Dogs...some of the best adventure companions one can find. They are unmatched in their loyalty, always eager to be outside regardless of the weather, generally agreeable with their owner's sense of direction, and they can provide an additional level of safety in the outdoors. What more can you ask for in an outdoor adventure pal?
In honor of the canine companions that complete our lives and in collaboration with Tito's Handmade Vodka, we're thrilled to release our third episode of Outdoor Adventure Dogs. This five-part video series features a unique group of active adventure dogs, their relationships with their owners, and the lives they live together oriented around the outdoors. Whether it's a look at a photographer's trusty sidekick providing creative inspiration, working ski patrol avalanche rescue dogs, or "wilderness therapy dogs" that help introduce newcomers to outdoor activities outside of their comfort zone, Outdoor Adventure Dogs is a fun and touching window into the lives of rescued dogs that end up doing some rescuing of their own.
Outdoor Adventure Dogs continues here with Episode 3, which features the Golden Retriever duo Freja and Lycka and their owners, Keith Mussallem and Jessica Gullbrand. Keith is a lead outdoor guide with Oregon-based Adventures Without Limits, a guide service that helps share the outdoors with all people, regardless of their ability level, socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity or age. Keith has trained Freja and Lycka to become what he calls "wilderness therapy dogs," and they join Adventures Without Limits and their participants on outdoor adventure trips. As wilderness therapy dogs, Freja and Lycka help comfort participants who are engaging in new outdoor activities for the first or in unfamiliar surroundings. They are a fun and calming presence on the adventure themselves, and they show participants that if dogs are able to experience an activity that falls outside of their typical comfort zone, such as river rafting, humans can too!
You can learn more about Freja and Lycka's story in the interview with Keith below.
Keith: Golden retriever.
Keith: Freja is 11; Lycka is 1 year and 6 months. We got Freja at 8 weeks old. She was born on a small farm in Molalla, Oregon. We got Lycka when she was just over 10 months old from Washougal, Washington.
Keith: 1981: Galena; 1982: Afton; 1995: Ruby; 1996: Popoagie; 2006: Meadow.
Keith: We always have a pair of goldens. We had just lost one of our goldens to lymphoma, and our remaining golden was heartbroken to lose her sister. We were returning to Oregon from a trip to Reno, Nevada, and we looked up ads in the Oregonian. The owners had two for us to choose from. Before going home, we stopped in, and Freja chose us to go home with.
Lycka had been given to a family that had two other dogs. The two dogs just physically and emotionally abused Lycka for an extended period of time. Lycka was eventually returned. We had lost another one of our goldens, again to lymphoma, and Freja was our remaining golden. Freja was 10 years and 6 months at this time, and she was always the puppy to her older sister, Meadow. After Meadow passed, Freja became gray and old in a matter of four days. We did not want to bring in another puppy so soon, and we wanted to get a rescue dog or an older golden. We searched hard, but there were none that fit the family. So, after a month we had plans to look at golden retriever puppies over the weekend. Out of the blue we got a call from someone in Washougal, Washington, who had seen our internet inquiry. We were already on the road heading up to Mount Hood, so we immediately took a detour to Washougal. When we met Lycka, I immediately felt that there was a great connection between her and Jessica, Freja and myself. Jessica wanted to wait and think about it until I asked her to search her feelings and intuition. Upon doing so, she discovered that Lycka wanted to be a part of our family. She knew that our goldens are not only adventure dogs but also wilderness therapy dogs, so they were all for us. I came back a week later to get Lycka, and the next day she started her wilderness therapy and adventure dog training by going cross-country skiing. She is a natural.
Keith: Freja is the Viking goddess of love and marriage. Our Freja is about fast and continuous. She is about running as fast and long as she can. Freja loves people more than other dogs. Freja immediately scopes out the group of people on our adventure trips and adopts them all. She is there to just be next to you. Freja loves to go to the coast and chase the seagulls and hit a full sprint down the mountain for skiing and mountain biking.
Lycka is Swedish for luck, happiness, and joy. Lycka loves people and dogs equally. She is about playing and being active. She will come sit on your feet, be a part of you, and try to play with you. Lycka is really curious and loves to explore.
Both of them would be anxious and hyper dogs if left to their own devices. With the constant and consistent training we do, most people would not notice these traits. Freja was a picky eater until Meadow died, then she became voracious. Lycka is a picky eater. Freja consumes treats in an instant. Lycka is slow and takes her time.
Keith: Cross-country and backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, rock climbing, kayaking on lakes and flat water, inflatable kayaking on whitewater, rafting, mountain biking, hiking, and beach walking.
Keith: Yeah, until Meadow passed, Freja was the one who pressed the limits and got into trouble. The dogs are trained to always know where we are and not to wander too far. If they encounter other people or dogs on the adventures, they come back to us. Freja would push those boundaries at times because she was off exploring and too busy to notice us. Our goldens are like teenagers, 'til one day they get old and pass. Freja would often surgically take the threads out of toys and destroy them. When Lycka showed up, Freja stopped all of that, and Lycka started doing it. Now, Freja hates it when Lycka gets in trouble for not following the guidelines. And yes, Freja responds better to her commands and shows Lycka how to do things. Freja is a role model for Lycka, and Lycka looks to her big sister when she is unsure how to behave in new situations.
Keith: AWL is an inclusive outdoor adventure program that empowers people of all abilities through outdoor adventures. I've been a Lead Guide for them since 2007. Jessica has been a volunteer guide for the same time. She is an awesome guide in her own right.
Keith: If you want to go on an AWL adventure, and we can safely bring you, we will find a way. We remove as many obstacles as possible: socioeconomic, emotional, physical, cultural...
Keith: A wilderness therapy dog is a dog that is trained to be around people during outdoor adventures, be a part of a group, and provide love and support to the participants. The dogs need to be off leash but really well trained. They need to understand their boundaries and duties, and they need to be themselves. They need to respond to visual and voice commands immediately. They need to have a natural desire to like people, want others to be happy, and they need to add to the adventure and not distract from it.
Keith: When I ran cross-country ski guiding in Wyoming in 1981. Then, after I started with AWL and did a few trips, I knew how awesome and effective they would be with AWL participants. I've had to really educate my directors at AWL about just how important they are. It becomes obvious if you are on a trip and observe them. Also, it is common for participants to share just how much it meant to have the dogs on the trip.
Keith: The training is continuous. They are trained with an older version of Blind Service Dog training from the 1950s and 1960s. At 7 to 8 weeks old they are in "kindergarten." By 6 months, they enter high school. At 1 year, they are young adults. But they will tell you that they are still just kids, and they pretend that they were never trained, so you are constantly reminding them of their training. During this time, they are also introduced to all of the adventures that we do. They know how to go front, come back and stay behind, how to heel, how to find things, how to sit, stay, come, how to go around, over or under obstacles, how to stay out of the way of others, how to not steal food or be a nuisance…this is all important when you approach avalanche lines, ride a mountain bike, travel to and from a rock climb, spend time around motor boats, etc. Our dogs are so good that people want to hang out with them and even to watch the dogs when we are away.
Keith: When Freja was 10 weeks old we bought a little PFD and took her kayaking. She would walk around on the kayak and fall in every 30 seconds or so. I would just swoop her up and put her back on the kayak, and she repeated this for half an hour or so. Then she became rock solid on any boat, hard shell or soft, kayak or raft. She is really grounded and knows how to stay in a boat. She likes to see what’s happening in the front, so she naturally took to the front of the boat. Next thing I know, she just crawled up on the front tube and laid there. I use to bring her back before the bigger rapids, but I learned to trust her. Now she just does what she feels. Sometimes she decides, "Nope, don’t like these waves," and she comes back. That is when the participants go, “Uh-oh, Freja is coming back, I wonder what’s ahead.” Freja has only come out of the boat once, and that was because I flipped the raft in a rapid.
Keith: Enjoy life. There are no ordinary moments. Don’t get upset. Life is for love. Be present in the moment at hand. Be mindful. Forget the past. Don’t worry about the future. Overall, life is the adventure, whatever is happening, just find the flow of things. Resistance is futile, stop fighting things. Food is yummy. Snacks are awesome.
Keith: Training is essential to make sure that everyone (humans and dogs) stay safe and enjoy the adventure together. A dog that is not listening is not a team companion.
Keith: Lycka thinks that she is a canine missile. She loves to run full speed at other dogs and humans and stop when she bounces off you. Sometimes, when they go to far in front of us, we'll hide. Then they have to come back and find us using their sense of smell. This winter we were skiing between Ski Bowl West and Ski Bowl East on Mount Hood. They were out ahead of us. Usually they come back to the last spot where they saw us and start smelling. Well, Lycka just kept going, and Freja stopped and found us. Thirty seconds and no Lycka. Sixty seconds and no Lycka. Ninety seconds and no Lycka. Shoot, she probably ran all the way to the lift at Ski Bowl East. So, I took off on a full sprint after her. I got about two minutes up the trail, and luckily she was on her way back. I had all of the other goldens since they were 7 to 8 weeks old, so they slowly learned this. Since we did not get Lycka until she was 10 months, she did not have this awareness in place. Phew. Now I watch her, and if she goes too, far I call her back.
Keith: Rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking. We are heading to Banff and Jasper for two weeks in September. Dogs can hike most of the trails in the Canadian National Parks, whereas they cannot in the USA.
Follow along at Outdoor Project this summer, and again in November and December, for more inspiring stories about the roles our furry friends take on as beloved adventure companions. Watch the other available episodes and learn more about the dogs in the Outdoor Adventure Dogs series here: