Lessons Learned Exploring the Outdoors with a New Pet
AS I GLANCE UP, I NOTICE A LADYBUG, sporting the brightest red coating I’ve ever seen, nestled in the tree a mere five inches from my face. I glance back down to see something far less pleasant—my roommate’s dog, Oakley, taking a dump under said tree, producing a smell that makes me want to barf. Aahh the beauties of nature!
Until Oakley came bounding into my life last year, I’d never lived with a pet—unless you count the two beta fish, Sunny and Cloudy, who lived with us for about a week when I was a kid. But you couldn’t really take them anywhere due to the whole needing water to survive thing. So when my roommate adopted Oakley last fall, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this new companion.
It’s since been a year of trial and error as we’ve tried to impress upon Oakley that he is not the one in charge of the house, and the rigors of dog training also extend to bringing a domesticated animal into the wild. Here are a handful of lessons learned during the past 12 months of exploring the outdoors with a dog.
Lesson #1: Appreciate the little things.
It didn’t take me long to learn that walking with a dog makes you pay attention to every little thing around you, as you often stop to let their curious noses lead the way. I’ve seen gorgeous sunrises I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed for if Oakley wasn’t crying at my door to go out at six a.m. I’m more in tune with the cycle of the moon thanks to late-night walks and am working on improving my constellation identification.
But it also means you’re constantly on high alert for any potential dangers, like half-eaten corn cobs left on the side of the road that could catastrophically damage his internal organs and cost thousands of dollars in emergency vet surgery. So, yeah, love the little things.
Lesson #2: We are not the only creatures inhabiting this world.
It’s not that I didn’t pay attention to wildlife before living with Oakley. But I don’t think I quite realized how MUCH wildlife there is all around us until I started living with an animal that has a much better sense of hearing and smell than I do.
His fascination with every thing that moves, from the chirping birds and hungry squirrels to leaves floating in the wind, is cute and all until he lunges after it, yanking my shoulder out of its socket. He may only be two feet tall, but the man weighs 43 pounds. The strength in this dog’s chest is no joke.
Dog Lesson #3: Distance is not what’s important.
With a dog around, I find I’m spending more time outside on daily walks and chilling at the dog park. Oakley doesn’t care about how far we go, as long as we spend the maximum amount of time outside. He seems content to spend an hour walking a mile, using that time trying to find the biggest stick he could fit into his mouth.
Oakley’s not scaling any massive peaks. He’s got the length of a dachshund, the face of a pit, and the legs of a basset hound. And this interestingly proportioned body wasn’t made for big mountains. But despite his short stature, he’s got more than enough energy to make up for it.
Dog Lesson # 4: Always check the weather before you head out.
Despite loving the outdoors, Oakley’s very particular if the weather isn’t just right. When it’s too hot for his little body, he’ll lie down in the middle of the path and refuse to move again until tempted with a treat to get up and out of the heat. If it’s raining outside, Oakley will walk himself back inside, even when he needs to relieve himself, to avoid the wet grass. It’s safe to say Oakley is a fair-weather adventurer. But then again, so am I.
The Ultimate Adventure Pets
Meet Koda and Ophelia, two adventure-loving German Shepherds from North Carolina and this year’s winners of Blue Ridge Outdoors’s Adventure Critters Photo contest. These energetic pups can be found tagging along with owners Caroline Safford and Zach Valdez on adventures of all kinds. “They are out in the forest with us about five days per week doing everything from trail runs and mountain bike rides to sleeping at the bottom of secluded crags while us parents get to climb,” Safford said.
In all their travels together, from the trails of western North Carolina to the Montana and Wyoming backcountry, these doggos are always ready to explore a new area. “It’s amazing how happy it makes our animals,” Safford said. “Every pup deserves some good adventures.” Koda’s favorite activity is tagging alongside mountain bikes through Pisgah National Forest. Ophelia is game for almost anything, as long as she’s with her older brother, but she especially loves riding in a canoe down the French Broad River and stopping for a refreshing swim.
When taking your pets outside around other dogs, people, and wildlife, Safford said the best thing you can do to ensure their safety is to keep them leashed. “It’s a tough balance between letting your dog enjoy a little freedom and not putting other dog owners and their pets in tough (and potentially dangerous) situations,” she said. “Leashes tend to be a necessary evil. This also prevents your dogs from threatening any local wildlife.”