Spring is here, and many of us get the urge to head outdoors and do fun things with our dogs. One of the things many enjoy is camping, and dogs generally make great camping companions.
Out of our 4 personal dogs, two are seniors, so I wrote this post to shed some light on some of the issues with camping when you have senior dogs. Even if your dog is not yet at senior status, you will find some information that may be of assistance to you.
Whether your older dog will enjoy camping, and the activities associated with it, depends on a few factors.
How old is your dog?
Dogs reach “senior” status between 5 and 10 years of age. The larger the dog, the sooner they would be classified as senior. A Great Dane is senior by age 6, because many only live to 8 or 10 years of age. A Chihuahua, however, may not be considered senior until age 12, as they can live into their 20’s.
The dog’s general health is also a determining factor.
The old adage that “one dog year is equal to 7 human years” is only partially correct. Experts agree that the first year of a regular-sized (15-65 pounds adult weight) dog’s life is equal to 15 human years, and each year after that is equal to about 4 human years. Adjust up or down, depending on your dog’s size.
What is your activity level while camping?
Are you the type of camper who likes to be on the move? Do you hike a lot? Bike? Climb? Or are you more of a relaxer? You may wish for your older dog to accompany you on all of your physical exploits, but it may not be feasible. She may only be good for a few short walks, one hike, and then mostly relaxing by the campfire with you. You may need to make adjustments to your activity itinerary if you are taking an older dog, or have a safe place to leave her behind.
What is your dog’s normal activity level?
Even older dogs may still be considered spry for their age. As the one who lives with your dog, you are best equipped to know how much exercise he or she needs, and can tolerate, per day. Is she sore the day following a long run? Did she used to play fetch for hours, but now grows tired of it after 10-15 throws? These are the things to look for so that you will know when she is getting tired.
Dogs are stoic by nature, so they don’t always slow down when they are getting overheated or tired. It’s our job to monitor their activity and slow them or stop them when they need a break. Heat and humidity play a large factor in this. Even agile adult dogs expend more energy in the heat, though they might drop from heat exhaustion before ever willingly stopping the game.
What type of activities will you be doing on your trip?
Has your dog ever done this type of activity with you? You may want to bike that 7-mile trail, but if you’ve never taken your dog biking before, it would be best to try a short jaunt around the neighborhood with your bike-leash apparatus before going into the woods. Some dogs are great at running alongside a bike, and some are terrible.
We recommend a product that attaches the dog safely to the bike, as opposed to just tying a leash to you or allowing the dog to run off-leash. The former can be seriously dangerous, and the latter is likely illegal and, unless your dog is really well-trained, may result in a lost or injured dog. It is also not a welcome sight to others who may use that trail who are nervous around dogs or have dogs who are nervous around dogs. Use a leash, please.
If you will be hiking on rocky or uneven terrain, or ascending and descending in steep areas, your dog (even a young one!) may need some conditioning to do these hikes with you. Don’t assume. Trust me, it sucks to be at the bottom of a huge ravine with a 70-lb dog who cannot make it back to the top without help. I learned this the hard way with my Doberman years ago. I ended up carrying her to the top of Tallulah Gorge. That trip taught me a lot, let me tell you.
Swimming is a bit easier on an older dog’s joints and bones, but it, too, has some hazards and cautions. I’ll address this more thoroughly in a future post.
Has your dog had a senior checkup lately?
We get senior bloodwork done on all our dogs when they reach “that age,” and we do rechecks every 2 years if they haven’t had any problems. That way, we have a baseline and we will know if something is ”off” down the line. If you are planning any strenuous exercise with your dog, it’s best to have your vet in the loop.