Prepping the Pup

Now that you know all about Tate, aka Baked Potato, it’s time to fill you in on the tips of prepping this eight-month-old for his thru-hike.


The original thought process was to pay for someone to train Tate professionally. However, I quickly realized that no one besides me could honestly train a dog for something so specific as hiking the Appalachian Trail. Within a week of us becoming an inseparable duo, he learned sit, stay, and stay on trail. He was only nine weeks at this point. From then on I worked hard to put focus on who was alpha and how we interact with others. So, now at eight months old, he is able to go off-leash the whole time on the trail!


It is true what they say, “Practice almost makes perfect.” I truly wish I could say he is the best trained pup on the trail but at 8 months there is always room for improvement. I get a lot of questions asking on leash or off-leash. Truly I try to allow him off leash as he understands trail means to stay on it. I do, however, keep a light leash on him that is out of his way that way I am able to grab it in case we come across other hikers. By allowing him out in the woods as much as possible he now knows how to interact with other hikers and dogs.

What’s in the pack?

There has been a lot or advice and questions as to what he and I will be carrying. Tate rocks the Ruffwear Palisades Multi-day pack! That pack can hold about 2L of water but we all know that might be a bit too much for a young pup! In reality I will  be carrying most of the water. I say that he will be carrying about a weeks worth of food but in reality I will be carrying about half of that. This guy doesn’t like to go anywhere without Wolf, so it will be in the pack. Don’t worry it has been destuffed, making it ultralight. Along with Wolf, he will be carrying a small bandana to help dry him off.

We all have that one luxury item that we have to bring. Tate’s will be his own sleeping bag. This sleeping bag is made to fit in his pack. He will only be carrying this for the winter weather that we will experience at the start of the hike. He will also be carrying a small comb, pillow, and collar that glows at night.


When I was first on the trail before Covid put my thru hike on pause, I carried a UL 1 person tent. However, as Tate began to grow, I quickly realized that we would have to upgrade our tent. We moved to a 2 person UL Big Agnes tent. I am now able to use one vestibule for my stuff and the other for his. With all the fur he has, it is easier to dry him off and keep him off all of my gear with that extra space.

Getting past the dog restricted areas

A few people asked what I do with getting him past areas like the Smokies, Shenandoah NP, Rocksylvania, and Katahdin. Luckily I have an amazing support system that will be driving to meet me to pick him up and drop him off. These areas either don’t allow pups or they might be too tough for the pup. This is why we had to come up with the back up plans. The plan is simple. I give my friends or family a 4 day notice on when and where the pick up point will be and when the drop off for Tate would be as well. Very thankful for these trail angels of mine!

Any questions on the plan, pack, training, and more feel free to reach out! Tate would love to answer your questions!


Affiliate Disclosure

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.

Comments 7

  • pearwood : Dec 19th

    Fascinating, Sarah.

  • PseudoSloth : Dec 21st

    Sounds like you are going to have a blast! I am curious though if you’ve talked to your vet first about thru-hiking with such a young dog? I know some vets give the green light for year old dogs, but many recommend waiting until 2 years old to prevent injuries down the road.

    Regardless, good luck and have fun! I will be out with my 2 on the CDT this year, but will be sure to follow along on your journey 🙂

    • Sarah Caldwell : Dec 21st

      I have actually worked with my vet since my pup was 8 weeks old with the intent of always having him overly prepared for the trail! I will even be carrying his heart worm and flea/tick meds with me since my vet already provided us with a year and a half’s worth of both! Tate will actually turn a year within the second week he is on the trail with me! It was my vets idea to start his backpacking training at such a young age! He is an Australian shepherd so typically with his breed they would already be training as a working dog by month 4 and fully working by month 8! This is a very active breed that needs constant stimulation! So the vet said he was good to go!but don’t worry We have our year check up right before we go!

      Good luck on the CDT! That is going to be such an incredible journey!

  • PseudoSloth : Dec 21st

    Awesome! It did sound like you are well prepared, but sometimes you never know!

  • Kelly : Dec 27th

    Well I hope you are careful about the dog’s carry weight and ability to do this. Whether dogs were traditionally “worked ” at that young age or not, (not that people historically cared about dog’s welfare), sounds very hard on developing bones and joints of a still growing dog. It’s cute but having had dogs with hip/arthritis issues I worry for his health and hope you’re sure it’s his best interest and that he’s not just a fun accessory.

  • Alyssa : Jan 3rd

    I thought dogs were allowed in Shenandoah— is there a reason you’re skipping this section? Asking because I wanted to section hike that part with my pup! You and Tate are adorable— looking forward to following your adventure.

  • Traci : Mar 17th

    Best of luck as you prepare for your hike. Looking forward to seeing you and Tater’s progress and adventures.


What Do You Think?