Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hiking With a Canine Companion

Water break on the Wild Oak Trail,
5 miles into a 27 mile day hike.
Nobody hikes with me more than one of my two dogs.  I firmly believe (not unlike virtually every other dog owning hiker I have talked to) that I have the best hiking dog in creation!  Mine is half boxer (a breed known for being very attached to its owner) and most likely half Walker Hound (a breed known for being absolutely tireless on the trail and having long legs).  As a result, I have a dog that has gone as long as 27 trail miles with me in one day, and who stays with me when I hike.

But even though this dog lives to hike with me, I don't always take her.  If hiking with a group, I first check to see if anyone has any objections to having a dog along.  People could have a fear of dogs, or they might feel that their ability to view wildlife along the trail is compromised by a dog.  Or possibly the hike requires a car shuttle, and the driver doesn't want the dog in the car.  Some groups simply do not allow dogs because they are afraid that everyone will suddenly want to bring their dog.

Do you really want to bring a dog up Old Rag?
And sometimes, I hike on a trail that specifically does not allow dogs.  Shenandoah National Park's Old Rag loop is one such trail near me, and I respect the rule, because the hike is often crowded, and there are some serious rock climbs on the way up.  I was surprised recently to see on Facebook photos that the former President of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club posted of a hike up Old Rag he took with his dog.  I don't think this sets a good example.

Last year there was a widely distributed news account of a 100+ pound German Shepard that was rescued off of a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado, a week after her owner had left her for dead.  The account of this rescue is amazing.  The owner was eventually located, claimed that he couldn't bring the dog back, but now that it had been rescued, he wanted his dog again.  Video.  He was charged with animal cruelty and, as a part of the plea bargain, gave the dog up to one of the rescuers for adoption.  The dog is doing great now, and the rescuers have started a search and rescue group for dogs in the Rocky Mountains.  They have a Facebook page with information and current photos of the dog.


Crossing Ramsey's Draft in Ramsey's Draft Wilderness.
This story struck a chord with many people (including my hiking friends, who burned up the emails for a couple of days on this subject), who unanimously could not understand how anyone could leave their dog in such a situation.  I will refrain from making judgments, but the story presents a good opportunity to reflect on what should come with a dog when hiking.

The American Hiking Society has come up with a "10 Essentials" list for hiking with dogs.  The list is as follows:

1.       Collar or Harness
2.       Leash
3.       Identification Tag or Microchip (I cannot imagine not having both!)
4.       Water
5.       Food
6.       Collapsible Bowl
7.       Plastic Bags or Small Spade (for waste)
8.       Canine First Aid Kit
9.       Reflective Jacket, Collar, Leash, or a Small Light
10.   Clothing

I will bring a blaze orange vest that I tie to the dog's pack during the winter.  Even if it isn't hunting season, she stands out in the winter woods.  And I bring a towel if it is cold and I anticipate stream crossings.

I have often thought about booties for longer hikes, as I once had a dog that I had to carry for the last couple of miles over Shenandoah National Park's Austin Mountain Trail (if you have hiked this trail, you know where I mean!) after her paws were rubbed raw on a hike.

I also struggle with whether to buy some kind of coat for the dog.  No dog I have owned ever had a coat, but this dog's fur is pretty short, so I imagine it must get cold on some of our winter hikes.

Is there anything else I should consider?  Let me know in the comments section below!  

Be sure to check out other posts at Wandering Virginia.






1 comment:

  1. I found that the booties rubbed on my dog's feet, so I invested $10 in some sock liners for her. If the temps are below 30, I take a jacket for her. My fave is the Ruffwear Cloud Chaser...windproof overall, waterproof on top and has a micro-fleece lining. Plus it covers the belly better unlike the cheap strappy dog jackets. We also use a 26' flex-lead since she cannot go off-leash (reactive), however I reel her in promptly whenever we meet anyone on the trail (out of respect). We step off the trail and do not proceed until the hiker has passed by. I use the Guyot Designs squishy bowl.

    For backpacking, I take along a lightweight 10' cable tie-out. I can sleep soundly knowing she can't chew through it. I pitch the tent close to a tree or sapling, loop her leather leash around the tree, and then attach the cable tie-out and zip the tent door around it. If she has to go out at night, I only have to open the tent door and wait for her to come back when she's done since I know she's securely fastened. She also carries her own food and water with her Ruffwear Palisades pack. I favor it since the saddlebags are removable without having to remove the entire harness.

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