Thursday, November 20, 2014

Go-Everywhere Dog

By now, you're all familiar with my husky Kenai. He's my go-everywhere dog. Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, hiking, speed boats, road trips, trail rides, endurance ride camp, and even on the ski lift at the resort when I'm working ski patrol (he is the unofficial mascot). When my friend Chris and I traveled to Acadia Nat'l Park in 2010, Kenai accompanied us. He's also been to the outskirts of the Great Smoky Nat'l Park (dogs are not permitted within the park) for my Leave No Trace Master Educator and pack courses in 2012.

At every endurance ride I've done these past 2 years, he's been present and accounted for at each. And thus far, he has no transgressions to his name for his time spent in ride camp. He has never been "jailed" for being loose, or had a negative word spoken about his antics that I am aware of. I've worked hard with him to be a well-behaved dog, and it seems I've succeeded in some capacity.

I thought it might be helpful for other dog owners who haven't yet taken their dog to an endurance ride camp or other adventure to have a comprehensive list of skills/characteristics that help in having a well-behaved dog at endurance events or on nearly any other adventurous pursuit.


Observe Kenai in the lower left corner sleeping while the humans do things
High on the list of good traits for a well-behaved dog is patience. In ride camp more than anything, there is a lot of down time between exciting events. A dog with patience who is content to watch goings-on quietly, or take a nap, or entertain themselves in a quiet manner is priceless.

At rides this year, Kenai had Carlos to keep him company - they're best friends - while Saiph and I were out riding. At other rides, he's had Carlos and Mike. And at others still, he's on his own - it's just he and I. In these situations where we're solo, Kenai goes into the back of the horse trailer where I provide him with a flake of hay to create a bed, food, and water. He is content in the trailer until I either have arrived back in camp for a hold, or until the day is over and I return to camp for the finish (at rides with away holds).

At holds in-camp, or away holds that Kenai has accompanied someone else to, he is content to sit and observe everyone and everything going on around him. From sponging of horses, to feeding of horses and humans, to untacking and retacking and heading back out. He loves to receive an initial greeting from "his people" and then he will find an out-of-the-way place to observe us all as we bustle about. His patience in these times is such an amazing thing.

Manners on leash

Paramount to any dog's training regime is leash training and manners when on leash. A dog on leash shouldn't: pull excessively, feel that they're allowed to take off after prey items, or bark at approaching people or animals. And that's just the short list!

At most rides, it is a requirement to have your dog on leash at all times (except RBTR) - hell, in most places you're required to have dogs on leash period. Teaching manners on leash is critical to being able to have your dog in social settings.

While Kenai isn't as stellar on leash as he is off leash, he is still leaps and bounds ahead of many other dogs with his skill set. He knows to not rush off and pull you down, doesn't lunge after things, and he never loses it barking at dogs or people or horses or otherwise.

                                                 Manners off leash

A very happy off leash
dog following along
on a trail ride.
Let's face it though, we don't always keep our dogs on leash all the time, rules or not. For me, with such an active breed of dog, it's hard to give him the exercise he truly needs without letting him off leash! I need to be able to count on Kenai listening to me and behaving off leash as much or more than when he is on leash.

When off leash, I can trust that Kenai will return when I call (though perhaps not IMMEDIATELY), will not seek out trouble for himself or others, will greet people politely or move past them without bothering, won't chase off after prey items, will behave within a group of off-leash dogs, and will stay within my sight. It's definitely a task to reach that level of trust with a dog, but the time and effort put into working toward that kind of freedom is 110% worth it.

At our ride here in WV (RBTR), we don't have a leash requirement for dogs in ride camp. We request that they be contained while the ride is going on, but beyond that, it's a free for all! I know many reading this may totally and completely disagree with this, and you're entitled to your opinion. Not everyone at RBTR let's their dog off leash, and that is okay! For most of us however, we know we can trust our dogs' off leash manners and not worry about them. It's a great time for Kenai, as he's able to socialize and truly Be A Dog with other dogs. They gallivant, smell ALL THE THINGS, swim, and interact with folks.


I think this is one of the most important skills to teach and ingrain into a dog. And if I can teach my  Siberian husky to recall, anyone should be able to teach their dog to recall! Huskies are known far and wide for not listening and "running away". Kenai is living proof that it doesn't have to be that way!

It took a solid 18-24 months of training to reach a point where I could trust Kenai to recall well off leash, but the time and effort have served me well ever since. There are still moments where I experience something akin to PTSD when Kenai doesn't return *Immediately* and I panic a bit, however, this is just a part of his independent husky nature. He will return and he will return within a few minutes time at MOST - he just doesn't always return when my agenda dictates he should.

And yes!, I can prevent my dog from chasing off after a prey item with a verbal command. I no longer have to worry about him taking off after things he shouldn't, something that is very freeing.

The freedom gained from a dog who will recall well has lent itself to so many situations and has opened up a whole new world for Kenai! He is able to explore more and smell more off leash than he is on leash. When hiking, he will traverse forward, backward, and side to side to investigate the landscape and take everything in. He's able to travel 1.5x or greater the distance I'm hiking to do all of the investigating he desires. This lends itself to a nice, tired dog later - the best kind of dog! Additionally, Kenai is able to accompany me on trail rides, a favorite pastime.

Polite around horses

Cleaning up Griffin's mess while Griffin
nuzzles Kenai's back
This is absolutely critical in ride camp! No dog should ever rush, over-excited up to a horse barking and get in their space. It could cause the horse to spook or kick out and if someone is riding the horse, they could be injured.

The best way to train and prepare your dog to be polite around horses is to provide them with opportunities to be around horses. This isn't always easy, I recognize, but it is an important thing to try to do when you're able.

Kenai has been around horses since he was a pup. He's learned to keep his distance the hard way (he's been trampled once or twice), but it only took one time to really cement in his mind that these big hooved "dogs" aren't to be trifled with and one should keep their distance!

Nowadays, Kenai coexists happily with my horses and other horses. He's able to sense (for the most part) when a horse doesn't like dogs and he keeps a buffer between himself and that horse. My horses are okay enough with Kenai that they'll share their mashes with him! (Caution though, this does result in a dirty dog!)

Good in small, shared spaces

At ride camp, and in other situations, I've had to share my tent or car with Kenai through extended periods (typically sleep, but sometimes other times due to inclement weather).

While other traits listed already help with this skill, it is still worth noting that your dog should be okay with being confined to a small space with you without being a complete dingbat about it. Kenai's default behavior in a tent or my car is to find "his" corner and plop down to wait and rest.

Crate trained

Similar to the above, and certainly helpful with situations where you should be in a small, shared space with your dog, it is great to have a dog who knows the ins and outs of crate training! They know their space, know it's safe to be there, and helps provide a refuge from goings-on while also keeping them out of trouble.

Dogs evolved from wolves, which tend to utilize small spaces (similar to what a crate provides) for denning and whelping. As a result, your dog should have some instinct (however far back it may be!) to be content in a small area like a crate. My best advice is to start young with crate training! Set your dog up for success later in life.


I think this trait/skill may not be important for some - and may be impossible for some dogs, but I hate a noisy, barking or whining dog! Encouraging your dog from a young age to be quiet while crated or on leash can be very important. It helps set them up to not be the bane of every one else's existence when you're in a closed-quarters situation like ride camp or a campground (or a shuttle bus that allows dogs like those on Mt. Desert Island where Acadia Nat'l Park is located).

It gives me peace of mind to know that when I leave Kenai in the horse trailer for hours on end while I'm riding that he isn't annoying the hell out of everyone in camp. In fact, most times when I fetch Kenai from the trailer (or the car if the weather was such to allow him to be comfortable in there all day [he gets the whole trunk area of my 4Runner; it's like another crate to him for half the year]) folks express their surprise that he was even in there! He remains so quiet. Impressive considering huskies really like to talk. ;-)


Or perhaps, people-tolerant. Kenai doesn't love all people, but he is tolerant of all people. As a husky, he is a bit stand-offish in regards to many people, but once he has established a person as "okay", he will greet them.

To help Kenai be prepared for the unexpected (kids being grabby in particular), I've always done things to screw with him and keep him on his toes since he was a puppy. Randomly bopping him, pulling his hair, pushing him when he wasn't expecting it, making fast, unexpected moves, and being loud. It is beneficial and gives me peace of mind to know that my dog will be courteous and polite to people he interacts with. It is hard to predict what any one person - especially kids - will do around a new dog, so I'm happy I've taken the time to prepare my dog as best I'm able for these unexpected things.

: : : : :

It's taken a lot of time and dedication to work with Kenai to get him to the point where he is so behaved, but it has been beyond worth it. Kenai goes everywhere with me; I need to be able to count accompany my life will be expected to also conform to good behaviors. I share my life more intimately with my dog(s) than I do any other animal. I believe that my dog appreciates the added richness and adventure that is present in his life as a result of being a Go Everywhere dog.
on him to be polite and behave in the myriad of situations he's exposed to. All future dogs that

The list of traits/characteristics above is a definite plus in any Go Everywhere or Ride Camp dog. Ultimately though, you'll need to assess your dog as an individual and put him or her in situations that are best suited to them. Not every dog can be a Go Everywhere dog, and it is unfair to assume so or to put them in a position to fail and end up injured or punished for something they didn't understand from the beginning .I hope other dog owners are able to enjoy the level of trust I have with Kenai with a dog at some point in their life. It is a truly wonderful thing that makes adventures much more
                                                         entertaining and enjoyable.

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