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Pup tent: On the trail with the yellow dog

t06.28.05 Justin Hayworth mugCOOK Mug shot of Sam Cook, outdoor reporter.

Dusk is coming on. The camp dishes are long since done. I've taken one last swim off the point to cool down.

We know what comes next: The mosquito hordes. Yes, it's late July and the mosquitoes should be history by now. But this year's crop seems to be excellent, so they're still with us.

We're a few miles north of the Ontario border, camped at the tip of an island with our best pal, the yellow dog.

At home, the yellow dog, now 14 months along in life, lives outside in her kennel. Comfortable house. Plenty of water. Food twice a day. She gets out plenty for walks and swims and retrieving sessions.

But out here, on the trail, the three of us like to be close. Really close. Especially at night. You can almost sense her anticipation as we approach the tent.

This is not one of those two-bedroom bungalow tents you see at the state parks. More like a nylon hovel. They call it a three-person tent, which means it can almost fit two people and a 50-pound dog.

The yellow dog loves the tent. It's like a nylon dog house.

Oh, yeah. This is great. I like it when the two-leggers start crawling around down here on my level. I think Phyllis needs a big ol' lick on the cheek. There you go, Phyllis. See how much I love you? Licks are just a wet form of love, you know.

We all flop around in there until we're in our spots — humans on the flanks, yellow dog in the middle.

Hey, how come you guys get to sleep on those puffy things and I just have this tarp?

The main danger once we're all in the tent is that one good swipe of a Lab's toenails might render an inflatable sleeping pad airless. That would lower the needle on the fun-meter quickly. So far, we've avoided that

Amazingly, the yellow dog conks out immediately. Lies down. Takes a big sigh. Lights out.

Sometime in the middle of the night, the two-leggers need to go out to look at the stars. Everybody up. Everybody out. The trick is to get the mosquito netting unzipped before the yellow dog tries to charge through it.

The night is cool and now nearly mosquito-free. The sky couldn't hold any more stars. The half-moon is setting. The loons have fallen silent.

We all reconvene back at the tent and dive back in. The yellow dog, now wide awake, takes this as a sign.

Hey, want to play? Let's romp a little. Need some more licks? How about I sleep right on top of you? Yeah, right up here. That down bag is soft. No? OK. Whatever.

We humans assume prone positions. The yellow dog is not quite ready. It's an odd feeling, lying down, looking up at your dog.

Before she settles down, she gives herself a good, cleansing shake. Now there's yellow-dog hair floating all over the place. It drifts down like a gentle snow, alighting on our exposed faces. It tickles your nose. It sticks to your lips. Yellow dogs seem to be in a constant state of shedding spare hair.

We turn off the headlamps.

What? Nobody wants to play? You're leading me on, dudes.

She flops down, lets out a sigh and goes back to sleep mode.

You become aware of something. You're in the middle of a wilderness. It's a perfect July night. The air outside is clear and clean. You take a deep breath.

All you can smell is dog.

Yeah. Sweet.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Find his Facebook page at or his blog at