I wrote an article last November about shock collars and how they are not appropriate for adventure dogs, or really any dog. But here I am again, writing another article about this topic that is somehow controversial (I say somehow, since the science on its harms is clear). So why am I writing this again?
Well, Wednesday May 27th, I woke up to some bad news. While scrolling on my Facebook page I saw this article on Outside Magazine. It had been out for a while, but I hadn’t seen it yet (I don’t go searching for this author’s articles since I have been frustrated in the past by his lack of expertise and his apparent desire to talk about a topic like he is an expert: See my post Why the right number of dogs might be n+0). But here it was, so I read it and my anger boiled.
I posted about this on Instagram and tagged some other science-based training accounts to help spread the word and luckily it seemed to take off. So I’m writing this now, to get into more detail as to why this article is wrong, irresponsible, and damaging to dogs. For those who may question my credentials, I am a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA). To be certified, I needed to have over 300 hours of hands on experience, had to pass a theoretical exam and had to commit to utilizing the Humane Hierarchy with all of my training. I also have to get 36 hours of continuing education credits and provide accurate test taking questions to maintain my certification. So yes, I have more experience and knowledge on this topic than the author.
This past October, my younger dog Buffy turned 7 and according to the standards, entered her senior years (don’t you dare call her an old lady though). She doesn’t act 7 and my recently…10 year old Cody, doesn’t either. In fact, two summers ago someone thought he was a puppy because he scrambled up a mountain in the rockies so easily. But their energy level and my denial does not change that they are aging and on top of it, they are not tiny dogs. Small dogs tend to live longer and often suffer from less aging related mobility issues. So denial is not going to do my dogs any good.
Therefore, given that I’ve been dealing with this issue for a while, I wanted to offer some insight on what I’m already doing, and my overall strategy to keep my seniors healthy and adventuring with me for a long time.
Well I’m sure I’m not the only one who didn’t see this turn of events coming. 2020 didn’t start off the best but I didn’t think I would be sitting here in March getting updates every 15 minutes on new closures for recreational facilities, ski hills, schools, businesses, and offices. It felt a bit surreal a week ago. I was asking myself, why is this progressing so quickly? Why is the response so serious? Then I remembered I’m a Risk Analyst in my day job so I crunched some numbers and saw what I had been missing. This isn’t like SARS. It’s not like H1N1. It’s not anything like the flu. So we really do have to try and stay home.
The good news is that our dogs are pretty psyched about us being home more often. So what can you still do safely with your dogs to take advantage of some extra time together? I thought I would put together a quick list:
I love backcountry skiing and snowboarding. It is my favourite sport in the winter and it has required me to buy some expensive gear and get lots of training. This article is not about the human aspect of backcountry skiing so if you haven’t done this before, then I recommend finding a good guiding service and signing up for avalanche safety courses to get you started. This article is about what to consider when you go with your dog.
I occasionally bring my dog Buffy backcountry skiing. The reason she doesn’t come all of the time is that big objectives or very complex terrain (i.e. big avalanche terrain) is not an appropriate outing for a dog who has zero understanding of avalanche slopes and risk. I cannot think of a worse thing than triggering, even a small slide, and having my dog caught up in it (short of my human partner getting stuck in a slide). So if the risk isn’t low, my dog Buffy stays at home, even if backcountry skiing is her favourite thing ever. No exaggerating, she is obsessed. So please, consider not bringing your pooch into big avalanche terrain, instead look at days out with your dog as a more active form of a dog walk and stay on low angle slopes and in stable conditions.
So if you have somewhere safe to ski with your dog then you can consider trying this activity. But first you have to evaluate if your dog is up for it. I tried backcountry skiing with both of my dogs. Cody came several times one season to see if we could get him hooked but we couldn’t. He was just trying to keep up all day, looking fairly miserable. It was not his cup of tea. He’s far more my skijoring dog than my touring dog. This sport is not for all dogs. Your dog needs to be able to travel through deep snow pretty easily and to not freeze. Some people put on coats on their short haired dogs which can work, but always consider that you might be out there longer than expected. So if your dog has the stamina (or if they don’t but you can carry them in your pack the rest of the way) and the ability to stay warm, then you might be ready to give it a go.
How do you get started for a day out? Well firstly, pack a first aid kit that includes items for your dog such as extra gauze, wraps that clings to itself for pressure, and be ready to carry out your dog if necessary. The most common injury to dogs while backcountry skiing is coming into contact with a ski edge and cutting a paw or leg. So being prepared for this is very important. My dog Buffy has learned to stay clear of our gear, but not all dogs will take this into consideration. Also pack some dog snacks, water, and poop bags to keep your dogs poop off the skin track.
Next up, make sure that your dog has an excellent recall. This is critical. You’re going to be letting them off leash on the way down for sure and if your dog goes after an animal, this can be VERY dangerous to everyone involved. Don’t believe me? A couple years ago in the rockies some people went backcountry skiing with their dogs and the dogs chased a moose for over a half hour. They didn’t catch the moose, the skiers got a hefty fine, and the dogs were ok. However, that moose may have died. Wild animals need calories to stay warm during the winter months and 30 minutes of flight running cut into that moose’s calories and it would have to find enough calories to replace them in order to survive. Dogs should never be left in a position to harass wildlife, so if you do not have a history of a good recall, then work on it with lots of rewards and a long line over the summer and you’ll be ready to go next season.
Now, pick a small objective to try first. You will want to see how your dog handles this and when they are just learning, there will be a learning curve. Buffy’s first few times out, she was too excited on the way up. She would wonder on an off the skin track, playing in the snow. She quickly smartened up though and learned to conserve her energy for the intense down hill sections. Make sure to watch your dog carefully and make sure they are following your line and understanding the game. Most dogs will get this right away, it’s fun, the humans are finally fast!
Finally, my last words on it, make sure your dog is having fun and be safe. This goes for any activity, but not all dogs will love this sport. If your dog looks like Cody did, miserable and relieved to be back at the car, then leave them at home when you go. And always trust your gut for conditions. There was a day two seasons ago where I debated bringing Buffy since it was an area where we would be getting easy small laps, but it wasn’t without risk and it was the first warm day of the season (something that can increase avalanche activity). I left her at home. At the parking lot I saw others with dogs and ran into my neighbour who said he was sad I didn’t have Buffy, which made me question my own decision. Well, on the way up to our first lap, My partner was caught in a an avalanche. He managed to ski out of it and it wasn’t huge, but it was big enough to injure or potentially burry Buffy, who normally would have been on his heels. Always trust your gut and never put your dogs at unnecessary risk.
In my last post, I introduced skijoring as a new activity for you to try. So if you’ve got your equipment and you are ready to give it a shot, this article will focus on some tips for success.
How to get started
Setting yourself up for success means planning ahead and putting in a bit of training. If you have never done any pulling sport with your dogs, you need to teach your dog to pull. You might be thinking “oh my dog can pull” but pulling while on a walk is very different than pulling you on a ski track where they can’t just stop to sniff every couple of seconds.
Skijoring is a Norwegian term which translates to “ski driving”. Its origin lies with horses and skis. You get the idea, slap on some skis, let the horse pull you and try to hold on and stay upright. It’s actually still a sport with horses, but in recent years, it’s become a popular activity with dogs. So what am I proposing you try exactly? I want you to consider trying skijoring with your dog (or dogs if you have more than one). That means strapping on some cross country ski’s, investing in a proper harness and skijoring kit, and hitting the trails. You’ll feel the magic of working as a team with your dog to glide over the snow, the wind on your face, the excited look of your dog, it will be the best experience of your life. There you have it, you are ready to go. … Just kidding. I’ve broken down this post into two because there is quite a bit of information to include. This post will talk about the basics you need to get together before you start working towards getting on skis with your dog.
I am a runner and my dogs join me on almost all of my runs. I love running and bringing my dogs makes it even more enjoyable since I know they are getting some much needed exercise, fresh air and enrichment. But running with your dog is not usually as easy as lacing up and hitting the trail.
It’s New Years day and it’s a big one. We are starting a new decade and that might be the perfect motivation for some to try something new. There are lots of new things you can try, but this post will focus on what you should consider for trying some new things with your dogs. I will follow this up by more detailed posts every two weeks on specific activities and my advice on getting into those activities in particular.
I have seen a disturbing trend in the adventure dog world lately. I have seen trainers promoting the use of shock collars as a means to control a dog so that their client can hike with their dog off leash. Those trainers are selling these devices as “remote training” devices which do not hurt the dog. But the reality is, they are shock collars, and this is being promoted instead of using scientifically based methods which are proven to work and not harm a dog’s wellbeing. Seeing this trend, I felt I had to write something to try and provide more information about these collars.
So here we go, this is probably going to ruffle some feathers. In fact, I fully expect to get some messages or comments from folks after posting this. But I cannot keep quiet anymore.Continue reading →
Buffy and my partner taking in the views on Abbott Ridge.
Glacier National Park (Canada) is located in between Yoho National Park and Revelstoke Mountain National Park, about an hour east of Revelstoke British Columbia. This park is known for being home of the Rogers Pass, a pass made famous for it’s big mountains and intense avalanche activity (sadly made famous when the rail was trying to build through the pass and a large avalanche in 1910 killed 62 men, eventually the rail was re-routed through a mountain via a tunnel). The park is a mecca for backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the winter and home to several camping sites and many amazing trails in the summer. The mountain range that runs through the park is the Selkirks, which run all the way down and into the states. The mountains in this park are big, steep and in the winter, covered in deep powder.