I padded this past weekend with a couple extra days since it was my birthday and all, and we took off to the woods on a fairly last minute camping trip. Our friend Mike, who lives in San Diego, was going to be in town and as one of our elite camping/paddling pals, suggested we squeeze in a trip. I’d been craving a dose of pure nature for some time, and Chris and I had a bigger goal of finally introducing our young four-legged friend to the camping ropes. Almost three years old and Luna had yet to spend a night out in the woods.
The lack of a beater canoe during Luna’s first summer as a pup, the wedding last summer, and the trip to Norway this summer had really limited the time we’d been able to spend teaching her how to ride in a canoe. Last summer after we picked up a cheap fibreglass 14 footer from my pal Alice, we took Luna out on the lake at our cottage a few times, maybe three, and she did pretty well, but she dumped us the last trip out and we hadn’t really gotten back in the boat with her since (that was quite an experience by the way — we laughed hysterically about it, and thankfully were only a few metres from shore).
Once we decided on the birthday weekend trip, we set ourselves to work at getting Luna out as often as we could while we were at the cottage. Labour Day weekend we had her out four times, and she was pretty great. It helped that we loaded the boat down with a huge dry bag filled with random heavy stuff from the cabin, which added some stability to the very tippy boat, but it was still feeling pretty unstable when she shifted her weight around at all.
With Mike joining us and making us a threesome, we had to get a second canoe for our adventure, so we picked up his 18.5 footer from his Dad’s house on the way up to the staging ground (our cottage). And, since there were only three of us, we opted that Mike would solo it in our 14 footer while we took the dog in his boat.
I was a bit of an anxiety car crash planning this trip — we had a super busy week leading up to it, it’d been two years since our last trip and we had barely touched our packing until the morning we left. Adding an 85 lb dog who had never camped to the mix made things that much more intense. Oh and don’t even get me started on the !!FRIGID!! weather that was predicted for our first night.
We had barely pushed off from the put in and Chris and I were beside ourselves with the difference the extra 4.5 feet makes in the stability of the canoe. Luna could have danced a jig and I doubt we would have noticed much. With our gear in the boat, the craft barely registered her weight shifts. We’ve since decided that we really need to invest in a bigger boat.
I’ve never seen a dog take to something like this as naturally as Luna has. She climbs in the boat on command, she lays down and gets comfy immediately. She rests her head on the gunwales and just hangs out. She waits until I get out of the boat and says it’s okay for her to get out. She’s such a pro!
Challenge #2 was going to be sleeping arrangements. We had always envisioned we would teach Luna to sleep under our hammocks (yes, we use special hammocks when we camp, we don’t like sleeping on the ground and while we usually bring a tent, it’s a back up plan only for situations like horrid weather or damaged gear.
I fretted most of the evening as the sun went down on our first night. Weather reports were calling for temps of 4-5°C. But the radio on the way to the lake system was calling for as low as -2°C! Not only was I worried about how warm Luna would be, I was worried about how much I was going to freeze my own tooshie off.
We gave the sleeping under the hammock technique a try, but it became apparent pretty fast that my puppy was cold and didn’t know where the hell to go. Mike, who was sleeping in the tent, piped up that she could come sleep with him if we wanted (said the guy who professed that “dogs make him nervous” only a few hours earlier).
So we moved Luna in with Mike and we all proceeded to try to sleep through the utter cold (must remember to invest in a winter sleeping bag, and bring hammock winterization gear next time). Mike worried about Luna all night — not really sure how to warm her up, trying to drape his own legs/sleeping bag over her to help warm her up. They both survived just fine although Mike was probably the worse for wear, having not really slept. The next night was significantly warmer, but I did have to capitulate to spending that night on the ground with Luna in the tent. No need to let Mike suffer another night next to a beast that makes him nervous! He got to give my hammock a try instead. So I was the one who didn’t sleep much over the weekend, but that’s okay. Thermarest or not, sleeping on the ground is not my thing.
Our theory was that Luna would be able to sleep outside under our hammocks in the summer for sure, but then we realized that she would be eaten alive by mosquitos, who seem supremely attracted to black dogs. So we have to come up with some kind of “pup tent” solution. She’s crate trained, so if we can find a small tent that she could stand up in, we could probably make that work for a future expedition.
Other than the frigid night, Luna was a rock star. She doesn’t wander off, so having her off leash is no problem. She’s a trooper on the portages, she wears her life jacket (even though she likely doesn’t really need to, being the champion swimmer that she is, we felt it was important to teach her to wear one regardless) and she would even happily climb over dry bags and backpacks to get from one end of a canoe into her spot at the other end on a difficult put-in. How to make her mama proud!
Now we weren’t tested with dump-worthy experiences like loons popping up next to the boat, or close up wildlife encounters such as deer or moose in the camp (although we did witness a couple deer swim across the lake our first morning, and come again for a drink on the next morning). Hopefully we’ll never have to deal with that kind of thing, but they probably will happen at some point. I’m just really happy we stayed dry and upright on this first trip!
If anyone has any tips on large dog tent solutions, I’m all ears. We already have a collapsable fabric crate we use for travelling, but it’s not lightweight or compact enough for canoeing and portaging, and I doubt it would keep insects out anyway. Something for us to research for next year I guess!
I should add that I found a couple really great resources for teaching a dog how to get used to canoeing, that I’d like to recommend: