Outdoor Adventures with Your Dog

Story and Photos Provided by Patricia Cook
One of the best things in life is sharing an adventure with your dog. Tucson, with its wonderful weather, tempts people and their pooches outside. With a little planning, and an eye on the temperature, you and your dog can safely enjoy our desert and mountains.

Many people enjoy running with their dog, but you should never run with a young puppy. Dogs that run before they are fully grown develop arthritis at a young age. You can start training with your pup when he is about 1.5 years old. Breeds that have short muzzles, like bulldogs or pugs, should not be running companions; they overheat too quickly. I used the C25K app to train my dog to run with me; the Rillito Loop and Reid Park are favorites. We slack off in the summer; it’s just too hot to run!

Water Sports Dog beaches are only a few hours away from Tucson and many dogs love digging holes in the sand and playing in the surf. Test the sand with your own bare foot first–hot sand can burn paws. Don’t let them drink the salty sea water; that can dehydrate them very quickly. Lakes and ponds can harbor a kind of bacteria called blue-green algae (it’s not an algae) that can make your dog very sick if he eats it.

Have plenty of fresh water for them to drink, towels to dry off, and a shady place for both of you to relax. Many dog-friendly hotels have outside water hoses to rinse the sand off your dog. If you’re lucky enough to have a pool, invite some dogs over for a play date. Not all dogs are natural swimmers; canine life vests are available in stores and online. Float toys add fun; my dog loved retrieving tennis balls in the pool.

Hiking with my dogs is my favorite activity! They have their own backpacks and carry their treats, poop bags, and my bird guide. Make sure your destination is dog friendly before you start. For example, Catalina State Park allows dogs on the trails, but not in the bighorn sheep management area. Because of its low elevation, we only hike there in the winter.

Carry enough water for all of you. I always carry extra water, a pet first aid kit, a comb (to remove cholla buds), and keep a cooler of water and snacks in the car to enjoy at the end of the hike.

It’s tempting to let your dog off leash on a hike, but please don’t! All state and national parks have rules that dogs must be leashed. Dogs can chase the local wildlife and get into trouble (snakes and coyotes and skunks, oh my!). Their pee and poop disrupts wildlife nesting and pollutes streams. Some dogs have a very strong prey drive, and will take off after a rabbit and disappear before you can call their name. They can get lost if they run far enough. Diseases can move between our dogs and wildlife, too.

Not everyone will want to meet your dog (unbelievable, I know), so leashing them keeps them from running up to someone who might be afraid of dogs.
I sing out “stay on your side, Cal!” when I take my dog hiking, and that’s his cue to draw in close as we step just off the trail to let people pass by.

Many dogs love camping in a tent or car. Try an overnight camping trip before you plan a long vacation, and check that dogs are allowed at your destination.
Your canine packing list should include:

  • Dog food for the trip plus extra (in case you hit bad weather and are delayed returning),
  • Lots of water (dogs can get diarrhea from strange water, and no one wants to clean a messy tent at midnight)
  • A pet first aid kit
  • Their bed
  • Extra leashes
  • And a quiet toy or two (because squeaky toys at 2:00 AM in the tent are not fun for humans).

Many national parks allow dogs to visit, and some allow them in campgrounds, but they have to be leashed and under control at all times.

Travel: Last May I took a 2000-mile road trip with my dog; we had a blast! There are lots of dog-friendly hotels, and if your dog has been trained to settle quietly on a mat, many restaurants allow well-behaved dogs on patios. If you have an RV, exploring with your dog is easy. Invest in a really good dog car harness or crate to keep them safe while on the road.

Because of the heat, summertime in Tucson is not the best season to play outside with our dogs. Try a fun class such as rally, agility, or scent work; you’ll both have fun learning something new (in the air conditioning).

There are many online resources to help you plan the perfect outdoor adventure with your dog, including the American Hiking Society, the American Kennel Club, KOA, REI.com and Tucson’s own Summit Hut. Remember to be considerate, remember water, and remember to have fun!

Patricia Cook loves hiking and traveling with her dogs and cats, and when she’s not doing that, you can find her teaching at The Complete Canine.



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