Mack the adventure pug has been one of our favorite dogs on Instagram ever since we came across his account. This 10 year old pug and his human Nate love to go on adventures together, camping and hiking all across the United States. Their photos give us major wanderlust, and remind us that small dogs can do anything the big ones can! We spoke to them about the gear they use, how Nate takes those awesome photos, and what’s left on Mack’s bucket list.
What inspired you to hike with your dog?
Mack has always been very high energy and hyper – I knew pugs weren’t typically thought of as athletic, but Mack didn’t seem typical, so I figured I’d bring him along on some beach jogs. He’d do well on them (as long as it was in the evening/cool) and was always excited to come places with me, so when he was one year old, I figured we’d try a hike with him and if it was too much for him, I could always just toss him in my backpack for a ride. His first hike was Mount Tallac near South Lake Tahoe – he made it to the summit (almost 10,000 feet!) and fell asleep in my backpack on the trip back down. He became my main hiking partner in med school, when it was hard to find friends that were willing to sacrifice sleep for outdoor adventures (e.g., hiking in the dark for a summit sunrise) – Mack has been a willing and enthusiastic partner on all of my trips every since.
How did you prepare Mack for a life of adventure?
I’ve had to move a lot for education, and Mack has tagged along each step of the way – that’s definitely helped him adjust more to traveling. In terms of fitness, getting him to exercise early was important, as well as keeping him on a regular diet of low calorie food since pugs can pack on pounds so easily (we’re not stingy with treats on hikes, however, since he ends up doing a lot of work on those trips!).
What’s the best part about going on adventures with Mack?
The best part of any trip with him is how much he makes me laugh. It starts pretty much the minute I decide we’re going on an adventure. When he sees me walking circles around the house and starting to fill my backpack, he rushes to my side and follows me around the house as if I might forget him. When I ask if he wants to go on an adventure, his head tilts slightly, and he sprints to the door in excitement. When the hike is on sand or snow, however briefly, he becomes a pug possessed, sprinting in circles around me with a maniacal grin on his face.
In the morning, whether in the car or the tent, he emerges from our sleeping bag and lays on my chest while wagging his tail frantically – excited for breakfast (of course), for play (morning fetch), and whatever adventure the day will bring. You can always tell he’s stoked because he’ll let out an audible, high-pitched yawn. Sometimes that evolves into an an enthusiastic howl and it always cracks me up.
What are some essential items you use when hiking?
A collapsible bowl for water – we bring LOTS of water (at least 3L and a LifeStraw for emergencies). I use a Camelbak for hydration. We always bring our hiking bag – an Osprey 75L – to hold our stuff, and often Mack, since I couldn’t find a good dog-specific bag, but this does the trick! I always bring my camera, of course (a Canon Rebel T5i), and my phone. I pack extra warm clothes for both of us since summits can be chilly!
For Mack, the Ruffwear WebMaster has been awesome in moderate-to-cold temps (he can’t tolerate it when it’s too hot). We love it because I can lift him by the handle on its back and he stays horizontal (there’s a strap under the belly instead of only having one under the chest), which makes it ideal for getting over obstacles that are too large (e.g., river crossings, rock scrambles). We always bring Pawz dog boots – they’re like little water balloons he wears on his feet, and they’re the only footwear he hasn’t managed to kick off. He tolerates them better than boots with actual rubber soles. We always bring treats for Mack (he loves Zuke’s training treats!) and trail food for me (love Clif Blocks – they’re like gummy bears with electrolytes!). We bring his goggles if we think it’s going to be windy – whether he’ll tolerate them long enough for them to actually protect him is debatable, but they do look funny!
Mack has climbed mountains in eight states (wow!). Which adventures are left on his bucket list?
We want to continue exploring new places, new states for us, definitely with more summits for sunrises and sunsets! We hope to make it up to Canada for our first international trip – there are tons of places we’ve wanted to explore there. We also want to continue exploring more of the desert in the winters. We’ve been so surprised by the beauty of the desert and the unexpected treasures it hides, scattered about in a desolate landscape. We’re even excited to continue exploring California – hard to believe we haven’t seen it all, but we continue to be surprised by this state!
What surprised you the most about hiking with a dog?
I’d say the communication with him. We’ve learned each other’s mannerisms so well that it can feel like we’re having unspoken conversations about the direction of the hike, if we’re hungry, or if we’re tired. I’m also surprised at how entertaining it can be – he adds so much to every hike with his enthusiasm and humor. One thing I love about the outdoors is sharing it with friends and watching their reactions to incredible scenes. Watching Mack sit and take in some of these scenes – seeing him appreciating it – that’s been one of the most rewarding surprises.
Many people would never think of being so physically active with a small dog, especially a pug!
I was in that boat too, initially, but Mack seemed to struggle less with some of the issues that can be tough for pugs, which made me decide we could give it a try. It helps that his snout is a little longer than most pugs and he has strong, healthy hips. We have two other pugs that are a little younger than Mack, but wouldn’t dream of having them try some of the things Mack does because of health issues (they both have hip dysplasia, and walking or jumping too much with this condition can lead to the joint cartilage breaking down and painful arthritis, as can being overweight). We keep them healthy with the same diet as Mack and shorter walks at parks near home.
Pugs and other brachycephalic (translation: smoosh-faced) dogs are known for trouble breathing. Our other two pugs have almost completely flat faces, snore more than Mack, and overheat more easily. Apparently the long snout of other dog breeds helps them cool the air they breathe, aiding in temperature regulation – without it, they can get way too hot and are prone to heat stroke. Mack deals with breathing/temperature regulation issues as well to a lesser extent – we’ve dealt with this by checking the temps/weather of where we’ll hike, bringing lots of ice water, wearing a Ruffwear Swamp Cooler on warm days (you soak it and the evaporation mimics the way that sweat cools humans), trying to avoid Pawz use on hot days (they aren’t breathable and dogs partly regulate their temperature through the pads of their paws), and going hiking at cooler hours (e.g. at night, in the late afternoon/early evening, at sunrise).
Of course, pugs are finicky little creatures, and temps that are too cold are no good either (pugs can get frostbite quickly on their ears, even if temps aren’t below freezing due to wind chill and how thin they are). Keeping Mack moving has always been the best way to keep him warm – he also wears a coat and overlapping vest in the cold, as well as his Pawz.
I was admittedly worried at first abut hiking with Mack, but when I realized I could just have him sit in my backpack if he gets too tired, I figured it was worth a shot – I just promised myself that I’d carry him if he ever looked like he was struggling. I’m so glad I brought him on those first hikes, because it’s made my bond with him so much stronger and it’s made him so much happier and healthier.
What advice do you have for people who want to hike with their dog, but are nervous to do so? Any tips?
Treats – if your dog seems at all hesitant or unenthusiastic, this will teach them pretty quickly to associate the outdoors with good things…delicious things. Often lack of enthusiasm on a hike just means the dog is hungry – I’ve noticed Mack pep up significantly after being a bit more generous with the treats.
Footwear – I was clueless that dogs would need footwear for hiking, but learned the lesson on Mack’s first hike – unfortunately at his expense. I only noticed at the summit that he had torn up his paws on rocks, after which he rode down in my bag. So began the hunt for shoes, which was quite challenging – he kicked off most pairs we tried and walked awkwardly with the ones that stayed on (however briefly). Pawz boots aren’t super thick protection (they’re disposable/reusable), but he is visibly more confident and enthusiastic when wearing them on sharp/Rocky terrain (without them, he treads slowly and lightly – after they’re on, he starts sprinting ahead). He hasn’t had torn up paws since!
Plan for the worst, hope for the best – bring more layers than you think you need, more food/water than you think you need, and always check the weather of your destination before leaving! If hiking mountains, summit weather can be found for some peaks at mountain-forecast.com. Above all else, especially for small dogs, always be ready to carry them – if they’re too hot, if they’re hurt, if they’re too tired, etc. Prioritize their health and well-being, and that will help keep them enthusiastic about hiking.
Also, start small, and pay close attention to your dog for any changes in behavior – that’s the only way they can communicate! It’s a good idea to research hikes beforehand – theoutbound.com is one place we go to find hikes that includes mileage and difficulty.
For those hiking with pugs, I recommend checking out the MAQ section (Most Asked Questions) of pugventurephoto.com, where I’ve tried to list health related concerns and precautions for hiking with a pug.
Lastly, you take gorgeous photos of Mack in the outdoors. What are some tips for those who’d like to do the same?
The best light is right after sunrise and right before sunset (for about an hour before and after) – that immediately will make your pics look better. Outside of that, practice! Take lots of pics, play with composition and editing tools (we like the Snapseed phone app by Google, which is free, and Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop on the laptop – which is pricier and something to get after you’re sure photography is something you’re into.) We started taking pics with our phone and progressed from there, eventually upgrading to the current DSLR – a Canon Rebel T5i. In terms of getting good dog photos specifically, it’s important to take a *ton.* For every amazing pic of Mack, there are probably 50 bad ones – unique facial expressions happen in a split second and can make or break a photo, so there’s definitely an element of luck and a lot of repetition. For poses, treats always do the trick – he knows basic commands (sit, down, come, stay), so we just keep the treats handy to keep him focused and attentive. Treats (and lots of praise) also help to get him to tolerate any outfits and accessories he isn’t accustomed to yet.
Thank you so much Nate and Mack!
You can follow along on their adventures on Instagram. Visit our Pet Travel Tips to get more information on traveling with your dog.
Read more interviews with people traveling with their pups here.
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