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Sounds of the Trail finally covers our most requested topic: thru-hiking with dogs. We hear from three different dog owners on the challenges and rewards of thru-hiking with a dog. We also get to hear from our fellow thru-hiking podcaster, Ratatouille, who produces Trailside Radio. Special Guests: Oyster, Joan of Arc, and Sleddog.
If you haven’t checked out Trailside Radio, you should! Check it out here.
Music by: Baby Gramps. Thanks Baby Gramps!
SleddoggNovember 5, 2015 at 1:01 pm
Oaklee and I recently finished the PCT. The most important things to keep her healthy was:
– Plenty of food and water. I gave Oaklee all she could eat twice a day, which came out to about two times as much as she would eat at home. She actually gained weight (muscle) on the trail, but I’d rather that happen than have a malnurished dog on the trail. I also made sure she had plenty to drink. In sections where I knew there wouldn’t be ground water for more than 5 miles (about 2 hours), I would carry her water and offer her all she could drink every 2 hours. I never wanted her to think there was a chance she could go hungry or thirsty.
– I took good care of her paws. I inspected them often in the sections that would tend to tear up paws. If they were dry, I’d wash them and put Chapstick on them. Before bed every night, I’d spray her paws with wound care, such as Banixx. I also made her boots for really difficult terrain or to give her paws a chance to heal if they got scuffed up. I would take off her boots when we took breaks to let her paws breathe. Yes, dogs paws DO sweat. After her paws healed, I wouldn’t make her wear the boots. Towards the end of the trail her paws were much tougher and she didn’t need the boots anymore.
– Third, and probably most importantly, I kept her out of the hottest part of the day. There were days that we didn’t hike between 9 am and 6 pm because it was too hot. In fact, the day Saina interviewed me was one of the days I didn’t hike between 9 and 6. If I needed more miles than I could get during sunrise and sunset, we’d night hike. Oaklee would tend to rush to shaded areas when it was getting too hot and it was obvious she didn’t want to continue to hike then. I would NEVER make her hike in situations when she didn’t want to. I also made a shade structure in treeless sections that we would nap under.
Those three things made it so she was always having fun while hiking. Her tail was always wagging. She was always comfortable, leading the way, hearding hikers, and didn’t have stressful moments.
Another little thing I did for her was didn’t make her carry anything. I wanted to do everything I could to increase her chances of hiking the whole trail. Many dogs don’t like wearing packs and their tail goes between their legs when you pick up their pack. I’ve even seen dogs run and hide when their owners pick up their pack. Not fun for them. Stressful. There are cases of dogs spines sagging from wearing heavy packs for long periods. Also, I don’t trust her carrying important items, such as her food. What if she jumped in water? What if she rubbed against rocks or limbs and got the pack stuck or torn? The packs are also not bear and rodent safe. It just isn’t worth it. Yes it would lighten the load for you, but I feel like if you’re going to ask your dog to hike that far, you should carry the load. I’m sure people will disagree with me on this point, but this is just what worked for me and Oaklee.
I used a two person tent and she slept inside with me. I laid a tarp down inside the tent so she wouldn’t tear it with her claws. I also made her a bed out of a fleece blanket and my clothes to insulate her from the cold ground and I would wrap her in the fleece on colder nights. There were a couple nights that I noticed her shivering, so I let her into my sleeping bag with me. It wasn’t cute. She has claws and we were crammed in there. We ended up sleeping with our backs to each other, but she was warm.
Bringing a dog on a hike is a big responsibility but it’s so much fun when your dog is having a good time too. Plus, you will likely feel safer with them. We didn’t see any bears or mountain lions on the whole trail. We weren’t annoyed by rodents, even in areas where everyone around us were bothered by them. I’m pretty sure I have her to thank for that. Nobody wants to see dogs struggling or having a bad time on the trail. If you take a dog on a long distance hike, please do everything you can to help them and make it easier on them.
GizmoNovember 5, 2015 at 8:17 pm
Hey Sleddogg – thanks for chiming in with all this great info! I’m sure it will be really helpful to lots of preparing thru-hikers and their loyal companions. And thanks for being on the show!
Bill "Teutonic Knight" Jennings, PCT'97November 23, 2015 at 11:15 am
Why is this dog on the 2600 mile PCTA list. There should be a dog list, as wells as equine list to go with handler.
SainaNovember 6, 2015 at 5:47 pm
Such good info! Sleddogg, you and Oaklee are awesome!
SlingshotNovember 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm
It was super cool to hear about Oyster and Nate up north. I thru’d with my Doberman this year and met and hung out with them for a night in Waynesboro, PA. Hadn’t heard any news of them them since. The Hairy Missile and I finished this year on August 3rd. Well I guess he finished 2 days earlier at Abol. I don’t think he cared that he missed the finish though it bummed me out. Also, you can keep your dog on grain free dog food the whole length of the AT until Maine just using grocery stores. In Maine Amazon sells good food with free shipping. But the Maine postal system seems to suck. And puppy milk replacement powder is a great supplement with dog food. Looks like coco crispies.