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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe

Man's best friend

Updated on 26.12.2022 in People

Humans and dogs have lived together for over 14,000 years. It is a relationship is unlike any other. Photographer Enno Kapitza and his dog Lula regularly take on extreme ski tours together. We sat down with Enno to talk about the special bond between man and dog, dog and snow, and dog and mountain.

How do you get your dog to walk 10 hours up a mountain with you?

We never really had to do any convincing. In fact it was the opposite – when Lula saw snow for the first time I noticed straight away that she loved it. It seemed to touch something inside her that had been long hidden away in her genes.

Did you choose a breed of dog which you knew would like snow?

No, not at all. It was the same situation as in many other families – my daughter really wanted to get a dog and even went to the trouble of putting together a little presentation to convince us that it was a good idea. I was up for it straight away, but my wife Uli wasn’t quite so sure. Lula is a mix of Border Collie and Australian Shepherd. Both breeds are generally considered to be very intelligent but are also very protective. The Australian Shepherd has a natural herding tendency. All that was a challenge for us at the start, especially if you don’t know much about these things.

Did you know much about dogs when you first got her?

Not at all! The first two years were pretty tough. At the age of five months, Lula already had a very strong hunting instinct. As soon as she smelled a wild animal she was off. The first step was learning to read her – and vice versa, Lula also had to get used to us.

How important were the mountains in that process?

Very important. If you want to head into the mountains with a dog then you have to have it under control, even in difficult terrain. Otherwise she would have run the risk of injuring herself or getting caught up in an avalanche if she simply ran off into steep ground. We really wanted to take Lula to the mountains, so we did everything we could to train her to make that possible.

Does Lula get excited when she know you are heading out into the snow?

They say that even we humans can smell when snow is coming. But with Lula it is even more pronounced. It's most noticeable not in winter but in summer – when we're out and about in the mountains she often finds remnants of snow in shady hollows or on north-facing slopes, even if they're a long way from the path we are on. She is then like a kid at the beach: she jumps, digs holes, rolls around in it.

It must be hard for dogs to walk through deep snow. How did you deal with that?

In the beginning Lula never got tired. She ran up and down ahead of us, back and forth, so by the time we got to the top she had probably done three or four times as much climbing as us. But I do remember a stay at a ski touring hut. We were there for several days and at some point we decided the last few ski tours had been pretty exhausting for the dog and that she should stay in our room for a rest while we went out into the mountains. Somehow she managed to open the door from the inside and followed us! For her it was out of the question that we would go out into the snow and leave her behind. Today Lula is eleven years old and has become a little slower, so we only take her on short trips nowadays.

Why do you think Lula loves snow so much?

Her long coat means she feels comfortable in cool temperatures. In summer she sometimes get tired, but in winter she is always on top form. I've also always had the impression that snow suits her play instinct. When we have perfect powder snow it’s a dream come true for her. She runs, jumps and flies through the snow. Sometimes when she was young she was so enthusiastic that she ran down to the bottom of the mountain before us and then came back up to join us for a second go.

Eating and drinking are important for us humans while ski touring so we don’t run out of energy. Does the same apply to Lula?

At home we have a strict rule that we don't feed her our food. But at the summit we make an exception and share our sandwiches with her. This has also helped her to get rid of her shyness towards other people. Up at the top she often finds someone who is kind enough to give her a piece of their cheese or sausage.

Which tips would you give people who would like to take their dog with them when they go ski touring?

A basic requirement is certainly that the dog must be fit. Many dogs run behind the skis, but this can cause nasty injuries due to the sharp edges. Fortunately, Lula realised this immediately and has always stayed away. The dog should never run off to hunt, because wild animals need peace and quiet in winter and quickly put themselves in danger if startled. Looking back, we started a little too early with Lula. You should wait until the dog is fully grown, that is, when it is about two years old. There are also conditions where the snow tends to form clumps in the fur, which can be very uncomfortable for the dog. But the best tip is still to talk to other dog owners in the mountains.

What do you think makes the connection between humans, dogs and the mountains such as special one?

The mountains are a constant for my wife and me. Over the years, of course, we have changed, aged, become less fit – and the same goes for Lula too. But the mountains have remained the same. I think this feeling of eternity that exists in the mountains is not only felt by us, but also by dogs. When the three of us stand on the summit and have accomplished something together, our own existence feels like the blink of an eye – and I realise how wonderful it is that my wife, our dog and I can share this life with each other.

Wolfgang Westermeier rides to the office every morning. On the weekends he likes nothing more than trying out new sports in the mountains – from hot-balloon rides in winter to trailrunning races in summer.

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