Dogs and Trails
Twiggy is my favorite hiking buddy. She is pretty well behaved, she’s fast, and she really doesn’t complain much about anything (unless I leave her site). Sure, she begs for food, poops in inconvenient spots, and wants to chase squirrels, but what dog doesn’t? She hiked with me everywhere, unless I went to The Smokies. She always did a great job on overnight trips. I always knew deep down inside that she would not be able to join me for my thru-hike, but I wanted her to at least hike a section with me. I decided she could join me once I got pass Grayson Highlands. She was by my side from Pearisburg to Harper’s Ferry. Did I love having my 4 legged friend around? Absolutely! But… that’s when I found out for sure that she was a section hiker and definitely not a thru-hiker. Thinking about taking your dog along on your adventure from Georgia to Maine? Here are just a few of my tidbits about hiking with a pooch.
Shuttles and Hitching
Even though you are paying for their services, not all shuttle drivers allow dogs. Some are concerned with allergies or the dog misbehaving in general. Fair enough. I first worried that hitching would be harder with a dog. It seems that was not the case. I never had a problem finding a ride to and from town when she was with me. Maybe it actually helped. Perhaps people who gave me rides assumed that if I had a dog, I had to be a good person.
Motels and Hostels
It can be hard to find a motel that accepts pets, especially in tiny trail towns. We couldn’t even stay in Harper’s Ferry because of this and had to go to the next town. It’s also much more expensive with a pet fee.
Most hostels accepted dogs, but not inside. This means you can still set up your tent in the yard, you just can’t sleep in a bed. Joe at Four Pines actually loves dogs. I had her leashed because she had never seen chickens before and I didn’t know how she would act. He encouraged me to let her roam free on his farm as long as she didn’t hurt his chickens. What did she do once I unleashed her? She chased his damn chickens!
Farms and Wildlife
Other than the chicken incident, Twiggy was pretty good when we came across cows and horses. Although she would stare, she wouldn’t bark or try to go after them.
The night the bear wouldn’t go away…
You know the rules of how to get rid of a bear. Scream loud, whistle, and make yourself look as big as possible…. and by the way, bears are supposed to be scared of dogs… no, not this one. Twiggy was pretty clueless about what was going on, but the entire camp was being stalked by a bear that really wasn’t interested in going anywhere else. He wasn’t aggressive, but he claimed his territory and decided it was the humans that needed to go, not him. So, I have myself to worry about AND my 40 lb dog who would have been a nice meal, game, or toy for this 300-400 lb bear. I had to make sure Twiggy stayed safe, protect her, and pack up everything so we could get out of the bear’s turf. The bear was circling us the whole time, but we made it out.
Pack Weight and Food
I guess I have kind of spoiled Twiggy. I’ve never made her carry her own weight on hiking trips. I’ve always had a separate compartment for her needs in my pack. While talking to other dog owners before she joined me, they convinced me to make her wear a pack. She hated it. She acted so pathetic when she had it on, even though I only put her food in it (I couldn’t bring myself to make her carry any of my personal supplies). I actually ended up carrying her pack half of the time. I ended up mailing her pack home out of guilt.
I knew my appetite was increasing more and more everyday, so I could only imagine how hungry she could be after taking more steps than a human. I couldn’t feed her enough. At home, she only eats until she is satisfied. On the trail, she was a bottomless pit. Not only did she have her dog food, but I added spam, tuna, chicken, and jerky to her diet. No matter how much I fed her, I noticed her waste becoming smaller. This worried me, because she is already skinny (her name, Twiggy, was given to her for a reason). Her food pack was almost as heavy as mine at times.
Wet Dogs in a Tent…
It happened… it happened more than once. Our day on Dragon’s Tooth started out beautiful, but that didn’t last long. We were suddenly in one of our worst storms that day. As soon as I set up the tent, Twiggy was seeking warmth… and got my down bag wet…
Heat and Fatigue
Like all loyal dogs, Twiggy will follow me anywhere. She will never stop just because she is tired. As long as I am moving, she is moving. It doesn’t matter how hot and tired she is, she is going where I go. She couldn’t tell me when she needed a break, so I had to guess. It started to get very hot and I found myself taking more breaks than I wanted to, but this goes along with the territory when you have a dog with you. It’s not your hike anymore, it’s your dogs. You have to put your dog before yourself, because they can’t tell you when something is wrong.
Aquablazing with Paws
Perhaps this was a huge break for Twiggy. She was just hanging out on a canoe for a week with no worries. I was actually nervous about it, but it worked out. When she got hot, I let her swim. She wasn’t hiking all day, so her diet was pretty much the way it would be at home. She was actually very good and patient on the canoe.
Side Trips with the Pooch
This is one of those things that has to be strongly considered. You’re in the area, so why not, right? It was pretty much a nightmare for me. It felt like I was the only person in DC with a dog. It was busy and manuervering a leash in a crowd of people was just not fun. I mean, I’m glad I got to show her our nation’s capital, but I don’t recommend it.
Separation Anxiety and Resupplying
I saw dogs patiently wait outside of a store for their owners with no problems at at… not my dog. I couldn’t leave her site without her throwing a fit. It got to the point where I dreaded going into town. In Waynesboro, some other dog owners and I traded dogsitting duties so we could go to town without worries. My dog was the one that did not want to cooperate with the deal. Even if she knew people I left her with really well, she wanted no part in it. A few places would let me bring her inside, but that is asking a lot out of a business owner.
Remember the No No Spots…
I didn’t have to deal with this since Twiggy only hiked in Virginia with me. If contemplating taking your pooch in your thru, just remember she won’t be able to go everywhere with you. There are times you will have to board her or find a place for her to stay. The Smokies and Baxter State Park are huge No No spots. Please, respect this.
All in all, it’s up to you to decide if your dog can make it on the trail. All dogs are different, just like all people are different. I will always take Twiggy hiking, but only short sections and not a month long trek. It is definitely a very hard decision to make. I saw dogs who did not let heat and fatigue phase them, and I saw dogs who looked just plain miserable. If you do let your pooch join you, just remember it takes a lot of patience and even more planning. The hiker community is great and for the most part will treat your dog like their own. There are a few that are very much against dogs and you have to respect that (how could anyone hate a dog?). These are just a few things to think about.
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Ha! I’m hiking The Long Trail starting Sept 2016. When are you going to be there? So far, planning on taking my dog. I live in CA and will be driving cross country for a leisurely 8 weeks before hitting Vermont. During that time I’ll have time to hike and see if he’s really up to the 10-15 miles a day. We do 5-6 miles a day with one day at 10-12 miles now. Not sure I’ll have the time to really up the daily mileage before I hit the road in early July. Work and other life stuff just keeps getting in the way…!