As you get ready to venture onto the trail with your dog remember what you’re out there for. The trails are a place to reconnect with nature, to enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise. A place to encounter wildlife, pick up ticks, and get dirty. IF you or your dog do not enjoy these things you are probably in the wrong place.
Does your dog enjoy hiking?
Something to consider before you get too far into your adventure. I have been lucky enough to have adventurous dogs both past and present. A pooch who is happy on the trail will make all the difference. They will look forward to the next bend in the trail just as much as you will. Summiting a mountain and catching all the scents being carried to them on the cooling breeze. A dog who gets excited when they see the tent being pitched or packed is one for the woods.
Is your dog physically able?
I’m not questioning the size of your dog. I don’t care if you have an 8 pound Chihuahua or a 180 pound English Mastiff. My question is, is your dog physically in shape. Choose a hike accordingly. If your 8 pound Chihuahua wants to, and is able to, carry a pack then by all means strap two pounds of hotdog to them for a snack later on. I am talking about the real issues: Age, injury, illness. These are things to consider. Is your dog to old? To young? Dogs under a year should have less strain and physical demands put on their joints and bones as they are growing. I’m not saying don’t take them out for a hike but be smart. Don’t load them up with a pack with too much weight (more then 50% their body weight, I’ll talk more about pack weight in gear) or take them for extended hikes (the AT). In the same respect think about how an older dog will handle the trails. Are their joints in good condition. Are they at a healthy weight. Think about that last question hard. Our view of perceived healthy weight and the truth of it are usually two different things. This link gives one of the best outlines for measuring healthy weight
If your dog has a history of illness take that into consideration. Lyme disease is common in areas with a high concentration of Deer ticks. Many dogs test positive although it may lay dormant in their body. When it surfaces, physical symptoms may be: lameness, joint soreness, lethargy, and lack of appetite along with other symptoms. These symptoms may show up for 3 or 4 days at a time and then vanish. If out on an extended hike you may not associate lameness with illness but instead as a repercussion of the exertion of the hike. Left untreated Lyme can cause kidney or even nerve damage. Remember your dog is your responsibility. They rely on you to make the right choices for them and care for them.
Here is the reason to consider those things~
I had the most amazing dog growing up. His name was Solstice and he was a mix of who knows what, but I always claimed he was Pitbull, Rottweiler, and Shepard. Made him seem like a total bundle of badass (which he was). He was 45 pounds of pure muscle and love. I took him everywhere with me. Hiking, swimming, rollerblading, horseback riding. If I was off on an adventure so was he. This was true from the time he was 3 months old until he was 13 years old.
It was one of those days, the air was hot and stifling, a thick blanket of humidity covering every inch of your body. It was a day for swimming. I packed my car up with towels and my dog, called up my friends and headed out to our favorite swimming hole. The best part about this place was the island about a third of a mile out into the pond. We headed for the island, Sol’ swimming along side, no problem keeping up. We were just past the halfway mark to the island. I rolled over onto my back to take a moment and just appreciate the water and the sun, to look up into the sky and watch the clouds. I’d only just turned over when Sol’ attempted to climb over me erasing the sense of calm. He was struggling. Exhausted. Unwilling to leave my side. I had just led my dog to his death. This dog who had followed me anywhere for 12 years and was still following me, but he just didn’t have it in him. To turn around was pointless, the distance back was about the same as if we continued. I battled with ideas, trying to find a solution. How to keep my muscle bound dog above the water and get us BOTH safely to a shore. The bond between us was so strong, it was obvious he trusted me with his life. I called him to me as I floated on my back and I invited him to climb partway up onto me. I started swimming, slowly moving along and allowing him to “hitch” a ride. He would take breaks using me as a docking station while he regained his energy and then he’d swim along side me. It didn’t matter if I was on my back or stomach I’d feel him sneak up alongside than rest his front paws on my shoulders so that he’d be dragged along, a turtle propped on my back. That day he became known as “Super Dog”.
One of the single most terrifying moments of my life, when I believed I’d sentenced him to death. I had not taken into consideration the physical ability of my dog. The year before he had contracted Lyme disease and I wasn’t aware of how much of a toll it had taken on his body. He lived another 3 years. They were tough years as he lost his sight and hearing, he was arthritic down to his toes. Our joint adventures stopped as he enjoyed sun bathing and relaxing for his final years.
Are dogs allowed where you’re going?
In my mind dogs should be allowed everywhere; on buses, at work, on every trail and every mountain, even in restaurants. And then I pause and think realistically. My dog, Star, would not survive if I brought her to those places. She hasn’t had a bath in almost two years so I know I shouldn’t have her near food. She would probably pee in the bus. oh, not true. She would release her anal glands. A much more embarrassing and horrific experience for all involved. She would be grumbling at every person who came through the door at work. Yeah, needless to say my dog shouldn’t be in all those places. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t do great on the trail. Star is amazing on the trail. She enjoys meeting people and dogs. Seeing the sights and smelling EVERYTHING. She tends to stick to the trails but then again she does have this uncanny teleporting skill. One moment she’ll be on the trail ahead of us and the next I hear her behind me. Little Miss Stealth who uses the trees and undergrowth to her advantage of moving unseen off trail. And it is for this reason that some places ask that dogs not be brought into them.
National Parks usually fall into the category, dog free zone. It may be hard to understand that your dog may damage the ecosystem but when you realize everyone else and their dog is also out doing the same thing, you start to realize just how large an impact the dogs can have on the environment. Parts of the AT are off limits to dogs. The Smoky Mountain National Forest in NC, a 5 mile stretch in NY and last and most painful, Baxter Park where the completion of the trail and everything you’ve been through comes to an end as you summit Katahdin, without your dog. In NC there are Kennels who will pick up and care for your dog while you are in the National Forest and then return them to you after (I’m sure you’ll hear more about them as I learn more).
Many trails will list they are dog friendly and to please keep your dog leashed. Carry in carry out (poop). Respect their wishes. There are many different reasons they may be asking you to keep your dog leashed. Maybe it’s a breeding ground for an endangered bird, or the undergrowth is fragile. If you want more info about hiking areas check out “Best Hikes with dogs” http://besthikeswithdogs.com/best-hikes-with-dogs-guidebooks/ . They rate trails based on terrain and how it can effect your dog. Is the trail dog friendly but not a good choice because the terrain is risky to your dog; sharp rocks, steep climbs, ladders.
No matter where you go or what you do remember to have fun and be safe!
to be continued…