A Canine Section Hike

I’ve seen a few trail dogs on my journey so far, and they’ve made me miss my Biscuit terribly. My home is the foothills of the Smokies, so I decided to take him on a 3 day test run from the NOC to Fontana. Here’s the results.

Biscuit loved it.

He’s a 1 year old Golden Retriever mix with endless energy. He’s day hiked with me before and carried a 3-4 pound pack without any signs of discomfort in this trip. He was a model citizen at campsites where I let him off leash I’m the evening. He would visit people without being nosy, run off some energy without leaving the vicinity, and lay down when he was tired.

Ready for adventure.

Ready for adventure.

In fact, Biscuit loved hiking too much.

Biscuit learned the commands to “wait” or “walk” pretty easily. He had no concept of slowing down without stopping. He’d run sideways to smell something off trail and nearly tumble down the hill (destroying the fragile plant life in the process). It rained two days ago and I fell down a slick rock when he decided to proceed forward before I could baby step down the slab.

In the hammock.

In the hammock.

The descent into Fontana from 3450 to 1750 in elevation over 3ish miles was almost the end of me. Biscuit was so intent on getting down quickly that my right knee was grapefruit-sized from me having to pull him to stops, brace backwards to slow him, and getting pulled down knee-height log steps. Fortunately some ibuprofen, an ice bath, and an afternoon resting at the Fontana Village have resolved most of the swelling and pain. Descents are generally uncomfortable, but this one was alarmingly painful.

After my experience, I’ve decided Biscuit is staying home.

98% or more of hikers love dogs and encouraged me to keep him. Wanting to have dogs around and being responsible for one are two totally different beasts. He behaves well enough off leash, but much of the AT requires dogs to be leashed or the descents approach roads so hiking that way isn’t a good option. I don’t mind the extra time caring for him, but his pace is very different from mine. It slowed my pace from 2+ mph with breaks to 1.5mph or below and took an extra 90 minutes to set up and break down camp with him each day.

Other considerations for thru hiking with your pup-

-Towns. Finding a hotel or hostel allowing dogs isn’t difficult, but if you’re hiking NoBo make a reservation to prevent it getting sold out and expect at least $15 extra for a pet fee.
-Rain. Keeping a rain cover on a moving dog is a challenge and you have a wet dog to sleep with.
-Sleeping arrangements. He ended up inside the hammock with me. ‘Nuff said.
-Shelters. Do not bring your pup into the eating or sleeping area without asking your fellow hikers first and do not plan to sleep inside the shelter.
-Poop. Don’t be the asshole who lets his dog poop on the trail. Just don’t.
-Water. Dogs don’t have hydration systems in their packs. You’ll be making a lot of stops to get out their bowl, fill it, and realize the dog doesn’t want any water.
-Leashing. Dogs love getting tangled in their leashes and you will have to periodically stop and untangle them.
-No dog sections. No dogs in the Smokies, trailside zoo, or summiting Katahdin with you.
-Carrying their weight. Dogs can theoretically carry a quarter of their body weight but can’t tell you when they’re getting a hot spot on their skin, sore joint, or need to take a zero. Less is better but means more weight for you and more stress for your body.
-First aid kit and veterinary care. Bring an emergency bootie or gauze and Vetrap as well as tweezers and a tick key. Ensure your pup is on flea, heartworm, and parasite preventative. Get his Lyme disease vaccine in addition to core vaccines. Ask your vet about a prescription doggy NSAID and anti nausea medications if he ever gets car sick.
-Age and attitude. If your pup is a medium breed less than a year old or a large breed under two years, her joints are still developing and she should not attempt a thru hike with you or carry a pack under any circumstance. It’s a fast lane to joint issues later in life. On the flip side, if your pup has any signs of aging or doesn’t get excited when you pull out her pack, she probably shouldn’t make the trip.
-HYOH. It will not be your hike, but your dog’s hike. He will probably make your hike more enjoyable since you have your best friend with you! Just keep in mind the additional time, responsibility, expense, and do a trial section hike if you can!

This morning I’m headed into the Smokies without Biscuit. Keep up with my daily trail updates on Instagram!

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