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— April 30, 2013 —

Outdoor Pursuits.
A traveler’s guide to camping with your dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I like to take my dogs camping. In fact, there were a few years where my dog Peace and I went up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a week every summer. We haven’t been for a couple of years and we both miss it. Hopefully we can remedy that this year.

For those who haven’t heard of it, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is a section of The Superior National Forest. If you like untouched wilderness, clean, clear lakes and fresh air, a trip to the BWCA should be on your bucket list. For the dog lovers among us, it may seem like the perfect getaway for our dog as well and it is. As intimidating as it seems, the BWCA offers trips that are suitable for the novice as well as the expert outdoorsperson. A good outfitter can help set you up for a trip that meets your experience level. I happen to be partial to Seagull Outfitters. There are just a few things that you need to do to ensure a safe trip for everyone.

The BWCA is very much a “one with nature” type experience. Your dog will need to be vaccinated for rabies, distemper, etc. All the shots you need for city life apply out here, too. Also, I put a tic repellant on my dogs before the trip. I also take a good look at my dog’s conditioning. It is a very physical trip and he will need to walk a fair distance over the portages (portage means to carry your canoe from one lake to the next via hiking trails) that you will encounter. If your dog is carrying a few too many pounds, this is a great reason to trim him down a little and go for longer walks. It’ll do you both some good.

The BWCA is truly a remote wilderness destination. This means that if you need it, you have to carry it. If you forget something, you’ll be doing without it. There isn’t a corner store to run to if you need toothpaste. Your trip will teach you the meaning of self sufficiency and fortunately your dog is pretty low maintenance. Fido won’t need the fancy designer dog collar or fifty dollar dog sweater. A simple nylon collar will do. I do attach a bear bell to the collar so I can keep tabs on my dog. It also makes noise constantly to alert wild animals to your presence. (A surprised bear would not make a pleasant camping companion.) A nice dinner after a long day of paddling and hiking will be much appreciated, but he also won’t care if you don’t have the fourteen types of treats you generally stock for him.

As you will spend a lot of time on the water, a lifejacket for you AND your dog is a good idea. Even if your dog is an avid swimmer, you will find yourself far from land while canoeing. Even strong swimmers may become exhausted and need the lifejacket to stay afloat should you capsize in the middle of a large lake.

Since you’ll be completely self sufficient on this trip, you’ll need to prepare for emergencies. While the BWCA is a pretty safe destination, accidents can happen. The most common injuries there are minor cuts and sprains. The rocky terrain can be blamed for both of those and a good first aid kit is mandatory. I also usually carry something for upset stomach and allergic reactions. Wildlife is usually not an issue. I have been lucky enough to see a wolf once, a number of deer and countless chipmunks. I have never encountered a bear or moose, which I hope to do some day (from a safe distance). Peace got to meet a turtle once. It ended well for both parties with the turtle making off at breakneck speed and Peace retreating as fast as he could as well.

Having your dog out in nature can be an eye opening experience. On one trip, I took my pit mix Gunnar. Normally a city dog, I saw Gunnar display behaviors that he never showed in the city. I had brought along a four pack of raw bones for him on the trip. At each camp site, Gunnar would run off to the edges of the camp site and bury his bones. As we packed up to move camp sites, Gunnar would go around and collect his bones from their hiding places to take them along.

You will probably not run into another person while you are in the BWCA, but if you do, your dog will need the basics of good obedience training. Since dogs are allowed off leash at camp sites, a solid recall, sit and down are minimums is training. A command to drop things can also come in handy in case your dog picks up something he shouldn’t have. If you have a dog that might take off after a rabbit, you should consider a long leash so he can enjoy some freedom, but not bother the natives of the BWCA. We are guests in their home, after all.

With good planning and the help of an outfitter, camping in the BWCA can be an amazing experience. In the end, you’ll return with a deeper understanding of your dog and memories that you will enjoy for a lifetime. Your dog will return happy and tired.