According to the American Pet Products Association, over 60.2 million households in this country have a dog. I am one of them. Radcliff is not a service or assistant animal, but there are plenty of outdoor adventures we have enjoyed over the past two-and-a-half years. By trial and error, I have learned how to have tail-wagging adventures. Here are some of my tips for an enjoyable experience with your canine companion.
Start Them Young
You can teach an old dog new tricks and I have done that with my senior pup. However, after speaking with friends who also take their hounds on adventures, they recommend introducing them to the outdoor activities when they are young. Introducing young pups to the sound of motorboats or letting them find their sea legs by balancing on a stand-up paddle board will make them more comfortable and confident as they grow older and are introduced to new experiences.
Sure, spontaneous adventures are a blast but when factoring in a dog, that spontaneity may lead to disappointment because not every place welcomes dogs. Many local, state, and national parks welcome pooches, along with private activities, but there may be some restrictions.
For instance, Fido can walk some of the trails of Washington Oaks State Park in Palm Coast but is not permitted in the formal gardens. Canines are not permitted at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, but the attraction has a free, on-site kennel. St. Augustine is very dog-friendly including Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park.
BringFido.com and DogFriendly.com are websites with information about pet-friendly destinations and activities. These are great resources to begin trip-planning but check directly with the specific activity you are interested in because policies can change quicker than websites are updated.
If I had my way, my dog and I would be hand-and-leash hiking at least 5 miles every weekend, but he is not physically capable. He is at his optimum during cooler months and short walks. My mongrel overheats easily (symptoms include heavy panting, weakness, and excessive drooling). When this happens, we take a break and I rehydrate him.
Florida’s heat and humidity combined with my dog’s age and myasthenia gravis (a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disorder) is challenging but I find a way to make it work. Usually after taking a break for him to rest up and hydrated, my pup perks up and is ready to continue our journey. But, there have been times when I have picked him up and carried him back to the car.
Have the Right Equipment
The pet industry generates about $72.3 billion in consumer spending with the most spent on dogs. They can be outfitted with paw booties, raincoats, backpacks, and camera mounts. I have not gotten into the fancy equipment and stick to the basics. On the trail or on the water, items I carry include waste bags to pick up after him (Please! Clean up after your dog!), treats and a water bottle. He usually wears a harness because it is less stress on his neck. Sometimes, I wear a belt made specifically to clip his leash which keeps my hands free. Whenever possible, when out on a boat he wears a personal flotation device with handles, which makes it easier to grab him out of the water.
Don’t Be Bugged
Radcliff was heartworm positive when I adopted him, so I make sure he is up to date on his monthly heartworm and flea and tick medicines. Florida trails can be buggy and before getting in the car, I check him for ticks, fleas and any other plant or animal that may be hitching a ride. I carry an essential oils-based insect repellent safe for dogs and apply it on his harness, which works well in keeping pesky bugs away.
When I adopted Radcliff, I was concerned he would not enjoy spending time outdoors. With a bit of planning, enjoying Florida’s outdoors with a dog has been enjoyable. Our adventures have not been perfect, but he has turned out to be the perfect sidekick.