and food for longer trips
- First aid kit
- Up-to-date vaccinations and tick medication/removal kit (yes, dogs can get Lyme disease too)
Hopefully, this article will help you plan and prepare before you introduce your four-legged friend to the great outdoors. They can be great companions when exploring the wilderness, but you must make sure all their needs are covered before heading out.
Resources recommended for preppers and survivalists: