In the 25 years that I’ve been a companion, so-called sibling, and “keeper of the food” to a dog, I can, without a doubt, say that I do not know everything there is to know about being a dog owner. However, what I do know for certain is that it is a privilege and an honor to spend time with an animal that is as loyal as a dog, and therefore it is my responsibility as an owner to take the best possible care of them—even when my adventures take me deep within the desert, high into the alpine, or simply to a land trust on the outskirts of a city.
To my dogs, every smell, sound, and sight is laden with the potential for serious entertainment, and this reminds me to not only enjoy every step of the journey, but also prompts me to remember that they are species first and my loyal companions second. This means that their sense of loyalty has the capacity to clash with their basic (and often impulsive) canine instincts, which can translate into any myriad incidences, such as bolting after a moose (Gunner) or running through a revegetation area after a squirrel (Pearl). Now, that’s not to say that we should keep our dogs on leashes at all times and restrict potential fun, but we should, perhaps, look at it this way: If we wouldn’t walk through a revegetation area, why would we let our domesticated dogs tromp through delicate plant life? You wouldn’t, nor would you probably run after a moose.
The fact of the matter is that our wonderful, four-legged friends have the capacity to leave a bigger trace than we will. Granted, there are naturally occurring events, such as pollination, that happen with or without the help of our dogs. But when our natural world is transforming at an unprecedented rate (not to mention, there are more humans and their dogs playing outside, which means more room for error), there’s no real need to contribute to the current, and less than savory, state of Mother Nature’s situation.
Thankfully we, the humans, have the upper hand in this whole “being a thoughtful and contributing member of the outdoor world,” as we are endowed with thumbs, the Internet, and logic that isn’t reward- (read: dog treat) motivated. Personally, I approach adventures with my dogs much like the manner in which I pack for myself, and I further assess our Family-Pack situation through a series of questions. For example:
“What does the weather look like where I’m going?” “Will we need insulation layers?” “Does where I’m going have a dependable water source?” “Have I packed enough water?” “Will there be fireworks or firearms? Is there anything that will make my dog scared enough to run away?”
And the questions go on. Ultimately, every adventure, no matter how long or short, season or day, dictates how I prepare and pack. My dogs depend on me, and yours depend on you, so why do them a disservice that would harm their overall well-being? As I’ve acknowledged before, I don’t know everything when it comes to being a dog owner and, admittedly, I’ve accidentally messed up (more than a few times) on account of a lack of knowledge or overall consideration for the land. But, because we who like to play outside aren’t a whole lot different than my own Family-Pack, I believe in the power of open dialogue and the exchange of knowledge when it comes to playing outside with our furry, four-legged friends. And so, with that all in mind, below are some of my go-to pieces of information.
Create a go-time ritual
As much as they like adventuring with you, dogs like stability and will have their own “go-time” indicator. Be sensitive to this and aware of what gets your dog stoked; modify for your convenience.
Know where you’re going
Do your research. Not all green or open spaces are dog-friendly, and while you may think that our dogs won’t do much damage, the effects we (and our dogs) have can be irreparable. When we lived on the outskirts of Boston, finding dog-friendly, open spaces was tough. There were plenty of open spaces, but they were land preserves or watersheds, which means no dogs were allowed. So keep this in mind when finding a space to go romp about.
Be aware of your surroundings
Giving our dogs the opportunity to roam off-leash is great. However, if we start to see the trail dotted with “do not walk: revegetation” signs, we should gently guide our dogs away from the recovering plant life by way of temporarily leashing them up or ensuring that they stay by our sides.
Bring a first-aid kit
Pearl and Gunner actually have their own first aid kit chock-full of antihistamines, extra gauze, pre-wrap, cleaning pads, and so on—all stuffed into a sock. If the pooch gets an injured paw, we can appropriately clean it, dress it, and protect it (albeit temporarily).
Know your dog’s limits
Ultimately, they want to please you. And while they may know their own limits, they may not always tell you. So, you know, your puppy may be spry and a tad crazy, but that doesn’t mean it can haul down a mountain bike trail on its not-yet-fully-formed-joints. Or, your old hound is a bit sensitive to sudden, loud noises, so he needs a safe, cozy space to cuddle up when your campground neighbors start playing target practice with the BB gun.
Always bring more than enough food and water
Or make sure that where you’re going has a dependable water (or food) source. You, nor your dog, should ever be without sufficient fuel or hydration. We like to bring carrots, since they’re backpack-tough and dog-friendly. Plus, they’re kind of refreshing on a hot day.