Andi Marie Cantele

Andi Marie Cantele is the author of Backroad Bicycling in Western Massachusetts and 52 Weekends in Connecticut (both from Countryman Press), among others; she lives in Connecticut.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dog Paddling
Canoeing with your best friend beckons
Paddling with your dog

You love to canoe and camp. Your dog loves to be with you. So why not go together? Picture it: You and your best canine pal, swimming, meandering along sparkling waters and sleeping under the stars. For paddlers, the arrival of summer means getting outdoors, and if you’re thinking about taking a dog or two along for an overnight trip, a little planning will ensure a safe and happy journey.

First and foremost, consider whether your dog will enjoy canoe-camping. Will he tolerate the tedium of sitting in a boat, be at ease in and around water, and sleep soundly in a tent? For your maiden voyage, opt for an easy daytrip close to home rather than a hardcore back-country expedition. Most dogs will hop into a canoe out of curiosity, especially if treats are involved, but allow yours plenty of time to feel secure.

Before launching, take a swim, roam the shoreline or play a game of fetch. “Don’t forget that your pup has been watching you pack up at home, sat patiently for a long car ride, and is in a new and exciting place,” says Kathryn Howell, owner of Dog Paddling Adventures, a Canadian travel outfit offering wilderness excursions for people and their dogs. “To [expect] her to sit still like a good pup for an hour in the boat may be too much to ask.”

Lazy-water journeys are just right for Maggie and Truman, our black Labs. With the timeworn Mad River canoe my husband, Brian, has paddled since childhood, we head for the Housatonic River in Ashley Falls, Mass. The dogs know this place well, and at a quiet spot where the river curls between cornfields, they’re off like a shot, racing ahead as we lug fishing poles and camping gear.

The launch is a moment of excited anticipation, but Maggie sits regal as a queen as we move upstream, unfazed by the river life Truman finds utterly fascinating. His forehead wrinkles with concern when the canoe bumps past submerged rocks, and the hairs along his back stand at quivering attention when a beaver slaps its tail on the surface. “Oh, Truman,” we often say in mock exasperation, although his antics reveal what we’d otherwise miss, from sun-baked turtles to wood ducks poking around in the backwater eddies.

“Every dog,” the 18th-century satirist Jonathan Swift once said, “must have its day.” I think of this famous aphorism as we paddle under a glorious cobalt summer sky to the rhythm of the current and our whims, gliding beneath low-slung branches and past drifts of purple loosestrife. Maggie and Truman trot along shore as we portage around rapids, and flush frogs out of the shallows while Brian fishes the riffles. After a few casts and no strikes, we whistle for the dogs and move on.

Let’s face it—water is never-never land for many dogs. Our Labs would take “just one more” swim all day if we let them. That’s why a lifejacket is essential, even for bona fide water dogs, as they can be affected by fast river currents, cold water, or a disorienting fall out of a capsized canoe. Doggie personal flotation devices (Ruff Wear makes a great one called a K-9 Float Coat) provide security for puppies, seniors and timid swimmers; they also keep wet dogs warm after a swim, or cool by trapping moisture and blocking the sun.

At camp, good canine manners are a must (well-behaved around fellow campers and mellow during quiet hours), while you should be well-armed with a tick remover and other grooming tools. Our trips usually entail wet dogs rolling in sand, with tongues lolling and paws pointing skyward, but letting dogs be dogs pays off later. “By the time dusk settles in, they are fast asleep,” Howell says of her canine clientele. After dinner, we kick back by the fire and listen to owls call out and coyotes yelp in the distance. In front of us, the river is an inky ribbon beneath a sky white with stars. Critters scurry in the darkness, but Truman is snoring and Maggie is content watching embers shift and fall. Later, we scrunch into our sleeping bags and try to sleep through the twitching and groaning of dogs slipping in and out of dreams.

If canoe-camping with your dog isn’t postcard-perfect on the first try, don’t give up. Skip the campout, perhaps, and take a relaxing low-key afternoon paddle together. Most dogs would rather do anything than be left behind, and with patience and time, you’ll be rewarded with a seasoned traveling companion.

Our reasons for taking the dogs boil down to simple truisms. They love the river, anything we do is more fun when they’re around, and there are lessons to learn when we pay more attention to them than to ourselves. It’s possible, like Maggie, to be wet and muddy yet act like a lady. And, like Truman, it’s good to wag your entire body with joy now and then.

In the morning we break camp and point the bow downstream. We’ll return to witness the fiery pageant of autumn, and again when the river comes alive in spring. For now, we watch our Labs flick their tails back and forth as they drift along with the slow-moving current. As the thought crosses my mind, Brian says it aloud: “It’s a good day to be a dog.”

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Snowshoeing with Dogs
Making tracks is another way to enjoy a snowy day

A winter Sunday in Litchfield, Connecticut. The air snaps crisp and cold beneath a milky gray sky, and here and there, the sun slices through the clouds, casting long shadows and bright splinters over the high hills of Mattatuck State Forest, a rugged expanse literally in our backyard. A nor’easter rolling through New England left behind eight inches of fresh powder, the stuff of snowshoers’ dreams, and it is time to begin our annual ritual of snowshoeing with Maggie and Truman, our happy-go-lucky Labs.

On this day, our canine companions bound ahead as we float along on the snowy surface, picking our way up and down one undulating ridge after another. We seldom share this place with anyone—our Gortex shells and the dogs’ reflective vests are usually the sole bursts of Technicolor in a black-and-white world.

Snowshoeing with dogs? You bet. There are few finer ways to spend a winter day with your best four-legged friends than a trek on snowshoes along your favorite trail or a heart-thumping workout through high-octane terrain. Rare is the canine who doesn’t enjoy a romp in the white stuff, and with a little common sense and cold-weather know-how, those new to the activity can keep their dogs safe and healthy, whether they’re exploring an untrammeled wilderness area, the groomed trails at a touring center, even a snow-covered public golf course.

This ancient form of over-the-snow transportation—Native Americans are said to have used snowshoes more than 3,000 years ago—is one of the fastest-growing winter activities for those who live in or visit the country’s snow belt. And for good reason—as a sport, it doesn’t get much simpler. While snowshoeing might conjure up images of plodding along on tennis-racket-like contraptions, 21st-century equipment combines state-of-the-art design with high-tech materials such as lightweight aluminum, composite plastic, even titanium. If you can walk, goes the adage, you can snowshoe.

But does your pooch have snow-hound potential? “You need to consider whether your dog is healthy to start with,” says Dr. Peter Humphrey of Torrington Animal Hospital in Torrington, Conn. “Heart-related or respiratory problems can have an impact on a dog’s stamina.” Most fit and trim dogs will do fine, he says, but remember, they don’t walk on the snow like you do. “Walking through deep snow is physically demanding,” notes Humphrey, who recommends a shorter-than-usual first outing, since “you may end up with an exhausted pet that you have to carry back.”

And while your canine may be furry, exposure to the elements can lead to problems like frostbite or hypothermia. Puppies and elderly dogs are especially susceptible; watch for shivering, slowed breathing or dilated pupils, signs of a dangerous drop in body temperature. And, unless you have, say, an Akita, Husky or Malamute, breeds who are “dressed” for the cold, your dog might also benefit from the added insulation of a doggy coat. We pack plenty of snacks and water, and examine our Labs’ paws frequently for the ice and snow that can clump between pads. Companies like Ruff Wear and Planet Dog offer canine first-aid kits, protective booties, collapsible food and water bowls, and cold-weather apparel you may want to consider adding to your gear.

At the icebound riverbank, we stop and sip hot cocoa, and as the warmth of this winter staple courses its way to our toes, the dogs make quick work of emptying their water bowls. Then it’s time to be on the move again. Above our heads, snow clings tightly to the hemlocks and the bare branches of sugar maples as we follow crumbling stone walls, relics of long-ago grazing pastures, then cut through thickets of mountain laurel, the hushed quiet broken only by the crunch of our snowshoes, the panting of the dogs and the occasional call of an owl.

If you don’t have access to a wintry wilderness, you and your pal can also coexist happily with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. First, check that the trail system you’re planning to visit is dog-friendly, and, if so, find out what the rules are. Some charge a fee; others allow dogs only in certain areas, or require them to be leashed. Other trail users will judge dogs and owners by your actions, so practice good etiquette, such as picking up after your pooch, keeping him under control and—this is critical—staying out of the way.

Nothing will rile a cross-country skier quite like grooved tracks obliterated by snowshoes (I still remember the barely concealed disdain of those whose tracks I tromped through with my brand-new Tubbs) and dog paws. “That’s what people pay to ski in,” says Llona Ney Clausen, manager of the Nordic & Snowshoe Center at Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, Idaho, where four-legged guests are welcome on all 22 kilometers of groomed trails.

If dogs are allowed off-leash, Clausen says, they should respond perfectly to voice commands. “If your dog can [be depended on to respond to your verbal commands], regardless of distractions, you may not have to have him on a leash,” she explains. “The biggest problem will be, of course, when a dog meets another dog.”

In our beloved forest, the afternoon light is fading as we navigate one last ridge; the maples, the river and the rambling stone walls are studies in gray. The dogs have fallen in behind us, their way of saying it’s time to go home. At the trailhead, we shoulder our snowshoes and shuffle toward the house as the moon rises through the trees like a plump yellow balloon. Maggie and Truman are—you guessed it—dog-tired, and in moments, will be snoring and twitching in front of a blaze roaring on our big stone hearth. During the dog days of winter, we’re certain, snowshoeing is part of their four-legged dreams.

Dog's Life: Travel
Cool New England Hot Spots for Dogs
Massachusetts & Connecticut

Dog lovers and their canine companions hit the mother lode in New England, where there’s something for everyone: exhilarating hikes for outdoor adventurers, bistros and boutique hotels for urban sophisticates, and a breathtaking seacoast for those who just want to stroll on a quiet beach with their four-legged friends.

For the Urban Dog. In Boston, cosmopolitan dog lovers don’t have to leave their co-pilots at home. In the city’s gentrified South End, check out the dog run in Peters Park, or head downtown to stroll along the Charles River or explore the über touristy Faneuil Hall Marketplace (leashed dogs are allowed on Boston’s transit system, a.k.a. the T, during off-peak hours). Bunk for the night at Nine Zero Hotel, where canine guests get their own beds, bowls and treats (think chicken-broth lollipops). Across the street is the historic Boston Common, one of New England’s crown jewels and the country’s oldest public park. Head to the designated area near Charles Street, where urban hounds can romp off-leash in the early morning and evening.

For the Seafaring Dog. The happy pooches riding the ferries steaming out to Martha’s Vineyard are the first clue that this island off Cape Cod, Mass., loves canine visitors. There’s the dog-friendly farmers’ market in the rural up-island village of West Tisbury. Then there’s Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, whose spectacular barrier beach is open to dogs after sunbathers head home. And the ultimate insider spot: Trade Wind Fields Preserve in Oak Bluffs, where dogs have the run of woods and meadows circling a grass-strip airfield. Join the morning regulars who arrive around 7:30, when local canines cavort and play with their owners in tow.

For the Sophisticated Hiker. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail winds through New England on its 2,175-mile route from Georgia to Maine, and daytripping hikers love Connecticut’s 52-mile section of the famous footpath, from the windswept peak of Bear Mountain to the lovely Housatonic River. Well-mannered dogs may even spend the night in one of the trail’s lean-to shelters. Just steps away from the “AT” is the cultured enclave of Kent; snag an outdoor café table on Main Street and watch the parade of prep school parents, Manhattan weekenders and those arriving for one of the town’s many cultural events. In keeping with the artsy vibe, there’s even a gallery where pooches are welcome. Sculpturedale is an outdoor installation of life-sized steel-and-bronze giraffes, elephants, hippos and the like.