Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Getting Familiar With A Dog On A Canoe Trip

I am nowhere as comfortable, as I am out in
the wilderness on a canoe trip. 

As humans, many of us like familiarity. It makes us feel comfortable and secure, knowing there is no surprises. As much as I totally agree with the previous statement, at times, I like change. A disruption to the normal sequence of things. Not a rule of thumb, but sometimes, these changes can enrich one's life.

 I've canoed since I was a kid. The odd trip here and there, where I got to head out and enjoy being out in the wilderness. That was then. Now, I've taken it up a notch or two, and the trips have become a significantly bigger part of my life. I now head out on a dozen or more canoe trips per year, spending easily over 2 months out in the bush on various types of trips. Times have changed.

Whether portaging a canoe, or paddling a river, these are
things that are very familiar to me.

For many years, I've headed out with others, or on my own. The process for preparing and executing the trip was routine, the only difference being the type of trip (flatwater vs moving water) or the location. Even then, it was pretty straight forward - paddle, portage, set up camp and do the routine all over again. Of course I am simplifying the whole process, as there is lots more that goes on in between, but you get the idea. I enjoyed this routine - it was predictable and straightforward. Well, that routine got a huge disruption when I got married. No, not because of my wife, but because of what came with her - two dogs.

With my wife came two dogs - Toby and Teddy.

The dogs have caused a huge disruption in my paddling life. Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit. Maybe not huge, but significantly. The two dogs are poodles, one a black toy, and the other, a miniature red. I mean, the first thing I had to do, was befriend them. Make them feel like I was a part of THEIR family. That is a whole story in and of itself. Once I did that, (Meaning they didn't bark at me when I came home.) we moved on to the next phase, one of which was taking them on a canoe trip. First off, Toby, the toy black poodle, which my wife refers to as the "old man", was not given the green light. He is 12 years old, and the physical rigours of the canoe trips I plan, would not be conducive to his health. Thus, he was relegated to staying at the in-laws when we went. I'm sure he didn't mind, as he was good at conning my mother-in-law into giving him treats.

So there was the first disruption. Every trip, unless solo, had to involve the extra drive to the in-laws. Just thankful they were willing to look after Toby, it still meant a visit before, and after the trip. So now, only one dog would be accompanying us. If I thought taking only one dog would significantly lessen the disruption to my routine, I'd be the first to tell you. But no, in essence, it hardly does. All the things you need to do and prepare for the one dog, would be the same for two or three, you just multiply the quantity by the additional canines.

Surprisingly, Teddy took to the canoe easily and was a 
trooper even in less than ideal conditions.

My wife is very experienced with dogs, having many, and multiples at a time. The only thing new, was taking a dog on a canoe trip. Naturally, my wife took the lead in this to assure Teddy's first canoe trip would be safe and enjoyable.  It was a bit of a learning curve for sure, but it slowly came together. One of the first things we had to do was get Teddy a float coat (aka life jacket). Now that initiated an interesting discussion. Like, don't all dogs swim?! I soon found out not all dogs do; well, in a nutshell they all do, but not all very well. So, like us humans that don't swim, or even the ones that do, we need life jackets for safety. Plus, I had to consider other factors, such as, what if the distance to shore is significant, or the cold water is debilitating, or you are dealing with a strong current. As those factors can affect us, they are the same for a dog. So fine, he got a float coat.

The float coat came in real handy when Teddy fell out of
the canoe for the first time. The problem
was, it wasn't his last!

With the float coat, you'd think there wasn't anything more to worry about, but that's only if the dog stays in the canoe. For the most part, Teddy is actually pretty good. He usually finds a comfortable place on the pack and lays down. However, occasionally he wants to be closer to water, with his paws literally on the gunwales. I could tell my wife was nervous, as she often looked back from her bow seat. I didn't think it was a big deal, as I figured he was just curious about his surroundings, but one day, he slipped in! Sure, the odd slip is tolerable, but if it happens regularly, it can be a real annoyance. Besides soaking all your gear, and getting you wet as the dog shakes, you have to stop the canoe, turn around and pull him out. You'd think he would learn his lesson after the first dump, as he doesn't even like water, but nope! Guess whose job it is to keep him back now? Yup, I have another role to play, other than sterning the canoe. Sergeant-at-arms, plus, the coast guard when he goes into the drink. Three times and counting. I still question my wife when she says poodles are one of the smartest breeds of dogs.

Folks, I really need a better raincoat.

Now THAT'S better!

Once off the water, at camp or on the portage, there was another concern. My wife and I were worried that Teddy would run off into the woods. Surprisingly, he pretty much stays hot on our heels. In fact, while on the portage, he runs ahead, acting as a scout, then behind us, as a bodyguard, all the while, keeping a close eye on us. (From imminent attack by the local evil squirrels.) He was easy to call back, most often by my wife's bidding, so our fears were quickly allayed. However, one issue with the dog we didn't expect, was with bugs. Black flies in particular. Outside, no problem, as we all get 'bugged', but when it was time for us to go into the tent, all hell broke loose. Black flies get caught up in Teddy's curls, as they work their way down to his skin, but as soon as he is inside the tent, they seem to want out. Quite literally in droves, they exit his hair for the open space of the tent - and us. It literally becomes a wholesale slaughter as we try to kill them all. How's that for excitement? Especially when you try so hard to keep them out in the first place. I won't even mention red finger-painting art deco that now adorns the inside of the tent.

With the 'big red beacon' ahead, it wasn't
difficult for Teddy to follow.

Speaking of inside the tent, that's another issue. Teddy often gets dressed with some warm clothing at night, particularly if it is early or late in the season. He even gets a blanket too, to sleep on, or be covered. You'd think he would by mindful of my personal space and stick with the stuff he's given, but lo and behold, when I come into the tent, he is nicely curled up on either my stuff or my sleeping bag. Being closer to my wife, wouldn't he want to lay on her things? She tells me that that's how Teddy is showing his affection to me, which I have a hard time believing. So, not only do I have to sometimes deal with a wet and dirty dog on my sleeping bag, but compete with him for sleeping space! Did I mention he sometimes moves during the night - between my legs, next to me, or between my wife and I? I can't win. Oh, and guess who wakes up first? It's one thing waking up to your wife smothering you with kisses, something entirely different if it's the wet tongue of your dog trying to wake you up.

Teddy's favourite part of the trip was getting
extra special morsels with his kibbles.

Well, it's now been a full year of tripping with my dog, and boy has he gotten quite the introduction. He's been out in a canoe on every conceivable body of water, on half a dozen trips over the course of 31 days! He has come a long ways in his inaugural year, but he still fails to recognize lakes as the biggest bowl of fresh water available to him, or that he still can't go through mesh tent doors. He's also gotten swallowed up by mud on a portage, fallen into the water thinking he could rock climb, and mistaken foam on the water as solid ground, but thankfully, has survived the year pretty much intact. Even I will admit, he did exceptionally well.

One thing Teddy does better than my wife first thing
in the morning is lather me with kisses.

 Sure, he's given us some big headaches along the way, but despite them all, having Teddy with us has been hugely positive. He has certainly taught me to be more patient and understanding, and more importantly, to appreciate and enjoy the interactions between us, the dog, and the environment. What's not to love about a devoted four-legged companion that often makes me laugh and ensures nothing is routine? I acknowledge my dog has forever changed my familiarity with canoe tripping, but in time, those disruptions will become routine too. I know change can sometimes be tough to deal with, or even accept. But if you make the effort to the see the other side of the coin, you just may be surprised - much like I was. I haven't given up the title to my sleeping bag yet, but Teddy has certainly earned his place in my canoe.

Teddy has now become a bona fide canoe dog, and me,
a sucker that admits to enjoy having him
along on my trips!

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