Planning ahead can help keep you and your dog safe on your next trip into the great outdoors.
As more and more Canadians explore our country’s beautiful landscapes, so do their dogs. An outdoor adventure may involve a short trip to a local park, or a more complex hiking and camping trip into the backcountry. Either way, it’s essential to consider your dog’s safety when planning your journey.
Research where you’re going
Take a bit of time to do your homework – it can mean the difference between a great trip and one you’d rather forget. Here are a few important points to consider.
- Terrain – Check the landscape of where you are going. Does it have steep rope climbs? Sudden cliff drop-offs? Is your dog fit enough, or even big enough, to accomplish this trip successfully?
- Weather – Check the hourly forecast to determine whether the skies will cooperate with your plans. Also remember to consider whether it will be too hot or too cold for your dog’s tolerance.
- Wildlife – Are you likely to encounter any critters such as snakes, porcupines, bears, cougars, or the ever-dreaded skunk? If you do run into wildlife, make sure you’re prepared with items such as bear spray, a wildlife deterrent horn, and first aid supplies.
- Leash laws – Many parks, trails and campsites require animals to be leashed. This is not only for the protection of vegetation and wildlife, but for the safety of your dog. Do your research and adhere to leash laws.
Create a generalized packing list
Make a generalized packing list for local trips, and a second one for longer adventure trips. Before each journey, add any specific items you’ll need. Here are a few important items to remember on every trip, whether long or short:
- Water – This might seem silly if you live near lakes and rivers, but finding clean water sources is often tricky. Always pack drinking water for both you and your dog. For longer trips, pack emergency water purification tablets or a water purification system. Remember, natural sources of water can contain dangerous bacteria, so if you wouldn’t drink it, your dog shouldn’t either.
- Pet first aid kit – Emergencies can happen literally anywhere. Whether it’s a fall, an attack from another animal, or simply stepping on a sharp object, it’s important to prepare for the worst. Pack the size of kit appropriate for the journey and remember to keep it on your person, not in the vehicle.
- Emergency communication and navigation – Ensure your cell phone is fully charged before you leave on your trip. If your outdoor adventure takes you out of cell phone coverage, take steps to ensure someone can find you if you need help. Tell family or friends of your planned route and your expected return time. Packing a whistle and a mini flashlight is always a good idea, and a folding “SOS” sign can be brought on longer trips. For navigation, throw in a hard copy backcountry map and a compass.
- A long line – A long line is a longer leash than standard – usually up to 30’ in length. In the event the terrain does change and your dog can no longer safely be off-leash, a long line is a great backup plan. Conversely, if you regularly keep your dog leashed and the terrain opens up, you can provide added freedom via the long line.
Bring backcountry specifics
When you’re in the backcountry, it’s important to make preparations in the event you need to stay overnight – whether you’ve planned to or not. Here are some items to add to your list:
- Clothing and a blanket – If the temperature drops, you and your dog should both have a jacket. A simple fleece is light and easy to carry in your backpack. It will also dry quickly if it happens to get wet. Remember a blanket for sleeping too – he’ll get cold just like you!
- Medications – Pack a small stock of your dog’s regular medications. Also talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of packing other medications such as diphenhydramine (for allergic reactions). Remember – never use human products for your dog. Some chemical-based insect repellants, sunscreens and NSAIDs are toxic to dogs, and should only be used for the two-legged members of your family.
- Food – Whether you plan to camp or not, pack a small amount of dog food – one he enjoys and that you know won’t cause stomach upset. This is akin to you packing an emergency snack for yourself.
A few canine emergency tips
Knowing a few basics in pet first aid can go a long way when faced with an unexpected emergency. Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Take a mini guide. Carrying a tiny pet first aid guidebook (in addition to your pet first aid kit) will give you the information you need to manage an emergency.
- Move an injured dog as little as possible. Remember, the dog can be in severe pain and unable to tell you exactly where it hurts. Keeping him as still as possible will assist with pain management and also help prevent further injury.
- Keep him warm. Unless a dog has heatstroke, it is general pet first aid protocol to keep him warm. This will promote circulation and help decrease the chance of developing shock.
Exploring with a dog is supposed to be fun! By taking a bit of time to prepare, you have the power to prevent many possible injuries. And if disaster does strike, you’ll be ready to tackle it.
Lisa Wagner lives in Vancouver, BC with her two dogs, two cats, and her human family. She and her family are active hikers and regularly travel off the grid, backpacking and camping with their pets. Lisa is also Operations Director of Walks ‘N’ Wags Pet First Aid. In her spare time, she volunteers with both local and international animal rescue and sterilization agencies. Lisa is very passionate about animal health, safety and adventure!