[pct-l] Thru-hiking with a dog

Corky Corcoran corcoran at corky.cc
Wed Sep 13 10:53:18 CDT 2006

There is one trait which is overlooked by everyone I've met which is 
essential for a backpacking dog.  Rare, but essential.  And 
thru-hiking with a dog is an entirely different matter than not 
thru-hiking.  I learned a lot on my first thru-hike with my dog, and 
I unfortunately did some things wrong.  And a lot right.  But their 
muscles are 4 to 8 times more efficient than humans, and 
working-breed and field dogs seem to love the companionship and work.

I've hiked with a dogs for 22 years now, 3 different poochs, and have 
to say that Eric Lee's post is the best I've seen on the 
subject.  One of my climbing partners is my dog's vet, and I've 
learned a bunch on trips with him.  Some of the published information 
is more applicable to folks who consider dogs low-maintenance robots, 
soaking their paws in hand-lotion during the off-season, feeding them 
sirloin coated lard balls as treats.  Heck, do that with a person and 
it's going to have trouble on the trail.

In my experience heat is the biggest problem.  If the dog is running 
cool, I'm doing fine.  I always take the "lake" sections where they 
parallel the trail, and now I have a water bowl on the top of his 
back and carry water where he has easy access to it.  Unfortunately 
I'm not able to impress upon him the importance of loading up, he 
seems to respond only to need.  I am able, too, now that I've rigged 
it up, to wet the dog down a bit from my drinking tube.  Compress the 
bladder, and you can hose the dog off at least a little bit where the 
pack doesn't cover.  He seems to enjoy it.  If a dog is the type with 
an undercoat they should have their hair trimmed for the hike.  And 
be brushed very, very often.

On the trail I always wait if the dog stops to drink. If I go ahead 
assuming he will or has taken care of himself he will usually gulp 
and then catch up with me.  He will drink to satiation, I'm sure, but 
not all he would. They tend to gulp some water and then 
pause.  They'll look at you, wander around smelling everything that 
sticks up, seem ready to go, even bored.  It's easy to assume they 
are full.  If one waits another 30 seconds, 4 out if 5 times the dog 
will drink more, a lot more.  And very often will do that a third time.

Again in my experience a dog won't eat much dry dog food on the 
trail.  That was a problem I hadn't anticipated.  There have been 
several solutions.  I buy hamburger when possible, and mix it with 
his dry food, about 1/3 dry food to 2/3 hamburger when we are near 
resupply points.  And he gets hot dogs for snacks when we are in 
town.  Hot dogs are generally cheap and come in bite-sized 
portions.   When we leave town we take enough hamburger to mix with 
food twice more, that night and the next morning.  When that's gone I 
have another strategy.  I dehydrated some hamburger, ran it through a 
blender until it is a powder, sprinkle that over dog food and add 
water.  That helps, too. Sometimes he'll eat it without the water, if 
the food is coated and we're near a lake or stream.

Lakes and streams are a great opportunity, too.  My dog chases 
sticks.  If it's been a while, I take his pack off, throw a stick in 
a lake, and cool him off that way.  In my experience the only good 
pack out there is the Wenaha Explorer II, a two-part affair, harness 
and pack.  It's easy to take the pack off at rest stops, put it on again.

Also, if the dog gets into trouble the pack will come off.  I've had 
an experience one Spring when the dog was crossing a stream that was 
much higher than it had been when we'd been there before, got swept 
past the getting out point, swam back while headed upstream but being 
pushed downstream.  He got swept into aspens and brush, and tangled 
up.  The pack came off, the dog made it to shore before I could get 
there.  The pack and contents were, at the time, a $600 loss, nothing 
compared to keeping Bailey.  You want a bright color to help find the 
pack if it comes off in the heavier brush if he wanders off 
trail.  Not a frequent occurrence, but frequent enough to allow for.

Wow! This has been fun, and is too long.  If you are interested in 
any more of my musings on thru-hiking with a pup email me and I'll 
send some more.



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