Your dog loves to do stuff with you. But there are some adventures you simply shouldn’t do with your pup. Here’s how to make the tough decision to leave your furry friend behind, and how to ensure they have the best experience when they’re not able to come along.
“I tell people you’ve got to learn [to speak] dog,” explains Marc Bekoff, a prominent dog behavior scientist and author. Bekoff’s latest book, Dogs Demystified, turns cutting edge science into practical information readers can use to create a better relationship with their best friends. “Become fluent in dog,” Bekoff continues. “Learning what their behavior patterns and body language mean is key to being a good owner.”
Here are six adventure-driven situations Bekoff says you should never put your dog in outside. Plus, the best possible alternative, if you need to switch to plan B. (And here’s the ultimate dog first-aid kit every pup owner should have on hand, just in case.)
Dog’s aren’t able to cool themselves as efficiently as humans. So, even temperatures that you may find comfortable could be putting your dog’s safety at risk.
A study conducted in Alabama in 2021 found that on average, over the course of a 24 hour period, the temperatures experienced by dogs were 1.3 degrees warmer than those experienced by their owners. The study suggests that environmental factors tend to expose dogs to more heat than is experienced by humans. Clothing, shade, and other comforts we take for granted may not be as accessible to our canine friends, even when we share the same spaces.
It’s hard to put an exact number on the ambient temperature where risks begin. Environmental conditions like humidity, direct sun exposure, and the types of surface a dog walks on all play a role, as do the dog’s size, age, physical condition, coat, and ability to breathe. One veterinary practice in the United Kingdom says threats to very old, sick, or brachycephalic breeds begin at temperatures as low as 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Brachycephalic dogs are currently en vogue, and the French Bulldog is the most popular dog breed in America.
Owners of healthy dogs should also exercise caution, even in moderate temperatures. If exposed to direct sunlight for several hours, pavement can reach temperatures of 125 degrees even if it’s only 75 degrees out. That’s hot enough to burn a dog’s paws.
The risk all of us are hopefully aware is, of course, hot cars. Again in 75 degree temperatures, a car’s interior can reach deadly temperatures in as little as half an hour. When it’s even hotter out, a car’s interior or a pickup’s capped bed can become deadly hot in just a few minutes.
A dog enters heat stroke when its internal temperature reaches 105.8 degrees. Mild cases may result in lethargy and weakness, while more serious effects can be seizure, coma, organ failure, brain damage, and death.
Monitor your dog for signs of hot skin, excessive panting, disorientation, bright red gums, vomiting, or diarrhea. If you believe your dog may be overheating, move them to a cool indoor space, provide access to cool water, and wet them with a wet towel or hose. Do not rely only on fans or shade. Since dog’s don’t sweat like we do, they’re unable to cool themselves through evaporation. If your dog’s condition does not improve immediately, get them to a vet.
All of these risks can compound outdoors, where air-conditioned indoor spaces and water may not be immediately accessible.
Cold temperatures also bring hazards, and can be hard to define a safe limit for. A short coated brachycephalic, old, or sick dog may become uncomfortable in above freezing temperatures. A healthy husky, or similar cold-adapted breed, may feel right at home in sub-zero conditions.
Monitor your dog for shivering, weakness, stiffness, difficulty walking, pale gums, confusion, shallow breathing, and unconsciousness. Be aware that exposed extremities, even on dogs with thick coats, may be subject to frostbite.
Insulated dog coats and booties can help. In addition to outright levels of insulation, it’s important that any clothing covers as much of the dog’s body as possible, and that it fits snugly.
And like heat, cold is not simply a number on a thermometer. A variety of additional factors can effect a dog’s comfort and safety. My Siberian husky-German shepherd mix for instance, who normally loves sub-zero temperatures, encountered sticky snow this winter that immediately caused painful ice build up between his toes, making him to lay down and refuse to continue a short walk. I had to carry him back to the cabin. Had I not been there to help him, the situation could’ve turned out badly.
When in doubt about how your dog may respond to either hot or cold temperatures, it may be safest just to leave them inside, or take them for short, leashed walks only.
“If you think it’s too hot or too cold for your dog, it is,” Bekoff says simply.
There’s a couple obvious problems with bringing your dog along on a ski tour.
While you may be trained in judging avalanche risk, and travel equipped with a slope angle map, your dog has neither. And an athletic dog can quickly run onto dangerous terrain, possibly triggering an avalanche, getting themselves buried by one you avoided through careful decision making, or causing you to chase them into a place you’d otherwise steer clear of.
In the event that your dog is buried in snow, it may seem practical to equip them with an avalanche beacon. But, once buried, there’s no way for rescuers to tell which signal may be coming from a dog or human, and that could put the life of humans at risk. Never put an avalanche beacon on your dog.
“If you think it’s too dangerous, then it probably is,” says Bekoff. “Don’t put your dog or yourself in danger.”
Just like with avalanches, taking your dog on the water can jeopardize your own safety. In the even of an accident, having to rescue your dog can cause you to engage in risky behavior.
Putting a life jacket on your dog can help. “Freeing owners of the need to worry about their dogs in the water actually makes it easier for them to save their own lives,” explained Mustang Survival’s Lili Colby in an article Outside published last month.
But life jackets cannot eliminate risk, especially in whitewater. No matter how strong of a swimmer a dog is, large rapids may submerge a dog, and they can also become ensnared in rocks or fallen trees or strainers. Some owners tether dogs to boats to prevent them from falling out. This risks trapping them underwater in the event that craft capsizes.
“Just because your dog will do it, it doesn’t mean they’re enjoying it,” says Bekoff. “Dogs are not adrenaline junkies.” The researcher explains that dogs don’t necessarily enjoy engaging in risky behavior like many outdoorsy humans do. “A lot of what you think brings them joy is actually scaring them.”
Dangerous (or Endangered) Animals
Taking your dog into the outdoors means taking it into the habitat of wild animals. Much of the time, conflict can be avoided by simply keeping your dog in control, and on leash or close to a trail or campsite. But, there are places in which your dog’s simple presence can have negative impacts on wildlife.
Dogs may be viewed as prey, or rivals, by predators like bears, wolves, coyotes, and all types of wild cat. Those animals may be drawn to the scent or sound of your dog, or its movements, putting the pup at risk of predation, and creating conflict with you, its human caretaker.
Dogs may also act as predators for vulnerable animals like babies of any species. And even if they’re not catching and consuming something like, say, an adult deer, the deer’s perception of the dog as a predator may alter its behavior in potentially harmful ways. Those risks to wildlife increase in winter, when wild animals are existing on the edge of survival, and any additional calorie expenditure or exposure to conditions could be deadly.
“You’ve gotta respect that you’re living or recreating in an area that’s the animals’ home,” says Bekoff. “Don’t let your dogs out at night, when animals are most active. Train them to come, reliably.”
Bekoff also explains that the mere presence of dogs can alter animal behavior in ways that aren’t always obvious. “Dogs can change the travel patterns of these animals, which can then lead to conflict that wouldn’t otherwise occur,” he says. That can bring wild animals into unexpected contact with each other, with humans, or prevent them from accessing food sources.
While you should always maintain control of your dog outdoors, us dog owners also need to acknowledge that there are places where it’s inappropriate to take a dog at all. Areas with dense predator populations, nesting grounds, and especially winter habitat, should be avoided entirely.
“People think that dogs can just run and run, day in and day out,” describes Bekoff. “But look at wolves, with which dogs share a common ancestor. Wolves don’t run all day every day, they spend most of the time resting so that they’ll have enough energy when the time comes to catch food or defend their homes.”
While dogs can be incredible athletes, not all of them have the endurance of a sled dog. And this can be particularly true of younger dogs, which may appear to have endless amounts of energy, but can also be damaged if forced to run too far, for too long.
“Especially with young dogs that are really active, you get pad damage, nail damage, and skeletal damage,” explains Bekoff.
His formula for determining an appropriate duration? “If a dog is lagging behind, or your have to urge your dog to keep up, then it’s tired,” he says.
Any Situation Where Your Dog Is Unsupervised
Risks a dog faces, even in relatively mundane environments, abound. Some of them include stuff we’ve already covered like hot and cold weather, and wild animals. Others may include poison or choking hazards. Dogs can also easily become trapped or ensnared by fences and other infrastructure, get into fights with other dogs, or run into conflict with unfamiliar humans.
“Your dog is depending on you to keep them safe,” says Bekoff. “If you think you shouldn’t leave your dog, don’t leave it.”
Boarding for Dogs: Tips to Leave Your Pup Behind
Both Bekoff and I agree that, as much fun as it can be to take your dog along on outdoor adventures, sometimes it’s best to leave them behind. And often that will mean boarding your dog at a kennel.
Finding a good kennel isn’t as easy as getting a recommendation or reading reviews though. Your dog’s personality and needs are unique. So while it may require a little forward planning and action, the best way to find the right kennel for your dog is to visit several well in advance of any travel, and find one where your dog seems happiest. Any quality boarding facility will offer, if not require, an assessment, in which you and your dog get to meet the staff, tour the facilities, and interact with other guests. During this time, you’ll be able to determine if the kennel is adequately safe for your dog, and provides the appropriate level of activity and stimulus. The types of play and size of yard that are appropriate for a healthy, active, large dog, may not be the right fit for an old, sick, small, or brachycephalic breed.
Once you have a relationship with a good boarding facility, there are then steps you can take to make your dog’s stay more comfortable and less stressful.
> Bring Familiar Objects: If your dog has a favorite bed or blanket at home, take that to the kennel for any stays. Check with staff ahead of time to make sure this is allowed.
> Maintain Their Regular Feeding Schedule: Keep food and feeding routines similar to what your dog follows at home. I carefully prep my dogs’ unique raw diets ahead of any travel, and seal each meal inside a vacuum bag so they can easily fit in the kennel’s freezer, and create as little work as possible for the staff. Communicate to them your pup’s normal feeding times.
> Be Cautious About Grooming: If your dog doesn’t respond well to nail trimmings and bathing, do those at home before any kennel stay.
> Prioritize Exercise Pre and Post Kennel: Give your dog ample exercise before and after boarding. This will help ease entry to any stay, and relieve boredom after.
> Board Your Dogs As Housemates: If you have multiple pups, you can ask that they stay together in a shared room rather than a cage for a small additional fee.
Optimize the Drop-Off
Bekoff also says the drop-off is the most crucial part of ensuring a stress-free experience. “Transportation to the place is critical,” he says. “Get them there as calmly as possible, and make sure they’re comfortable and settled in before you leave.”