Endurance athlete and dietician Alex Borsuk shares how she’s training her adventure puppy, Otto, to join her for running, skiing, hiking, and more.
Raising a puppy is a lot of work for anyone. But when your free time is already filled with outdoor adventures like ultramarathon running, ski touring, and climbing mountains, the responsibilities and time commitment of raising an adventure puppy might seem impossible.
Alex Borsuk shows us how it’s done — with a lot of work and A LOT of love, she’s raising her puppy, Otto, to join her for (almost) all of her favorite adventures.
The Dyrt spoke to Alex, who is both a professional athlete and a dietician, on how she’s training and raising the adorable Otto to become the ultimate adventure puppy — and how you can bring your own dog on more of your outdoor adventures.
The Dyrt: Can you tell us about you and your adventure puppy Otto?
Alex: My name is Alex! I am a sports dietitian and endurance athlete based out of Portland, Oregon. From Monday through Friday, I work passionately as a dietitian. I own a nutrition practice where I help professional athletes and “weekend warriors” alike live their healthiest life and accomplish their athletic endeavors through the use of proper nutrition.
I am a “weekend warrior” myself, meaning that I work during the week and get outside as much as I can on the weekends. I am an athlete ambassador for Salomon and enjoy any kind of imaginable “type 2 fun” activity, including (but not limited to) ultrarunning, ski mountaineering, fastpacking, alpine climbing, and ice climbing.
Otto is a 20-week-old “adventure pup” – a border collie that my husband Matt and I welcomed to our family in January. We adopted him from a family in Washington whose two working farm dogs accidentally had puppies, and therefore were looking to give them away ASAP.
We couldn’t say no to his sweet face and spunky demeanor, and he’s been by our side ever since!
Did you research dog breeds prior to adopting Otto? If so, how did you decide on his particular breed?
We knew we wanted a border collie because our last dog Peanut was a border collie mix and we just adored him.
We love how athletic, smart and affectionate border collies can be! It was really important to us to find a breed that would fit in with our active lifestyle.
What types of outdoor activities do you (and do you hope to, in the future) enjoy with Otto by your side?
Right now, we’ve been doing a lot of ski touring with Otto. As a puppy, his fitness is limited and he can’t walk or run for many miles, so we’ve been trying to incorporate in some more “puppy-friendly activities.” To us, this means an activity where he can still come along and be outside with us, but also be able to relax and nap once he gets tired.
And that’s where ski touring has come in! My husband Matt and I can get in a long day of exercise in the mountains while Otto can play in the snow. Once Otto gets tired, we carry him in our backpack so he can rest up. As a young puppy, this meant that we carried him nearly 100% of the time. But as Otto gets older, he’s able to spend more time hiking and less time inside our pack.
He still always rides in our backpack while we ski downhill though! When he was 10 weeks old, I carried him to the top of Mount Saint Helens and he napped while I skied downhill with him in my pack – his first true “ski mountaineering” trip and summit!
In the future, we hope to do run trails, complete ultramarathons, go fastpacking, do some low 5th class scrambling, and continue to ski tour with Otto. Essentially, our goal is to have him by our side during all of our favorite outdoor activities.
Are there any outdoor activities that you enjoy that a dog can’t come along for?
We love alpine and ice climbing — two activities where we unfortunately cannot bring Otto.
Are you doing any special training to prepare Otto for all of these adventures?
We’ve been slowly trying to get his paws adjusted to snow and rocks by exposing him to these elements a little at a time. We’ve also trained him to be comfortable inside a backpack so that we’re able to bring him with us on our longer adventures.
We’re currently trying to work on his endurance by taking him on multiple walks or hikes each day (daily mileage approved by our vet, of course!).
Has Otto gone camping yet?
Since it has been quite rainy and snowy in the pacific northwest this winter, the only camping Otto has experienced has been car camping. Matt and I find ourselves sleeping in the back of our Subaru nearly every weekend, so Otto has been “camping” with us ever since we brought him home.
Those who have followed you on Instagram for some time are familiar with Peanut and your heartbreaking loss last year. For those who are new to your story, can you give us some background on what happened?
Peanut was my best friend. He was a 7-year-old border collie that I found as a stray puppy back in college. Peanut was my adventure buddy who went everywhere with me: on long trail runs, kayaking trips, lengthy backpacking trips, and to the summit of multiple volcanoes.
I made a promise to Peanut that I would “never leave him behind,” and for 7 years, I tried my best to bring him everywhere with me – work, the trails, the mountains, and even while running errands.
We lost Peanut in a very sudden, traumatic way last summer and honestly, we’ve had a very difficult time recovering from that incident. While losing Peanut was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, we helped make the most out of his life with us every single day while he was on earth.
We promised Otto we’d do the same for him.
What was it like to incorporate a new adventure puppy into your active lifestyle? Were you concerned at all that Otto wouldn’t take to your activities?
To be honest, it has been a challenge at times! At first, Otto did not enjoy being outside. He was afraid of grass and wasn’t a huge fan of mud. But he immediately liked snow which was a good sign! We’ve done a lot of positive reinforcement training with him to get him used to the different elements and he’s been enjoying them all more and more.
Bringing a puppy into your active lifestyle can be challenging, and I don’t think a lot of people think about that specific component when looking to raise a puppy. Matt and I are both active people – we enjoy endurance activities that keep us outside in the mountains for the entirety of the day.
With a puppy, you have to make sure to allow time for naps and ample time for potty breaks because like babies, you can’t leave a puppy alone for very long. They require constant care!
They also don’t have the physical ability or endurance to go very far, which can severely limit your time spent outside. So, without a lot of modifications, patience and a lot of work, a long day in the mountains isn’t possible with a puppy.“Bringing a puppy into your active lifestyle can be challenging, and I don’t think a lot of people think about that specific component when looking to raise a puppy.” - Alex Borsuk Click To Tweet
What was Otto’s very first adventure in the outdoors? How did it go?
His very first adventure was a ski tour on Mt Hood. He was small enough at the time that he fit inside my jacket pocket. He sat inside my pocket throughout the entirety of the ski tour, occasionally waking up from his nap to stick his head out to see what was happening. It was probably pretty boring for him, but we had a blast showing him around our favorite place.
What is Otto’s favorite outdoor activity? What is his least favorite?
Otto loves anything to do with snow. He loves playing in it and especially loves licking it. I’d have to say skiing is his favorite because for him, it’s the best of both worlds: it’s a chance to hike and play around in the snow, but also a chance to get in a good nap while sitting inside my pack during our ski descent.
Otto’s least favorite activity has got to be going for walks in the city. He is afraid of loud trucks and construction noises (who can blame him!), which makes walking no fun.
“Puppies, especially Otto, are so silly and full of love, which reminds me to love and laugh a little harder every single day.”
As a nutritionist, you’re obviously very knowledgeable about the impact that diet has on energy for the many activities you love. Do you factor activity into Otto’s ‘adventure puppy’ diet as well? Or does he stick to a pretty typical puppy food diet?
Right now, he sticks to a pretty typical puppy diet. But like humans, dogs need extra nutrition and calories if they are active all day. For that reason, I always pack a lot of calorie-dense snacks, treats, and extra water for Otto when we know that we’re going to be outside and active all day. A block of cheese is always a good snack for humans and dogs to share!
What is it like to have such a popular pup? Do you and Otto get recognized out on the trails? How does he feel about the fame?
We do! People used to recognize my dog Peanut and refer to me as “Peanut’s Mom” while on the trails. Now, people are starting to recognize Otto and call me “Otto’s Mom.” It’s quite charming, and never ceases to make me blush and fumble my words.
Someone recognized him on Mt St. Helens when he was only 10 weeks old and we got a kick out of that! It’s funny, but lately we’ve been getting recognized on the trails at least twice every weekend. Otto LOVES people so I think he likes the fame – I mean, who wouldn’t love to get extra pets, treats, and lovin’ from other people?
Can you tell us about the #LiveLikePeanut hashtag? How are you applying this mindset to how you raise Otto?
After Peanut died, my friend Elena wrote a beautiful Instagram post about how Peanut inspired her to live her life a little more fully. I was flattered to read that Peanut affected someone else’s life in such a positive way – by encouraging her to include her dogs on more adventures, to love fully and with intention, and to be goofy and have fun, because life is too short. And that’s how the hashtag was born.
#LiveLikePeanut is a mindset that represents everything Peanut taught me during his time on earth, and it’s a reminder to live everyday to the fullest. He taught me to listen more than I talk, but when I talk, to speak with my heart. He taught me to enjoy the journey and never forget to play. To jump for joy and live in the moment. To look for the best in everyone and love fully and unconditionally. To be goofy and always make time to laugh and have fun. And to shower those I love with affection, whether I saw them 5 minutes or 5 days ago.
With Otto, we make it a priority to bring him everywhere we can. Life is too short not to spend it with those you love. Therefore, we make modifications in our activities, changes to our travel itineraries, and even arrange our after-work plans around him. He’s part of our family now so we make an effort to make his life the very best it can be every single day.
He reminds me to be grateful for every moment I get to spend with those I love, and to make time to play and enjoy the simple things in life, no matter what’s going on in my day.
Puppies, especially Otto, are so silly and full of love, which reminds me to love and laugh a little harder every single day.“Life is too short not to spend it with those you love.“ - Alex Borsuk Click To Tweet
By sharing your experiences with Otto on Instagram, what’s the main message that you hope to convey to your audience?
I hope that people can learn that with some planning and creativity, it is possible to bring your dog with you on your adventures. When you adopt a dog, you make the conscious decision to increase your family by 1. And adventures are ALWAYS better when the whole family can share them – it makes for some beautiful memories and a more fulfilling experience!
What is Otto’s favorite post-hike snack?
He loves cheese! Any kind – he’s not picky!
If Otto had a superhero power, what would it be?
I think his superhero power would be “invisibility” so that he could come with me to every restaurant and brewery and no one would even know he was there. He’d get to hang out with me AND eat the scraps off the floor, and never be worried about being kicked out because he is a dog!
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- Mount Saint Helens Camping, Cougar, WA