• Hiking With a Dog Considerations

    Hiking With a Dog Considerations
    By: Jim Thompson aka Superman/Winter GA>ME 2000

    1. Type of relationship you have with your dog
    2. Breed of dog
    3. Will the dog carry a pack
    4. Dog boots
    5. Is the dog fully socialized
    6. Entering shelters
    7. Water sources
    8. Food begging
    9. Dog stops eating
    10. Distance between you and dog
    11. Your dog as a surrogate
    12. Cows
    13. Sick dog
    14. Shake down dog hike
    15. Medical records
    16. Lost dog
    17. Hitchhiking with a dog

    1. The type of relationship you have with your dog, specifically does the dog follow your commands? Taking a couch potato pooch on a long hike is unsafe and unfair to everyone. Your dog should be your best friend and you will both be happier if it is trained, for what you are doing.

    2. Breed of dog? Winter is a white German shepherd. It seems to me that the closer to a wolf the dog is the better it hikes but there are many exceptions. Just as it is impossible to predict which person will complete the AT it is equally difficult to predict which dog will hike all the AT that it is allowed to.

    3. Will the dog accept carrying a pack…some just won’t? How much weight can a dog carry? It’s a matter of opinion. Some people say that dogs shouldn’t carry a pack while others say that a dog can carry up to a third of the dog’s body weight. Winter weighs about 70 lbs. She normally eats two cups of dry dog food per meal at breakfast and supper. On the AT, we re-supplied about every three days. The smallest bags of dry dog food I could find were four or five pounds. Some times, I put the extra dog food in our bounce box and other times I carried the extra weight. Winter never complained about her pack or the weight she carried.

    4. Dog boots. Winter did not need to wear dog boots on the AT. She has worn them in other situations. The key is to compliment the dog a lot when you put the boots on it. If you laugh at the dog boots, the dog will never wear them again. Don’t laugh.

    5. Is the dog fully socialized to both people and other animals (big issue)?
    A. I walked Winter through down town Brattleboro, VT so she would learn that she didn't have to react to each person she meets. Winter has also had plenty of time playing and hanging out with other dogs. Other hikers don't know that your dog is friendly and need assurance from both you and your dog. That also means no jumping up on another hiker or getting in his or her personal space with out being invited.
    B. We sat behind the house and just watched deer, fox, dogs, squirrels and chipmunks. Each time she wanted to go I would say, "stay" and hold her leash. I would give her the command "go" occasionally for chipmunks and squirrels which she has no chance of catching. These are important commands for the safety of your dog and the safety of the animals whose home you are hiking through.
    C. Hiking the AT with a dog is a lot of repetition. Day after day you do pretty much the same thing...sleep, eat, pack up, hike, snack, hike, lunch, hike, snack, eat, make camp, sleep. Even town stops develop a routine. Dog, rests, eats, watches animal planet, etc while person does chores and pigs out with pooch. Even meeting people along the trail gets into a routine of rapid-fire conversation in less than 5 minutes. Winter sat off to the side but let me know when it was time to hike on. When hikers would join us for multiple days, they were accepted as one of Winter's people and it was her job to keep track of us. I hesitate to mention that if you haven't finished training your dog before your hike there is plenty of repetition on the trail to finish it. That should not be taken as a substitute for training your dog before your hike.
    Winter came nose to nose with skunk and porcupine. They didn't bother Winter and Winter didn't bother them. Numerous times Winter walked over poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. They ignored Winter and Winter seemed to not notice them. On one occasion, I looked up as Winter was walking over a copperhead. I made an involuntary gasp and Winter walked back over the snake to see what I wanted. The snake simply moved off the trail. One time Winter walked up on a fawn that was laying down right on the edge of the AT. The fawn bolted right in front of Winter and Winter just watched it run off. On another incident, a black bear cub crossed about 10' in front of Winter. Winter leaned forward and her back hair stood up. I whispered, "Stay." Winter eased back and relaxed with the cub running in front of her. The momma bear was in the woods off to our right. I whispered, "Come" and we eased back in the direction we'd come. This is being socialized to other animals.
    Having said all that...the goal for me in training and socializing Winter was for her to not be overwhelmed by new situations.

    6. Automatic "stay" before entering shelters. Other hikers may like dogs but don't like wet dogs getting them and their gear wet or walked on. I avoid shelters as a rule. I carry a tent. Winter has always slept inside the tent with me. I sleep more at ease knowing that Winter is secure in the tent with me. Stealth camping is the best.

    7. Automatic stay at water sources. I like my dog but I don't want to drink from her water dish. To teach Winter to drink on command I used my hiking sticks. Every time we came to a non-people water source I blocked Winter with my sticks and said stay. I’d wait a minute and say, “drink” as I took the sticks away. It didn’t take long and Winter would wait for me to say, “drink.” When the water source was for only humans Winter would wait long enough for me to get out her bowl and give her water from my nalgene. Some water sources were simply bad looking and not a good place for Winter or anyone to drink from.
    A word of caution is that if you and your dog hike with someone’s dog that just runs up and starts drinking, like Winter, your dog is likely to figure it is ok to drink. When we resumed hiking alone Winter resumed waiting to drink.

    8. Food begging is not allowed at home but so many hikers want to give dogs a piece of cheese, meat, bone, chocolate or what ever, that it is an issue. On the one hand, some hikers assume they can give any dog anything. While other hikers are bothered by begging dogs. I haven't found a good answer to this problem except to be vigilant.

    9. It is not uncommon for dogs to stop eating on a long hike. I do the same thing only not as much as Winter. I carried sardines, tuna fish, beef jerky and other treats to get her eating. She and I shared the treats.

    10. Distance between you and your dog may vary due to terrain but the rule of thumb is that you should be able to see your dog. You can't possibly control or protect your dog if you can't see it.

    11. Other hikers who left their dogs at home will play with your dog as a surrogate. Unfortunately, what they do with their dog may not be appropriate for your dog. I didn’t appreciate or allow Winter to be played with roughly or to get over agitated. Both you and your dog will have a better hike if you train your dog for the trail. All of the things listed above are easy to learn due to the repetition of these events on the trail. You simply have to be consistent in what you expect from your dog. You get to hold the leash so that means you're the one to be in charge.

    12. When Winter and I started going through fields with cows the cows saw Winter as a threat. They were actually coming after her. To hide Winter tucked in right up close behind me. It was amazing in that it was as if Winter had become invisible to them. The cows just ignored us and went back to grazing.

    13. How will I know when or if my dog is sick on the trail? It is normal and ok for your dog to lose some extra weight and look lean. The same thing will happen to you if you keep hiking. Spending 24/7 with your dog you will become a tuned to its behavior as your dog will get to yours. A vet tech. told me to watch for a change in behavior. If it happens, you will know and there are veterinarians all along the AT. Winter became sluggish and sad looking because her veterinarian gave her medicine that didn’t protect her from ticks. She got Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It was completely unnecessary but it was immediately obvious that she was sick and she was quickly and successfully treated. I carried super glue and Neosporin in case Winter was injured. I wound up using the Neosporin on my chafing and the super glue broke in my pack sticking a lot of stuff together in my ditty bag.

    14. Medical records. Your veterinarian can give you a print out of your dog’s medical records. You should keep a copy of the dog’s medical records with you. Winter carried hers in her pack in a sealed plastic bag. Make sure that you impress on your veterinarian that he or she understands that your dog needs protection for what it will encounter from Georgia to Maine.

    15. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is considering taking his or her dog on a thru hike to try a tune up hike first. Start doing over night hikes with your dog and build up to at least a couple weeks long. That will show you if the dog really wants to hike, how it will behave on a trail, how it will behave on re-supplies, etc. I started by taking Winter on over night hikes on the Long Trail and we hiked the Long Trail in "99." I felt that she was fully trained for the AT in 2000.

    16. Lost dog. I had the veterinarian implant a chip in Winter’s back. She also wears a collar with her town dog license that also gives her state. Anyone could call our town and get our contact information. Winter also wears a rabies tag that has her veterinarian’s phone number on it.

    17. Hitchhiking with a dog. Don’t worry about it. People who wouldn’t pick me up if I were hitchhiking alone will give me a ride because of having Winter with me.

    Hiking the AT was left over old business that I wanted to get done. I almost hiked it in “68” when I came home from Vietnam but I married my ex-wife instead. My sons had moved away and were on there own. I found that I had some money, the time and the desire. When I was about 7 years old I was riding my bike and a German shepherd jumped me off my bike and chewed on my back. The last thing in the world that I would get would be a German shepherd. About 11 years ago, I was driving down my road and there was a white ball of fur in the road. I stopped to see what it was ...it was a 5-week-old puppy. She couldn't walk, she was skin and bones and her ears were packed with yuk. I unsuccessfully looked for the owner so I took it home. I did not intend to have another dog at that time. I had things to do and they didn't include a dog. I'd previously had other dogs that I would not have wanted to hike, canoe or travel with. Not that they were bad dogs but they just weren't suited for those activities. It turned out that the dog was a white German shepherd that liked doing what ever I was doing. So, I thought about what I needed Winter to be in order to hike the AT. Before I hiked the LT or AT I looked on line for any "how to" help but all I got was the anti-dog flaming on Wingfoot's site. Winter and I had to figure most of it out for ourselves. Wingfoot's site was useful in hearing what people objected to the most about dogs on the trail. The anti-dog rants don't do anything constructive or instructive. Taking the flame out of the information the objections that people have are as follows:
    1. safety/invasion of space for their person and their gear
    2. Shelter concerns with a dog
    3. Water source concerns
    If you deal with just these issues you will have a very positive hike. IMHO, the people who ask questions about how to hike with a dog are not apt to be the problem people. The people who simply don't care how their dog acts and don't ask for information are more apt to be a problem on the trail. Hiking is not just taking your dog to the woods and walking. It is serious business for many reasons and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I agree, to an extent, with many anti-dog people who think dogs should not be allowed on the trail. Untrained dogs and their indifferent owners should not be allowed on the trail. I was snapped at and the owner simply said, "That’s just what dogs do." I said, "No, that's just what untrained dogs do."


    --Jim Thompson aka Superman/Winter GA>ME 2000 aptrailhiker@aol.com
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