On taking the dog
I probably should have started with this post, because I know from all the reading I’ve done on bringing your dog thru-hiking with you that the people have a lot of opinions on this topic. And some of the points people make against attempting a thru-hike with a dog are totally valid. So I’ve compiled a list of the top reasons I’ve seen NOT to bring your dog, and I’ll let you know why I’m still willing to try.
Reason #1: You don’t get to Hike Your Own Hike with a dog
I’m going to start with this one, because it holds the least amount of weight for me. Yes, I’m aware that I will hike my dog’s hike if he comes with me. His priorities will come before mine. I know that’s going to be extremely frustrating at times. In general though, Ollie is faster than me. He needs less breaks. He’s up and ready to go faster in the morning than I am, and he licks my face until I’m up with him. He’s walked 20+ miles without issue and was still ready to run around the next day while I was limping around. Anyway, Hike Your Own Hike for me means hiking with my dog.
Reason #2: Other hikers
It seems like a lot of the more vocal objectors to bringing dogs hiking on forums have had bad experiences with other dogs. From what I can tell though, this is mostly due to bad owners who let their dogs go out of control.
I’m not going to pretend Ollie is the most well-behaved, well-trained pup in the world. He’s still a puppy and he’s genuinely insane. But he’s also extremely non-aggressive. He immediately submits to any and every dog he’s ever met, and generally just wants to sniff people’s butts. There have been rare instances of him barking at strangers (exclusively young women) on trails, and I have absolutely no idea why he does it, but 99% of the time he will just creepily sniff you and keep on walking. He has also been known to growl at tree stumps, but that’s just about as vicious as he gets. So I’m sorry if he barks at you, or you encounter him when he’s just spotted a particularly threatening log he feels the need to growl at, but I promise that interaction will last all of 30 seconds before we pull him along and keep moving.
The other big issue thru-hikers seem to encounter with dogs are in the shelters, and the easy solution to that is not taking him in any. It’s my choice to bring him, and I’m not going to subject anyone else to a wet dog running through their stuff after a rainy day, or a hungry one trying to snatch their food. He’ll sleep in our tent and get our things wet, and he’ll try to steal my food, but again, I’m pretty ok with that.
Reason #3: Town stops will be more difficult
Yes, most restaurants/stores/etc don’t allow dogs. But there are two of us, so this isn’t really going to be a big issue. We’ll take turns being outside with Ollie. As far as hostels/motels go, from what I’ve read many do allow dogs in some capacity. We might have to tent instead of getting a bed at some places, but I’m way more concerned about showering and laundry than sleeping in a real bed, and again, those are things we can take turns doing while one of us hangs with the pup.
Reason #4: Our chances of making it all the way become smaller
If we don’t finish, it is not going to be Ollie’s fault. We have options for sending him off trail, and we’re fine going on without him if he really can’t/won’t do it. The only instances I can see it being his fault that we don’t finish is if he truly loses it and eats one of us in our sleep, or he drags one of us off a mountain chasing a bird. But he probably won’t do those things.
Reason #5: It’s not fair to the dog
First, if he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t have to. And it’s impossible not to know what he wants to do. He’s either frolicking, tail-wagging, totally into hiking, or he’s lying down and refusing to get up. He’s almost always the former, but if we start to see him doing the latter too much we’ll send him off the trail. If once in awhile he wants to lay down every five feet, and we only make it a mile in a day, we only make it a mile in a day. We aren’t really in a rush.
Second, our dog loves us. He loves to do anything we’re doing. And I have no doubt if we asked him if he’d rather stay with relatives and not see us for five straight months or live outside and go for 1500-mile* walk with us, he’d choose the walk.
The only real thing that gives me any pause about bringing him is the possibility of him getting injured. But he could also get injured just staying at home. He could easily get Lyme disease just from being at my parents’ house. He could get attacked by a bear in their backyard. He could eat something he’s not supposed to and get it lodged in his intestine (he once ate an entire rope toy and had to have x-rays to make sure he didn’t need surgery to get it out). Yes, he’s more likely to get hurt out on the trail, but I’ll do my best to keep that from happening.
Let me know if you’ve had a good/bad experience thru-hiking with your dog, or if you have any reasons I didn’t touch on why it’s a bad idea! I’ll post at a later time about what I’m doing to prepare him/special considerations/gear for bringing a dog hiking, but for now I just wanted to express the reasons why I’m giving it a shot.
*We currently don’t plan to bring him on the northern half our of flip-flop, so he’ll be skipping CT, MA, VT, NH, & ME. I think by this point he’ll be tired out enough not to notice we’re gone for ~6-8 weeks, and it saves us from having to figure out what to do with him when we hit Baxter.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.