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.

Only aggressive to squeaky toys

Only aggressive to squeaky toys

 

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.

The bear that will eat him at home

The bear that will eat him at home

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.

He's ready to go!

He’s ready to go!

 

*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.

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Comments 11

  • Delia : Sep 9th

    Hi Emily!

    It’s great to see your post. I’m planning my own 2017 thru with my own woofers (maybe if we do cross paths they’ll be buffs with your Ollie!) and while most people that know us are very supportive, a lot of folks tend more toward the eye-roll than the enthusiasm. But I wouldn’t be doing this at all if not for Buster and Willow, so there you go!

    I expect to start trying them into packs and booties as the weather cools, so we’ll see about that. I’ve been gradually introducing them to the tent, although we haven’t spent the night in it yet. Found a dehydrated dog food and everything! But the one thing I really don’t doubt is the pure joy for them of getting to be in the woods EVERY day. And as to shelters, I’d rather cuddle up with their wet doggie stink than stinky people stink and mice anyway!! (at least, that is what I tell myself;) )

    Good luck with all your preparation and hope to see you on the trail!

    Delia
    and the woofs of course

    Reply
  • Tim : Sep 10th

    Email me for some great needed info for dogs on at trail.

    Reply
  • TicTac : Sep 10th

    I totally appreciate the fact that you feel so connected to Ollie, and are convinced that HIS hike will not be a burden on you. But in the only hiking – sort of – photos of Ollie in your post, he is unrestrained. The ATC pleads with dog owners to restrain their dog on the Trail. Restrain very clearly meaning under close physical control on a leash no longer that 6′. An unrestrained dog – no matter how well controlled by voice, and you freely admit he is an insane puppy – is unwelcome anywhere on the Trail in the minds of many hikers,
    Any unrestrained dog that approaches me on the trail gets only one thing, a face full of pepper spray. And that is not the fault of the dog, the dog is innocent in the matter. It is solely and completely the fault of the owner that allows it to run at will, unrestrained.
    Dogs – especially unrestrained dogs – are tick magnets. They run off trail and through standing plants. Ticks are opportunists, they perch in taller plants and wait for something to move close by, and attach themselves to that animal. They then carry those ticks close to congregations of people – people who have not been walking off trail in taller plant growth, and hence have not collected ticks – where the opportunist ticks may decide to leave the dog and find a less frenetic moving life form – a person. So even though you have protected the dog – I hope – with tick protection, the dog acts as a vector to bring more ticks into proximity with people who have not taken NexGard or been treated with Frontline Plus. Do you really think you are doing them a favor? Are you willing to be the one responsible for a fellow hiker contracting Lyme Disease?
    And finally, you will run into many situations in which you will – as a responsible person and dog owner – ask people if they object to your dog’s presence; ie. around a campfire, at the picnic table found outside many shelters, around other hiker’s tents or hammocks where you want to hang out, even IN a shelter during a particularly severe storm. If you have to ask permission, implicitly you are admitting that others may object. And in asking for permission, you are asking all of those who object to become the “bad guy”, to sound like the ogre who doesn’t like dogs, or doesn’t want your dog begging for food, or doesn’t want your dog walking around them while sitting around a fire. Truth be known, I’m willing to bet that fewer than 50% of the fellow hikers you interact with on your thru-hike will be welcoming of your dog.
    All I ask you to do is consider whose interest you think you will serve by taking you dog on even part of a thru-hike? Yours or the dog’s? Dogs will follow their owners even when they have broken toes, or abraded pads, or are dehydrated, because that’s what dogs do unquestioningly. You can’t ask their permission, or how they are feeling. How is that fair to the dog?

    Reply
    • Emily : Sep 11th

      Hi TicTac,
      So you brought up some points I already touched on–such as not allowing him in shelters & how I can tell how my dog is feeling/that I’m absolutely sure he would grant his permission if he was able, so I’ll just address the other issues you brought up.
      As far as the leash thing, I’m aware that about 40% of the trail requires pets to be leashed and he absolutely will be then. The rest of it is up to his behavior. He’s really well trained off leash, and tends to tire out much more easily on leash, so my preference for walking with him is always going to be unleash. He’s always in between my boyfriend and myself while we are walking, so if someone comes up behind or in front of us we can grab and leash him for that interaction. We don’t just let him run wild, and he immediately gets put back on leash if he runs off the trail so he’s aware that’s the consequence.
      As for ticks, even before I had a dog I checked myself constantly for ticks while living near and hiking the AT. They are prevalent for humans as well, and I’ve had to pull many off of myself just from staying on the trails (not to mention the need to leave the trail to use the bathroom). Lyme disease is a serious threat that people should be watching out for regardless of whether or not they interact with a dog during the day.
      And as for the 50% of people who are unwelcoming of dogs on the trail, as we’re walking against the crowd they’ll have at most one night of leashed-interaction with him if we happen to tent near a shelter.

      Reply
      • Erin Tuveson : Sep 11th

        Emily, don’t let the above comments taint your hike. My dog was welcomed by 90+% of hikers. They were missing their own dogs, or those of their families. I went into the trail so nervous about other hikers… I quickly learned the loudest often were not the majority.
        I will admit I did meet some other dogs on trail who ruffled my feathers… usually they were day hikers dogs, but this was not always true. Some were thru hiking.

        Reply
      • Becca Tompkins : Jan 15th

        Emily, I absolutely LOVE dogs and HOPE that I see you on the trail so I can give your sweet fur baby lots of loving!
        I think it’s great that you’re bringing Ollie on the trail!! Good luck & happy trails!

        Reply
  • Jamie : Sep 11th

    We are planning a family thru hike in 2020 and will be bringing our dog. I am curious about food for your dog. I am scratching my head on what to bring. His typical kibble seems like it would be heavy. Good luck to you.

    Reply
    • Erin Tuveson : Sep 11th

      Jamie,
      I’ve made a couple comments here but also blogged to Appalachian Trials (Gator Tater) and thru hiked with my dog. LooK into The Honest Kitchen as a “topper” to kibble to bulk up daily feedings. I also found feeding 75% of her food at night allowed her to get the most out of it nutritionally. Large meals in the morning are pushed through the system to fast to really be processed.
      http://www.earthtrekblog.wordpress.com

      Reply
      • Jamie Ferrazano : Sep 18th

        Awesome, thank you

        Reply
  • Erin Tuveson : Sep 11th

    Emily,
    Very happy to talk with you about thru hiking with a dog, like you said the pros and cons.
    Successfully completed my thru hike in 2015 with my dog!!!
    You can even find our posts on here
    Gator Tater and No Shame!
    Email me at [email protected]

    Reply
  • Baileigh & Sadie the Border Collie : Sep 12th

    I am definitely interested to see your following posts regarding Ollie! I’m considering a 2018 thru hike and am debating back and forth whether to bring my Sadie Bear. She goes hiking and on overnights with me now and absolutely LOVES it, my roommate is also a vet so I’ve definitely consulted her about it as well, but I’d like to get first hand AT knowledge on it!
    Happy trails!

    Reply

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