Dog Paddling: Gordon Hommes and Wilson the Campsite Guardian

A Siberian Husky/German Shepherd mix who loves a good canoe trip

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Gordon Hommes, a 55-year old educator in Two Harbors, Minnesota, paddles with Wilson, a 7-year old, male, Siberian Husky/German Shepherd mix, who weighs a solid 50 pounds.

Hommes has paddled for decades in the Boundary Waters and northern Canada with various furry friends and has decided that medium-sized dogs are the best fit for a canoe.

Hommes said, "Forty to sixty-pound dogs, with shorter, straight fur that can take care of themselves make the best tripping dogs. Tiny, huge, or high-maintenance dogs—not so much."

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Wilson doesn't just take care of himself. He takes care of Hommes too.

"No surprises show up in camp, either man or beast. If we haven't encountered other people in many days, his nose will be the first to alert us of their presence—even if they are half a mile away or more, when the wind is right."

Unfortunately, on one occasion, Wilson was too alert.

"A couple of years ago, my son and I were in Quetico paddling the wonderful string of small lakes and creek between Louisa and McEwen lakes. Wilson scented something and got pretty interested. When we entered a small bay a moose was standing in the water, eating vegetation. Wilson immediately jumped out of the canoe and started swimming toward the moose—even though it was probably 200 yards away, at least. Of course, the moose soon disappeared into the forest. Now, Wilson is more a wader than an avid swimmer, but he swam at full bore for several hundred yards before reaching shore, shaking off, and reentering the canoe. He loves all critters, but especially moose. The closer the critter, the greater his excitement."

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A long day of paddling or encountering a particular sort of person on a portage can also be a bit problematic.

"It's a little tricky when Wilson gets antsy and can't find a comfortable position to lay down in the canoe or when we encounter people who are not comfortable around dogs."

Ninety-nine percent of the time, however, Wilson is relaxed.

"Wilson is great company. Just about all of it is good.”

Hommes repays Wilson’s companionship by trying to make him as comfortable as possible on the water.

“Years ago, I made the mistake of not considering the effect of bugs on my dog. I now put a bit of DEET on the tips of Wilson's ears and on his belly when the bugs are really bad. He won't lick that stuff and it prevents a lot of itching and bleeding."

They mostly travel in a Souris River Quetico 17, but sometimes use an Old Town Tripper. If you're considering paddling with a pooch, Hommes believes you should begin ASAP.

"Start early. My dogs all started canoe tripping and other backcountry activities when they were only a few months old. For us, it also probably helps that we live in very rural northeastern Minnesota, so the transition to canoe country is pretty small."

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Wherever Hommes goes, whether by river or road, Wilson is happy to tag along.

"If I say, 'Go for a ride in the canoe?' it's pretty exciting, just like 'Go for a ride in the car?'"

Gordon Hommes.
Gordon Hommes.
However, Wilson doesn't get to go everywhere.

"I don't think I would have taken a dog on any of my Arctic or Hudson Bay canoe trips for a lot of reasons. We paddle mostly in Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, but also in the Boundary Waters Wilderness in the off-season."

— Paddle with a pooch? Want to tell your story? Contact Katie McKy at katemcky@hotmail.com and put "Dog Paddling" in the subject line.

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