A girl and her pup living on a lifetime of outdoor adventures
“Dogs will lick your face if you let them. Their bodies will shiver with happiness. A simple walk in the park is just about the height of contentment for them, followed by a bowl of food, a bowl of water, a place to curl up and sleep…”
I just came back from a 22-day road trip across Utah with my pup and we are currently preparing for a snowshoeing backpacking trip this weekend in Mammoth; throughout these adventures I am constantly asked how Moo handles all this travel and adventuring, so I thought I would share some of my secrets. Although the majority of people I meet are head over heels for Moo, I do get some pretty odd questions, specifically on trails in Southern California (where most people are not as outdoorsy compared to other parts of the country).
“Did she make it all the way to the top”?
“She looks cold.”
“Did you bring water?”
“Are you going to have to carry her?”
Moo is 14 pounds (of muscle) and doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of an outdoor adventure dog but she truly loves the trails. She will run after me while I am on skis, climb 14-ers with me, backpack big miles with me, cross streams and rivers like a champ, hike through slot canyons, run along in the snow, happily hang out of my pack when she is tired, and sleep at the bottom of my sleeping bag with me. She makes quite the impact on whoever she meets and she forces me to socialize on the trail (which is a good thing). At the end of the day, I know exactly what Moo can handle and can tell when she is annoyed, tired, or just wants to run off leash. I think besides training your dog for the outdoors, every dog owner must be aware of their dog’s temperament and know what their dog can and can’t handle. If your dog is unfriendly, keep them off the trails or on a short leash and if your dog is not cut out for hiking; that is okay. My older dog stays in the backyard and goes on car rides around town because she doesn’t mind well, has a tendency to be a jerk to other dogs and could no way hike more than a mile. I love her dearly but she is not cut out to be an adventure dog and I am a better dog owner knowing this and respecting this. I just wish more dog owners would be follow this as well.
Our story: Meet Moo
My pup Moo is my favorite trail companion and a 5 (ish)-year-old Terrier/Chihuahua mix I adopted in Memphis during my family medicine residency. About 5 years ago, I was coming off a 24-hour shift at the hospital and I ventured into an adoption event at my local feed store to pick up some dog food for my older Shitzu. I always entertained the idea of adopting a second dog but residency was killing me and I was constantly exhausted and stressed. I saw this sweet little spotted puppy in a cage and when I went to open it, she jumped on my shoulder and nuzzled her face in my hair. The lady said she was brought back to the pound twice but appeared to get along well with other dogs and was very friendly with people. When I asked what her name was, the lady responded “Moo” and that moment I said, “I’ll take her”. The first year consisted of many sleepless nights, wet beds, one destroyed couch, chewed eyeglasses and stethoscopes, endless pairs of chewed underwear and flip flops and the most anxious pup I’ve ever met! She was a handful, to say the least. I quickly discovered that Moo was not meant to be stuck in a house, but she needed to roam, to run, to explore and to adventure. Fast forward 5 years later, and Moo has accompanied me on endless road trips, trails, backpacking trips, ski lifts, boat rides and camping trips.
Whoever decided to bring her back to the pound not once but twice, clearly missed out on the most adventurous and sweetest pup in the world.
Moo on the trails
Whenever I am in the outdoors with my pup, we meet on average 25 people a day, who are always commenting on how cute, sweet and well-behaved Moo is. Yes she is cute and yes she is super sweet but I chuckle inside when the “she is so well behaved” comment comes up. Yes, after years of strict training, she is now behaved. But it literally took 2 years of training, patience and a good amount of money to get her to this point. She is still incredibly anxious and oversensitive to the point that she vomits when she is stressed, and I have to be very careful if/when I do punish her for naughty behavior because she will regress. I do not allow her to beg for food, endlessly bark, jump out of the car without permission, and she knows to wait for me on the trail around the next bend. She is also trained to automatically sit in the back seat on every car ride. She still runs up to people, regardless if I tell her “no” and she will still assume everyone wants to pet her and play fetch with her (even though not everyone is a dog lover). Unfortunately her trainer and I worked endlessly on this but she loves people so much that I have learned this is just who she is. She has learned to approach other dogs with extreme caution and once she gets a sense for unfriendly humans, she backs off immediately. She is an extremely intuitive, smart, energetic and very sweet dog which has made her the best trail companion. In fact, Moo always knows the way back to the car if we are on an out- and-back trail; regardless of how many miles or days we have been out for. I will sometimes have to cross over streams and route find and she will refuse to follow me (because I am going the wrong way) and will sit there and bark at me until I follow her and then I realize “wow she knows exactly where we are going”. This happened to me twice during my recent adventure in Utah. I rarely plan trips without Moo and if I do, it is a very special trip where sadly, dogs are not allowed.
Doggy trail guidelines
In the perfect world there would only be friendly dogs and their humans running around off leash in the wilderness, obeying all the rules and leaving nature better than they found it.
Only in my dreams…
Depending on where you are in the world, many outdoor places restrict dogs in one way or another. Some places such as National Parks and California State Parks have zero tolerance for dogs on trails whereas other places such as BLM land allow off leashed dogs on all trails as long as they are under voice control. (I seriously LOVE BLM land). National Forests are dog friendly however your dog must be placed on a leash at all times (depending on the National Forest) and since this is under federal jurisdiction, this ticket can be a BIG deal. State Parks outside of California are usually very dog friendly and allow dogs on the trails as long as they are leashed. It is important to always check with each jurisdiction before you decide to adventure with your dog in the wild. Some cities are more tolerable of off leashed dogs than others. For example, I was recently skiing in Park City, Utah and I discovered these amazing multi-use trails that welcomed off leashed dogs. There are also some local hiking trails in Orange County such as Santiago Oaks and Peters Canyon that allow dogs, as long as they are leashed.
State Parks: With the exception of California, most are dog friendly but dogs must be leashed
National Parks: Dogs are only allowed in parking lots and campsites (not ever allowed on trails). Apparently there is one or two National Parks that are dog friendly.
National Forests: Dog friendly as long as your pup is leashed, depending on the specific National Forest. Some allow off leash with voice command.
BLM Land: Dog friendly and off-leashed as long as your pup is under voice command.
Local parks and city parks: Each is different so check the signs and always do your research beforehand.
Keep in mind that many longer multi-day trails go through both National Parks and National Forests hence why many dogs are not allowed on thru-hikes. National Forests are dog friendly but National Parks are not. Examples: High Sierra Trail, John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Mt. Whitney. Always check your trail boundaries.
Doggy trail gear
I am not really a fan of dog clothes, I find them pretty ridiculous, however if you are going to hike with your dog in the outdoors there is some gear you must purchase and bring along on every hike. Would you hike barefoot? Would you hike in the snow without a jacket? Would you hike without water? I assume you would answer “no” to these questions therefore if you are going to make yourself comfortable and safe in the outdoors, your dog’s safety and comfort is just as important. Remember your dog did not sign up for this.
Doggy boots: You wouldn’t climb a mountain barefoot, so why make your dog do it? Our pups and their paws are more used to hardwood floors and carpets than they are too rocky, rough trails. Your dog’s pads should always be protected on the trail. Your dog absolutely needs foot protection if he/she is hiking in the summer or he/she is hiking for longer than five miles. If you cannot hold your hand on the pavement without it being too hot, then it is too hot for your dog to be walking barefoot. Either keep your pup at home or purchase the proper footwear. Dog’s paws can blister and bleed within a short amount of time if you do not protect their paws appropriately. I personally only use PAWZ dog boots, which are balloon-like booties that protect against the elements but still allow Moo to be able to feel the trail appropriately. I have been using these for 5 years and would not go with any other brand. I have heard Musher’s Secret paw protectant is decent however you must re-apply it often and it does not protect against foxtails or tiny rocks getting stuck into between your pup’s toes.
Jackets and vests: I am just going to say RUFFWEAR is literally the best dog gear out on the market. I have spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours trying to get Moo into something that fits her and that will protect her in the snow and I finally bit the bullet, spent $70 on a weatherproof jacket and I am kicking myself on why I didn’t make this purchase years ago. RUFFWEAR is outdoor dog performance gear and is made for dogs who adventure outdoors in all kinds of weather. They make cooling vests for the summer, climbing harnesses, down weatherproof jackets for winter, collars, leashes and everything in between. Yes, they are expensive but at the end of the day, my dog’s comfort and safety, translates into whether or not I enjoy myself in the outdoors and all of these factors are worth more than a price tag.
Water bottles: I have a pretty cool collapsible water bottle that has a trough attached so I do not have to deal with pouring anything into a bowl. It is super easy, lightweight and does not suck up any time when I am on a longer hike or backpacking trip. I purchased mine years ago at a local dog store but they can be bought online for a very affordable price. Foldable dog water bottle Your dog needs 1.5 -1.7 oz. of water per pound of body weight over the course of a 12-hour day. The formula to use here is: [(weight of dog x 1.5 oz.) / 12 hours] x the hours you will be hiking.
Hiking pack: Moo is too small to carry any of her own gear so I am not well-versed on this topic compared to some of my outdoor friends who hike with their larger dogs. I do know, however that RUFFWEAR makes some awesome packs for dogs so all I can say is do your homework, research how much weight your dog should be carrying, make sure the pack fits him/her comfortably, train your dog with the pack on before taking your pup on a grand adventure and do not force your dog to carry a pack if it makes them uncomfortable.
Dog-friendly camping and road tripping must haves
Long car rides and camping in a tent can be uncomfortable so I make sure I have the right gear and a plethora of snacks and audiobooks for my comfort and entertainment so your dog should be no different. I usually walk Moo whenever I stop for gas and give her water to drink during these stops. I try to regulate her liquid intake on road trips so I am not stopping every hour to walk her. Additionally, I always carry an extra bag(s) of snacks, depending on how many days/weeks we are on the road, an extra toy or two and a comfy blanket designated just for Moo. I usually end up forgetting a toy or the blanket and end up buying a new one on the road to add to her endless collection, but these little things provide so much comfort and happiness, it is worth it. In terms of dog food, I have tried dehydrated dog food, bringing her dog food from home in plastic bags and a plethora of “lightweight” dog food for our backpacking trips but she is relatively picky and over many years of trial and error I have discovered she eats the cheapest, grossest brand (Cesar) that is found at every supermarket. Here is why I did not protest when I discovered this: It is $0.99 per serving and comes in a disposable single serving package, she actually eats it, it is relatively lightweight and it can be found in any Supermarket in any city or state, which makes things easy when we are on the road. I take these on road trips, camping trips and backpacking trips and they are easy to pack out and I do not shed a tear if she refuses to eat it one night. Moo also has her own camp chair (which was mine at one point) but when we are front country camping, she loves to sit in the chair with her blanket. Also do not forget the doggy waste bags, a proper leash, harness and a collar with a tag. I know some people who also bring along their dog’s bed which is a great idea but I am too nervous it would end of getting thrashed.
I always carry a tennis ball with me on the trail in case she gets bored or has “poor trail recall” aka wanders off. I also carry extra treats on the trail for energy and rewarding her for good behavior.
Food: Single-serve Cesar
Dog treats: Trader Joe’s brand jerky strips
Squeaky toy and tennis ball
Moo’s camp chair
Doggy waste bags
Collar with tag
Fleas are the worst! They are disgusting, difficult to get rid of and are a nuisance to your entire household. I do have both of my dogs on flea and tick preventative meds however I only treat them during the warmer months since fleas do not like the cold. I give my pups a break during the winter months, I use Bravecto which is one pill that is given every 3-months and both of my dogs have been taking it since day one and have never had a flea or tick problem. Your pup is very susceptible to fleas, ticks and other pests in the outdoors so it is important to keep this in mind when you are planning for a dog-friendly adventure. After every hike, I always check my dog for ticks, foxtails, rashes, cuts or anything that could possible injure her or get into my tent.
Snakes: Poisonous snakes are scary. I highly recommend rattle snake aversion training! Moo once had the rattlesnake vaccination which I have learned is a waste (it maybe will save you time from bit to anti-venom administration). The goal of avoidance training is for the dog not to engage with the snake.
Poison oak and ivy: In general, Moo stays on the trail but there are some days when she wanders off looking for God knows what and it takes me a minute to reel her back in. Dogs are susceptible to poison oak and ivy however they are not affected by it but will spread the oils all over your clothes, tent and gear and within a week or so, you will find out if you have it or not. Tecnu Outdoors make an incredible line of poison oak and ivy wash that I carry with me EVERYWHERE just in case.
Don’t allow your pup to ingest anything on the trail: To me, this is common sense. People leave all kinds of weird stuff on the trails that could literally kill your dog. Moo is trained to stay out of anything on the trail but I keep a close eye on her to make sure she doesn’t chew or ingest anything she finds.
Look up the nearest 24 hour vet: Whenever I am planning a road trip, I always download an offline Google map of the area and find the nearest 24-hour vet in case I need to get her emergency treatment in the middle of the night, especially if I am in a remote area with zero cell signal. I once had to drive from the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff Arizona at 3am because Moo was vomiting and was extremely ill. They gave her some IV fluids, ran a bunch of tests and gave us a 10-day course of antibiotics to treat her GI bacterial infection. This stuff happens so it is good to be prepared.
Be prepared to carry your dog: Stuff can happen on the trails so it is important to have a backup plan in case you have to carry your dog to safety. Maybe your dog is small enough to fit into a pack, or maybe you have to bring a makeshift sling to help even out the weight of your pup. Regardless, it is important to plan for this. Whenever I am hiking big miles with Moo, I always bring an extra large pack so she has ample room to hang out while I pack her in. Fortunately for me, Moo loves to sit in a pack and we have done some big mile days with her in my pack while I lug her up and down peaks like a mule.
Keep your dog’s nails short
Leave no trace: Pack out your dog’s poop or make sure to bury it at least 6 inches
Consider keeping a doggy first-aid kit. Remember that dogs have restrictions on certain human medications so be aware what you can and cannot give your dog
Be aware of how many miles your dog is comfortable hiking and respect your pup’s limits. Your furry companion did not sign up for this so do not be a jerk.
Do not ever leave your dog alone in a car if it is in direct sunlight or if it is 80 degrees or warmer out.
Microchip your dog and always update your info.
Dog days of summer: Dealing with heat
If the ground is too hot or cold for you to comfortably place your palm flat on the ground for 5-10 seconds, it is not suitable or comfortable for your dog. Check your dog’s paws regularly for signs of blistering. Be aware that the ground will be hotter as the day goes on. Just because the ground was okay at 9 AM, does not mean it will be okay at 1 PM.
Your dog should not be hiking in over 85 degrees under any circumstances. If you check the weather on the day of your hike and notice that the temperature will be higher than that, leave your dog at home. Your dog’s life will never be worth it. The trail will always be there.
Symptoms of heat stroke in dogs include:
Bright red tongue
Very red or pale gums
Thick, sticky saliva
Dogs are wearing a fur coat at all times, and as a result, they aren’t able to cool themselves as efficiently as we are. Dogs only produce sweat on areas not covered with fur, such as the nose and paw pads, this means that they are unable to regulate their temperature and overheating is a very real concern. Some good solutions to dogs overheating include cooling vests and cooling bandanas. Ruffwear makes an awesome cooling vest for dogs called a Swamp Cooler, and cooling bandanas can be purchased at REI.
Your dog needs 1.5 -1.7 oz. of water per pound of body weight over the course of a 12-hour day. The formula to use here is: [(weight of dog x 1.5 oz.) / 12 hours] x the hours you will be hiking.
Sunscreen is also recommended for dogs who have thin fur or a white coat. Dogs are allergic to zinc so make sure your sunscreen is zinc-free. There is also UPF doggy visors that help keep the sun out of your pup’s eyes in case they are not fond of wearing doggy goggles.
Have fun, protect your dog, don’t allow people’s negative comments to get in your way, respect the wildlife, follow the rules and GO HAVE AN EPIC ADVENTURE WITH YOUR PUP!
“Dogs will lick your face if you let them. Their bodies will shiver with happiness. A simple walk in the park is just about the height of contentment for them, followed by a bowl of food, a bowl of water, a place to curl up and sleep. Someone to scratch them where they can't reach and smooth their foreheads and talk to them. Dogs also have a natural dislike of mailmen and other bringers of bad news and will bite them on your behalf. Dogs can smell fear and also love with perfect accuracy. There is no use pretending with them. Nor do they pretend. If a dog is happy or sad or nervous or bored or ashamed or sunk in contemplation, everybody knows it. They make no secret of themselves. You can even tell what they're dreaming about by the way their legs jerk and try to run on the slippery ground of sleep. Nor are they given to pretentious self-importance. They don't try to impress you with how serious or sensitive they are. They just feel everything full blast. Everything is off the charts with them. More than once I've seen a dog waiting for its owner outside a café practically implode with worry. ‘Oh, God, what if she doesn't come back this time? What will I do? Who will take care of me? I loved her so much and now she's gone and I'm tied to a post surrounded by people who don't look or smell or sound like her at all.’ And when she does come, what a flurry of commotion, what a chorus of yelping and cooing and leaps straight up into the air! It's almost unbearable, this sudden fullness after such total loss, to see the world made whole again by a hand on the shoulder and a voice like no other”.
Thanks for reading and hope to see you (and your pup) on the trails