The Making of an Adventure Dog

Both of our dogs, Charlie the four-year-old puggle and Ollie the not-quite-two Labraheeler, are adventure dogs. They live indoors with appreciable comfort – I’d rather have a snuggly dog at my feet than refuse to let them on the furniture – but they both occupy wild spaces with ease and confidence.

Charlie became an adventure dog through training, a bit of genetic luck (long legs for a puggle), and the sheer stubbornness of his breed. Several hikes involved carrying him for a few hundred meters on and off, but that’s because of his puggle stubbornness more than anything. His size does limit him eventually – we cap his runs at 6 miles and his hikes at 8-10, depending on the terrain – but he can nimbly scramble along a boulder field better than any other puggle we’ve met. Charlie doesn’t do anything Charlie doesn’t want to do, so when he eagerly hikes up a mountain or gleefully frolics mid-run, we know that he’s happy as an adventure dog.

When Ryan and I decided we wanted to adopt a second dog, we knew we wanted a mixed breed with either a hunting breed, work breed, or both – essentially, a dog that could become an outdoor dog. I wanted a dog to run with me for longer distances. We wanted a breed that could hike up to an alpine lake, swim in it, and hike back down with energy to spare. A dog that could keep up with Charlie and encourage Charlie when the puggle stubbornness kicks in. 

Ollie certainly met our standards. He is a mix of (as best as we know) an Australian cattle dog and Labrador Retriever, with a natural ability for endurance and speed. Once he gained a healthy amount of weight, we started running him and hiking him. With all that activity, he gained so much muscle and power that we gave him the nickname “Hulk-Thor-Wonder-Dog.”

Yet Ollie was not fully an adventure dog – yet. He still gets nervous or pulls too hard on the leash on some hikes. Despite his fascination with the water and Labrador genetics, we could not get him to swim. That is, until this past week.

The Making of an Adventure Dog

To go along with his nickname, all superhero stories involve a type scene, a literary device used frequently in the development of the hero archetype. The type scene depicts a moment when they realize the full extent of not just their powers, but their ability to use their powers. Think of Wonder Woman crossing into No Man’s Land or Spider-Man pushing up from under the rubble. 

On the Fourth of July, we skipped the fireworks and sought solitude (those of you with dogs will understand). We hiked to one of our favorite alpine lakes for camping, Dorothy Lake. The hike is short (2.3 miles to the campsite) yet strenuous, especially when weighted down with an overnight pack. It took us just over 80 minutes to reach the lake, where the first thing we did was let the dogs play in the water.

The Making of an Adventure Dog

At Dorothy Lake, you can camp directly on the shore of the Lake, especially if you avoid the crowds and camp during the week. We had the entire beach to ourselves (last time we camped there, we share the shore with 2 other groups of campers).

We threw some sticks for Ollie, hoping he would chase them into the water. Since he could run into the water, rather than jump, he pursued his prizes and found himself wading in the water. Another few sticks were thrown out, and Ollie was actually swimming for the first time.

Our Labraheeler quickly entered what I can only compare to the mental state of “flow” that an endurance athlete achieves during a run, bike, or swim: the disappearance of self-consciousness and hesitation and a harmonious state of the mind at ease and the body in movement. Ollie swam, retrieving sticks, and instantly returning to the water.

Then he spied the stick that he most desired. A large downed tree reached out into the lake, with branches several feet long sprawling into the water. In his state of oneness with the water, Ollie did not hesitate to seize his prize: a four or five foot long branch, attached to the downed tree.

He clamped his mouth along the branch and swam, attempting to break it off of the tree. Ollie wore the struggle of this task clearly on his face, as he splashed, flexed, and fought to tear the branch from the tree. He paddled hard, wrestled the branch, and twisted it with all of his might until – snap – his sheer strength and determination cleaved the branch from the tree. Triumphant, Ollie swam that four foot plus to shore, where he then stood, quaking with adrenaline, protecting his prize.

The Making of an Adventure Dog

(That crying noise you hear in the background of the video is the song of the puggle.)

The Making of an Adventure Dog

In that moment, Ollie became an adventure dog. Since then, he swam further out into that same lake, hiked down with more confidence (and less pulling) than we’ve seen him do before,  ran his fastest 3 mile run yet, and swam in another lake the next weekend. I’m certain we will still have hikes where he pulls too hard on his leash or pauses at a water crossing, but this week, an adventure dog was made.

Do you have an adventure dog?

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1 Response

  1. I definitely have an adventure dog!I could totally relate to this article. I have a lab/catahoula leopard dog/hunting breed mix (his name is Regis) and he is a year and a half. I did get him as a rescue but I got him at 9 weeks old because it was his mother that was rescued pregnant and she had her litter with a foster family. Anyway, I actually live ON a lake – my backyard goes into the lake and it has stairs. Regis wanted nothing to do with the water last summer. He loved to forage along the shore, collecting and eating sticks but he did not swim. His paws are full-on webbed and people did not comprehend how he wouldn’t just jump on in. I was thinking “I have the only dog who lives on a lake who will NOT swim.” Fast forward to this year, and I get on my paddleboard , leaving the gate to the lake open because I figure Regis will forage along the shore while I paddle (like last year). I paddle out a bit and turn around and notice that he is swimming out to me. Like a complete natural! And so zen and at peace and in a zone. Now when I swim out a bit (after a run in the morning or if it is warm after our walk in the evening), Regis swims out with me… It is so joyful to see… Sorry for the bible. I could just completely understand your writing here – which was said much more eloquently than I could have written.

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