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Planning Stages: Canine Companion Part 5; hazards cont’d

Environmental hazards cont’d
Water borne illness
While hiking most people filter or treat their water in one way or another before drinking or cooking with it. If you are planning to treat your water, do so in a way which is dog friendly. Dogs, just like people, can contract Giardia . Giardia can be contracted through infected water, soil, or direct contact with fecal matter. This parasite can wreck havoc on ones digestive system: diarrhea, bloating, cramping, nausea, and vomiting. It seems there are MANY different strains of this parasite and not all pass between species. Another water borne illness is Leptospirosis . This bacteria is most often found in warm, humid areas and stagnant water, such as ponds. Dogs with a higher likelihood of coming in contact with wild animals or urine have an increased chance of contracting this disease. BAD news is it can be passed from animal to human. Symptoms may not be immediately present or may surface and then lay dormant. Symptoms may include, fever, joint and muscle soreness, vomiting, decreased appetite, discharge from eyes and nose, and possible frequent urination. This disease attacks the kidneys, untreated it can do permanent damage. Treat your dogs water and reduce the chance of introducing the parasite to the body.

I don't see any dirt...

I don’t see any dirt… If she cleans her own legs she increases the risk of contracting a disease


Dog related illness
Diseases are ever present in our life, when we have the ability to reduce the risks there is no reason not to. I have never had my dog treated for Kennel Cough but before we leave for the trail it will be one of the shots she gets.   This will provide her with a defense in case we meet other dogs who are positive for it.  Many kennels and boarding facilities also require dogs to be immunized against it, if unexpected dog care is needed it’s one less thing to worry about. I’d rather deal with this respiratory disease preventively then have her come down with a hacking cough that is highly contagious to other dogs.

When dogs get close  -  Sharing is caring some things shouldn't be shared

When dogs get close – Sharing is caring
some things shouldn’t be shared


Weather Hazards
Weather effects dogs just as it effects people. If you get caught in a snow storm you’ll want to be sure you have the proper gear to keep both yourself and your dog safe and warm. Dogs may originate from wild animals but they have been bred to fit specific needs, transported across the world to new environments where their genetic design doesn’t mesh with the climate. With no warning of where they are going they don’t pack the proper coat and are often improperly dressed. If you are hiking through snow with a Jack Russell or some other wirehaired breed, I hope you have a coat for them. They don’t have the undercoat which provides them with insulation against the cold. If your dog is shivering than they are in the beginning stages of hypothermia, just like a person. A dog’s normal temperature is between 100-102°F, if it is below 95°F for an extended period of time you run the risk of long term organ damage.
Warming a dog on the trail may seem like a difficult task. Dogs and humans alike need to have their body temperature brought up gradually. The first necessity is shelter of some sort where they can seek warmth away from wind. If being wet is part of the equation than drying them the best you can is a must. Wrap them in a dry blanket, space blankets are perfect for redirecting heat back to the source. Heat water and place it in a water bottle WRAP IT in fabric and place it near the body, under the legs against the belly is a good place, be sure it won’t burn. Provide warm water for them, adding sugar or broth of some sort may entice them to drink. If they won’t drink don’t force them. Be aware, hypothermia and frostbite can go hand in hand. Look for signs of frostbite, the most common places on dogs are the: ears, tail, pads of feet and scrotum. The skin will appear pale white or blue. As circulation returns it may become red and swollen, skin may even peel off. Due to lack of blood flow through damaged tissue the area will turn black and may eventually fall off. Do NOT attempt to rub or massage frostbite area to bring warmth back to it, instead use warm compresses. If EITHER of these, hypothermia or frostbite, occurs you should seek medical attention for your dog (or you).

This pup was designed for snow!

This pup was designed for snow!

Maybe snow isn’t a problem for you, instead you’re plowing along with horse flies buzzing you and wishing the temperatures would dip below freezing. Your dog may be thinking the same thing in between their attempts to eat the flies dive bombing their head. Dogs run a higher risk than people for hyperthermia, overheating. Dogs do not sweat, their main method of cooling their body is to pant. The lining of their lungs act, just as our skin does, as a surface to evaporate and carry warm moist air away from their body. Dogs with short faces have a harder time breathing and therefore more difficulty bringing their temperature down. Some dogs will naturally try to cool their body by seeking shade or laying in water, encourage your dog to do these things. If your dog is carrying a pack or has some sort of layer on their body that may be trapping heat be sure to remove it. Dogs who are overheating may be: panting heavily, acting sluggish or confused, be looking for shade or a cool place, gums may appear red or blue, may vomit or have a seizure. If their core temperature goes too high the possibility of permanent damage or death is present. Normal temperature is ~ 100 – 102°F, if their body temperature rises to 105 – 106°F heat exhaustion is a possibility, above that you are looking at heat stroke with can lead to brain damage or death.
Bringing the body temperature down gradually is very important. Get your dog into a shaded area. Pour cool water over their body, DO NOT submerge them in cold water as this may shock their system and cause blood vessels to contract making it more difficult for them to cool themselves. Pay attention to their feet and underbody as a means to cool them. Offer them cool water to drink, you may add an electrolyte solution* into the water to help them recover. Talk with your vet about appropriate amount of electrolyte for your specific animal. If your dog has suffered heatstroke take them to a vet. Although they may not be showing any discomfort they may have internal damage.

Star is notorious for digging finding comfort in a newly dug hole.

Star is notorious for digging and than finding comfort in the newly dug hole.

*Homemade Electrolyte Solution for dogs
1 Quart clean water (chlorine free)
1 Tablespoon Sugar or Honey
1 Teaspoon Salt

Having a premade mixture of sugar and salt in your first aid kit is an easy way to have electrolytes on hand for your dog


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Planning Stages: Canine Companion Part 4; Dog accommodations? What are hazards?

A couple days ago the weather had me thinking really, really hard about what a day on the trail might be like when it ends by climbing into a tent. Granted it was the smell which hit me first as I opened my car door and my drenched pup looked at me, pleading to stay in the car where she wouldn’t have to get her toes wet again, she can be such a little princess when it comes to her toes. I wasn’t concerned whether or not she had enjoyed our hike in the rain, her running, frolicking and puppy grin had already answered any concerns I had. Instead it got me thinking of what it would be like to have an overnight and how would I deal with wet dog. rain storm
What special accommodations do you need?
Depending on the trip this could be anything from sleeping accommodations to boarding or shuttle services. Lets start small and work our way up.
You’re headed out on the trail for a couple nights and want to be sure your dog is going to be comfortable. Everyone will have their own preference for how they set their pup up for bunking down. Some believe dogs, like wolves, are designed to sleep outside on the ground. Dogs aren’t wolves. Unless you have raised your dog outdoors and they understand how to settle in where they will stay warm, dry, and safe please provide them with what they need. That doesn’t mean bring the bed. But do provide them with a space where they will be safe and comfortable.

A comfortable place is important

A comfortable place is important

As I look at hiking the AT there are considerations I have to make, not for my dog but for the other hikers. During my research I discovered that dogs sleeping in shelters is not looked kindly upon. Yes, you can ask if people mind having a dog in the shelter but remember you are putting them in a position where they may feel pressured to be polite, especially if no one else minds. Instead pack accordingly. Plan to have either shelter for you and your dog or something for your dog. My personal preference is to share a tent with my pup. I may regret this after we hit the first big rain storm. My dog has the wettest wet dog smell ever!!! After just 15 minutes in a car everything stank of wet mutt. Now imagine climbing into a tent after a long day in the rain. You stink, they stink, your tent stinks!
Dog friendly accommodations
Some hostels along the AT allow dogs, just as some hotels do. But you can’t rely on this being the case. You need to be ready to bunk down with your pup if necessary. Dogs are allowed on almost all of the AT, but there are three sections of the trail where you cannot take them. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park through Tennessee and North Carolina is about a seven day hike. During which time you’ll need to have accommodations set up for your dog. Whether you know someone in the area who can take your dog for the week or you reach out to one of the shuttle and boarding kennels in the area. Current cost runs between $240-$300 for shuttle and kennel stay. I have contacted Standing Bear Farm via email and spoke briefly with Curtis, what an amazing resource he is.  If you are planning a trip along the AT with or without a dog I would recommend checking out the hostel and the people.
Standing Bear Farm Hiker Hostel: http://www.standingbearfarm.com
Loving Care Kennels: http://www.lovingcarekennels.net
If you are leaving your dog with a kennel get in touch with them and find out what paperwork you need to have with you.
Bear Mountain State Park Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center in New York is another place where you can’t hike with you pup. This is a small section and there is an option to hike around via a road walk on U.S. 9W.
The third and final place where you are unable to take a dog is Baxter State Park in Maine. This means if you are hiking North Bound (NOBO) that you cannot peak out on Katahdin with your dog. For me this is the most heart breaking. If Star and I have truly made it all the way from GA to ME there is nothing more I would like to do then to take my final steps on the trail with her. Who knows maybe in a year they will allow AT dogs to hike the final steps. The hike through Baxter takes 2-3 days. Options are to kennel your dog or have a friend or family member meet you before you enter the park and take the dog. Many of the hotels in the area allow dogs for a small fee.
Yup keeping a dog happy on the trail isn’t all simple solutions of give them some food and call it a day. Planning is in order.

And since we are having such fun talking about sharing space with your pup let’s get into the truly friendly stuff. Dogs like to collect things. Maybe it’s a dead animal they just couldn’t resist rolling in, the ticks they gathered just for you, or maybe the giardia from the untreated water. Let’s take a moment and think about these things.

Tasty crunchy dead wild thing!

Tasty crunchy dead wild thing!

What are the environmental hazards?
Dogs are susceptible to many of the same illnesses and diseases that humans are.  Dogs are able to contract diseases through ticks, mosquitoes, animals, and water. Dogs are also effected by the weather.

Tick borne illnesses
Some of the known tick borne diseases are, Lyme, Anaplasmosis, Hepatozoonosis, Babesiosis, and Ehrlichiosis.  These diseases are transferred from either deer ticks or dog ticks.  Lyme is the one most often heard about but all of these are present and can cause harm to your dog and some may be passable to you. Reduce the risk of ticks by treating your dog and yourself with repellant and doing frequent tick checks.  Carry a flea comb with you as a way to check for creepy crawlies.

Deer ticks are tiny!

Deer ticks are tiny!


Insect borne illness
Next most aggravating and pesky issue is the mosquito. Not only are mosquitoes extremely annoying due to their itchy bite and extensive buzzing! But more important than how they annoy us is how they can be dangerous. Mosquitoes can infect a dog with heartworms. Being ahead of the mosquitoes is the way to go here. Doing preventative treatment is much less costly than treating after the fact. Heartworms like to breed and grow in the heart and lungs and can cut off blood supply to your dogs brain. Symptoms show up as the worms take up more space in the heart and lungs making it difficult to breath or circulate blood. Treatment is very costly and the dog must be kept calm while the worms die and clear out of their system.

Star bundled against the mosquitoes.

Star bundled against the mosquitoes.


Other critter dangers
Next up on the food chain are the animals which your dog might interact with. These may be anything from snakes to bears. Remember dogs are instinctual animals, the idea of investigating an exciting smell will probably outrank anything you can offer them. Star lives by her curiosity and this has definitely lead to some interesting situations. Snakes are fascinating to her, they slide along the ground vanishing into holes or under logs, they leave a fabulous scent trail and are totally unpredictable. Star loves hunting them! For me, in NH, this doesn’t raise any red flags as there aren’t poisonous snakes in the area. But once we hit the AT the curiosity could kill her. Rattle snakes, Cottonmouths, and Water Moccasins are all prevalent on the southern end of the AT.  I have allowed Star to investigate snakes because I’d rather she see them than be so curious I can’t call her away from them. You should consider what would work best for your dog.
Knowing the terrain and what things are present will be important. If you store any gear outside your tent be sure to check it before putting it on or handling it. Again the Southern states provide us with delectable poisonous spiders. Not one but two! Black Widows and Brown Recluses are known to call it home in the mountains.
Now I don’t know if I should consider it a blessing or a curse that Star is curious but cautious. She wants to know about the other animals in the world but at her own pace, no racing into the path of danger, instead she just prods it.  At any point she could run into a raccoon, skunk, or porcupine. Each of these animals are hazardous in their own way. All can carry rabies, skunks stink, and I personally don’t want to be on the trail with a skunked dog, and porcupines, well that’s just obvious.  Quills although they may seem a small inconvenience while near a town could be extremely dangerous on the trail.  A dog whose mouth is full of quills runs the risk of infection, dehydration, and other serious side effects.  Getting them to a vet becomes a priority.

"It was just a little poke mom!"

“It was just a little poke mom!”

Anytime your dog is interacting with wild animals they are putting themselves and possibly you in danger. Dogs should not be chasing animals. A dog distracted by a small animal could get caught up and distracted by a new and more interesting smell. What started as chipmunk chase could end as a bear cub meet and greet or a wild run through the woods after a deer. These are opportunities for injury.

Will continue this post at a later time. Need to get away from fact finding and enjoy the present time!


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Planning Stages: Canine Companion Part 3; Is your dog friendly? What do they need on trail? Everyone poops.

I want to quickly revisit my last blog. Having just spoken to the importance of knowing your dog and if they are battling illness, Star is being treated for Lyme. She’d tested positive in the past for Lyme and therefore we currently opted out of running the panel. We made the decision to treat due to physical symptoms, as minor as they were at the time. She was lame on her backend, lethargic with NO interest in going to the woods, and she had a slight temperature. Within two days of starting treatment she was back to her old self!

Showing of her new pack! Mt. Major Alton NH

Showing of her new pack!
Mt. Major Alton NH


Since Star is back on her game and we’re headed to the trails let’s cover a little more of trail protocol and what your dog needs.
Does your dog play well with others?
As you move along the trails you will likely encounter other people and dogs. Dogs, just like people, have a complex social language ranging from vocal cues to body language. And just like people they will not like everyone they meet. The more you can understand about dogs and their interactions the better prepared you will be to handle both your companion and anyone else’s you may meet along the way. Because it is so complex I don’t feel I can appropriately explain it but I found a website through the ASPCA which has a good outline that shows interactions between dogs.
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/canine-body-language
What are their bodies saying?

What are their bodies saying?


Interactions can change depending on the situation. Some dogs may feel trapped by being on a leash and therefore their behavior becomes more reactive or even aggressive. Get permission for you or your dog to approach others. Too often I have had dogs run up to Star and cause her to go into a defensive position. In general my dog in non-aggressive but when she feels cornered or threatened she will defend herself. I have spent so much time with her that I often know before she even meets a dog what her response will be. She is a bit prejudice; German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and a couple other breeds are an immediate switch for her and I do my best to keep her away from them as they make her nervous. There is a great idea out there called The Yellow Dog Project which uses a yellow ribbon on your dogs leash to mark it as a nervous, shy, sick, reactive, aggressive, excitable or new to the handler. If you see a dog with a yellow ribbon on it’s leash please DO NOT approach without permission from the owner. https://www.facebook.com/TheYellowDogProject
https://www.yellowdogproject.com
It’s not always other dogs on the trail which you should be aware of but people. Remember just because you enjoy snuggling with your muddy buddy not everyone else enjoys it. I personally love MY dog, but I don’t appreciate dogs who jump on me, lean their wet body against me or lick me. Respect other people and their preferences and keep track of your pup.
playful or aggressive?

playful or aggressive?


What does your dog need on the trail?
This will vary depending on the length of your trip, weather, and your dog. I tend to plan for my dog just as I would for myself. I consider what they need to stay energized, safe, hydrated, comfortable, and entertained. There are some items which are necessary whether planning for a day or a year. Bring a leash, some extra water and a small bowl, treats, a bear bell, and a simple first aid kit. A first aid kit for a dog is almost identical to your own, pack smart and bring a universal kit. If you are looking for a basic outline for items in the first aid kit check out these sites:
http://vetmedicine.about.com/od/veterinaryqa/f/FirstAidKits.htm
http://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/gun-dogs/2013/05/dog-first-aid-kits-meds-and-wound-treatment
http://dogblog.ruffwear.net/2009/10/21/make-your-own-canine-first-aid-kit/
As you get into longer hikes you may want to bring the comfort items with you as well. These may include a favorite toy or a place for them to lay down and snuggle in. Than there are the items which make you more comfortable. Star enjoys rocking out her hunter orange Track Jacket which allows me to see her when she’s meandering through the brush. For multi day hikes I pack an ultra light towel for her as well. I’d rather a slightly damp dog than one dripping all over my gear. IMG_1710E
Nutrition is a very in depth discussion which I’ll be covering later. But for now the basic info on how to pack. You should bring the proper food for an active dog. With extended hiking your dogs needs will increase. A dog who has enjoyed the winter sunbathing on the couch will not adapt well to the trails if their food intake remains the same. Plan enough food for your time out and than throw an extra meal in just incase. Pre-packing their food can be very beneficial. Either ziplock or vacuum sealing meal portions will reduce the risk of having large quantities of food spoil if it gets wet.
Having your dog carry their own pack is a great idea. There are many companies which make packs designed just for dogs. I tend to use RUFFWEAR* gear, I like their designs and their customer service is outstanding. Although many dogs were bred and raised as working animals their bodies are not designed to be load bearing. A dog should only carry between 15-30% of their weight. My beast of a dog weighs in at a whooping 38 lbs on a heavy day, her top load limit would be 11 lbs. I can’t imagine ever putting a full load on her because she is such a dainty girl, and she expects to be treated as such. Fill your dogs pack accordingly, you know what your pooch is capable of.
Are you willing to pick up after your dog?
Speaking of what your dog is capable of… Dogs poop! When out hiking be willing to either carry your dogs poop out of the woods with you or treat it as human waste and bury it 6-8″ deep and at least 200′ from trails, camps, and waterways.
yes it's poop on a stick... sometime you have to think outside the box to clean up.

yes it’s poop on a stick… sometime you have to think outside the box to clean up.

**In no way do I benefit from the mention of any companies on my blog, I speak from my own personal experience**


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Let the training begin!

If you’re going for a day hike be sure you make it happen on a beautiful day. I did. I’d spent the past week talking with my friend and planning this hike. It was to be the hike of all hikes. Mount Major was calling my name! Now this is one serious hike, all 1,800 feet. It takes a grand total of 2 1/2 hours to hike up and down this “mountain”. But we were going a little crazy and decided to drag the hike out by taking a slightly longer trail up and to chill at the summit where we would enjoy a true “backpacker” lunch.

Mount Major summit

Mount Major summit


This was a truly momentous hike for me. It would be the first time, since ACL surgery 10 months ago, that I would actually be doing any amount of vertical walking. I geared myself out making sure I had all the proper provisions. I had my very serious football player knee brace on, good footwear, and my trekking poles. I was determined. We loaded up our dogs with their own stash of water and strapped on our packs. The heaviest part of my pack was the 2L of water and my camera with multiple lenses. We were ready for the mountain.

**This was also a very important hike for Star! She has been running hard in an attempt to raise funds for a local school, The Birchtree Center, for youth with autism. She knows how much I adore one of the students (I work at home with them) and wants to make sure these kids get as many opportunities as possible. She’d love to have any support in meeting her goal!
Check out her page at http://birchtreecenter.dojiggy.com/ng/index.cfm/a522f7a/regPages/pledge/STARSADVENTURE/
Now back to our regularly scheduled program!!!**

Not a mile into the hike and I was questioning myself. Was I really ready for this? Was I pushing to do this a little too soon? Questions I took in stride, literally. My knee was doing great, just the occasional reminder that I didn’t have all the meniscus I’d been born with. So what was my downfall? It was the permanent divot in the couch which fit the curves of my ass perfectly. After almost a year of kicking back and taking it easy while I slowly built the muscle back up in my leg and moved past the worst of the pain I had no cardio endurance. Yup, that 50 foot rise we just climbed completely winded me. I felt like a fish out of water. I tried to be casual about the lack of air making it into my lungs. I’m sure my breathless banter and attempt at laughing didn’t help and even if my friend hadn’t picked up on the open mouth gasping I’m sure my cherry red face gave it away.

When you are a fish out of water take a moment and find yourself - I pulled out my camera and took this picture as an excuse to regain my breath

When you are a fish out of water take a moment and find yourself – I pulled out my camera and took this picture as an excuse to regain my breath


Multiple breaks along the way made it possible to move forward slowly and steadily. We bumped into a number of other hikers and enjoyed brief conversations with them. Talking about our furry hiking companions, the trail or their music. Please feel free to judge me for my next comment. KEEP YOUR MUSIC TO YOURSELF! I don’t mind music. I don’t mind Maroon 5. I do mind the lack of courtesy. When in the woods, hiking, bring earbuds or something of the sort. Blaring it from your iPod with static filled speakers on a busy trail is a no go. Listen to your music but don’t force it on others. Had I been thinking fast enough, and had air to spare, I would have busted out at the top of my lungs, singing off key (it’s the only way I can sing) “This is the song that never ends”. Instead we hiked faster to put distance between us and the noise pollution. Upon reaching the summit we caught up with some other hikers who were enjoying the view. And then it happened. Music. Blaring in my right ear. The guy had stopped directly next to me, joining into the conversation. I turned to him and with as much courtesy as I could muster yelled over the music ” can you please turn it down?” I don’t think I’ve offended someone so badly in quite some time. Guess I was destined to be The Ass of the Mountain.

IMG_9673E copy
Having summited we made our way over to an edge and settled down to enjoy our meal. Out came the GORP, apples and cheese. For a day hike these are staples, don’t leave home without them. We enjoyed the beauty spread before us. We looked out over Alton Bay, allowed the cool breeze to dry the sweat from our brows, and munched our food contentedly. The dogs meandered around checking out all the smells and finding wondrous things to eat. My dog, Star, has never had an issue with eating. Just about anything food-like is welcomed into her system. Last year she’d gorged herself on corn cobs she found on this summit and then spent the next day expelling them from her body. I kept a close eye on her this time, I wasn’t game for a repeat performance.

We wrapped up our lunch and set about doing photo shoots with the pups, because that’s what we do. Star and Tamarak did their best to look adorable and photo bomb each other at any and all opportunities. Then it was time to head down. The hike to the base was a bit of a workout as we’d decided to take the steep route down. My good leg got the workout of its life. Gentle step-downs full of control so I could place my other leg carefully. I must say I felt like Popeye on one side, muscles popping and defined as I clambered down the rocks.

Group shots are not always productive - Tamarak and Star

Group shots are not always productive – Tamarak and Star


We had almost made it to the end of the trail when nature called (guys you may opt out of this paragraph if you want but than again there could be some good info for lady friends of yours). It wasn’t anything serious, just the inkling that I had to pee. I could of held out until we hit up a gas station. BUT there was no way I was going to pass up on my first backwoods opportunity to use my pStyle! Ladies peeing in the woods isn’t something I detest but I’m sure you can understand the annoyance of having to prepare for it. The removal of your pack so you don’t fall over backwards, finding something to duck behind so you don’t provide a full moon midday, making sure you have your pants and undergarments out of the way so you don’t pee on them, and keeping the splash from coating your shoes. Needless to say it’s a process and one I don’t look forward to. Today was different. Giggling like a school girl I cut off trail, I only went about 15 feet. With my back to the trail I pulled my pStyle out of the side pocket of my pack, which was still on my back. I unzipped my pants and used my handy dandy “pee funnel” to stand there and empty my bladder. Now I had read about the joy and ease of using these in the woods but I was still a little apprehensive about just how convenient it would be. Well, NEVER AGAIN will I bare my ass to the cold air or pricker bushes. I finished up, zipped up and rinsed it off before putting it back in its bag and off we went.

sometimes you just have to let go!

sometimes you just have to let go!


We had a wonderful day out and I completed my first hike of the year! Having had such a great time testing out my new ACL we made plans for another “killer” hike and ventured out less then a week later. We hiked up Blue Job, a whopping 1,300 feet, and made another afternoon of food and photos.

Looking out from Blue Job mountain summit

Looking out from Blue Job mountain summit


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Planning Stages: Canine Companion Part 2; Is your pup happy? Ready? Allowed?

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.

Sometimes you find yourself in the wrong place!

Sometimes you find yourself 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

Click to access AdultBodyCondChart.pdf


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.

Solstice at 2 months old

Solstice at 2 months old

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.

Solstice giving a "play bow" with his favorite toy 11 years old

Solstice giving a “play bow” with his favorite toy
11 years old

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.

Some places are meant to be explored

Some places are meant to be explored

No matter where you go or what you do remember to have fun and be safe!

to be continued…


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Planning stages: Canine companion Part 1

The moment when you first feel inspired to go do the unthinkable is breathtaking, you have it all under control until you realize planning was not included in the moment. I announced my intentions of hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) well before I had done any REAL research or planning. Did I know what the AT was? Of course I did. Or so I thought.

With a year to go before I will make my way up Springer Mountain in GA I have plenty of time to start planning. There are some BIG things to be planned. I am not the only one undertaking this experience, although I am the only one doing it by choice. I will be taking my trusty sidekick and companion Star along for the trip. A young pup with a sense of adventure. Star was rescued along with her siblings from a shelter in Arkansas and made her way up to NH where I saw her adorable face staring at me through her web profile. Love at first sight!

A face worth loving! Star at 4 1/2 months old.

A face worth loving!
Star at 4 1/2 months old.


For anyone who is thinking to take their dog hiking I wish you the best in finding all the information you need. After hours of scrubbing the internet looking for one piece of information or another I have come to an understanding, there is NO ONE PLACE to find what you are looking for. Keywords, phrases, websites… so much knowledge and so little organization. Opinions. There are a lot of those out there. And since there are so many I’m going to put one more out there.

Dogs on the trail are AWESOME!!! They require work and time! My dog is happiest when she is running free. But hike days with a dog are not just about the dog. They are about yourself and others on the trail. When I first started hiking with Star I didn’t think this way. It was for her. So what she was bombing up the trail, chasing squirrels, meeting other dogs, not coming back when called, she was having the time of her life! These were her puppy days.

Three years later I realize just how naïve my perspective was.
When on the trail ALWAYS have your dog under control. Star has taught me MANY things in the three years I’ve had her. She doesn’t love every dog she meets. Not all dogs love her. She’s better off leash than on. Treats make everything better. Even though she ignores people it doesn’t mean they feel comfortable around her. And you never know what they’re getting into when you can’t see them.

Down to the nitty gritty of things you might want to consider before going on the trail. I sat and made a list. It was a short list. I started searching and suddenly my list got longer and longer, to the point where there was no easy way to find the information. I will try to provide as much insight into the topics I’m covering. Much of what I say may be my own opinion or based off select facts that I have found.

1) Does your dog enjoy hiking?
2) Are they physically able?
3) Are dogs allowed where you’re going?
4) Does your dog play well with others?
5) What supplies does your dog need on the trail?
6) Are you willing to take care of their poop?
7) Special accommodations?
8) Environmental hazards?
9) Nutrition
10) Veterinary care
11) Are you ready to put their needs before yours?

All it takes is one misstep to find yourself stuck in the mud.

All it takes is one misstep to find yourself stuck in the mud.