Man's Best Friend Makes a Great Off-Road Companion

Feb. 17, 2014 By Tom Severin
Don't leave your dogs at home - bring them along for the ride! Photo: Jim Brightly

When we think of trip companions, friends, family members, co-workers, and others readily come to mind. All too often one important “family member” gets left behind: your dog. Many times we assume that our four-legged friends aren’t compatible, are too much of a bother, or would just cause trouble. Sure, there are times and places that shouldn’t include any pet, but more often than not, your dog would be a nice complement to your trip outdoors.

Dogs are tailor-made for an off-road trip. In fact, they crave the outdoors. Recall how often you’ve taken your “buddy” out for a run, and it seemed as if dog would never want to leave. That flashing tail, darting nose, and excited eyes tell you just how much he was enjoying himself.

Having a dog entails a certain amount of responsibility, of course. They require regular feeding and exercise, and therefore are an obligation. Because of this commitment, owners tend to leave their pets at home when they head out for a drive. Sadly, some people forgo the off-road experience because they are unable to find anyone to dog sit. That’s too bad.

We need to rethink this issue of bringing dogs along. A dog can bring so much to an outing that after the first off-road excursion, you’ll wonder why you don’t bring him along each time. With the right kind of preparation, your pet can add immeasurably to your experience outdoors.

You already spend quite a bit of time preparing for your trip. Accounting for a pet involves just a few extra steps and moments. Don’t let those stop you from enjoying a complete weekend.

Dogs will require some additional preparation for the trip, but they can add to the overall enjoyment of a day in the dirt.
Happy Dogs
First and foremost is care and safety of your dog. Pack sufficient food and a lot of water. If you will be driving more than an hour or so before going off-road, schedule a potty break for the pooch (maybe for yourself, as well). Consider weather conditions of your location. The desert gets blazing hot during the day, and the mountains can get very cold and snowy. Make sure your dog is kept out of the extremes.

Be mindful of the heat. With their furry coats, dogs are susceptible to heat stroke, which can be deadly.

I’d like to thank my son, Mike Severin DVM, for the following additional suggestions:

- Apply a flea and tick preventative, such as Frontline and Advantage and a preventative against heartworm. Heartguard is a good product.

- Make sure the rabies and distemper shots are up to date. Ask your vet if other precautions might be necessary, considering the environment you will be in. Also ask whether the Lyme vaccine is appropriate.

- Use a crate to transport your pet. That’s safer, especially when driving on bumpy roads or trails. Of course, strap the box down.

- Record your phone number and the dog’s name on its collar. You may even consider having a microchip embedded in the dog.

- Pack plastic bags to clean up after your pet and a stake and leash to keep him at the campsite.

- Clean up any antifreeze spill! Antifreeze smells and tastes good to your dog, but it is lethal.

Be considerate of the other campers in your group. Some may be allergic to pets, while others may be bringing pets of their own. Observe how your pet interacts with other humans and dogs once you arrive. Bear in mind that it may take several hours for all the pets to get acclimated to each other and the humans.

The outdoors are beautiful, but also contain their share of hazards. Plants like cacti (discussed in Prickly Thing In The Desert Can Put A Hole In Your Plans) and critters such as wolves and cougars present special challenges. Smaller dogs are especially susceptible to being grabbed by a large predator.

Do not let your dog run as you drive. They need to be secured inside the vehicle - preferably with a harness. The danger of being run over is ever present along with heat exhaustion.

You also need to stay informed on regulations regarding pets on public lands. Most, if not all, public areas require your dog to be leashed. You should always clean up after your pet, and walk only on designated trails. Don’t allow your dog to harass wild animals. In the case of skunks and porcupines, Fido can easily learn a nasty lesson. But make sure your dog doesn’t chase deer, squirrels, or other animals. All of you – humans and pets alike — should enjoy the stroll together.

Ready to ride ...

Taking your dog along creates those memories that last a lifetime. They are, after all, a part of your family. Just like a family member, they can enjoy the outdoors and enhance your overall experience. The next time you make plans for an off-road excursion, plan on taking along your four-legged friend. You’ll be glad you did.

Badlands Off-Road Adventure
Off-road trainer Tom Severin shares insight and tips on a variety of topics related to preparing you for that next off-road adventure. With over 40 years of off-road experience, Severin operates under his business Badlands Off-Road Adventures. He is a certified professional 4WD Trainer by the International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). He is a member of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC), United Four Wheel Drive Associations and the BlueRibbon Coalition. He also is a certified UFWDA and a CA4WDC 4WD instructor.

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