The Challenges and Benefits of Thru-Hiking with Your Pup
First off, these opinions are all based on my experience the past couple months. I’m sure many other hikers have had different experiences and have different opinions. I ultimately decided to send my dog home but not without a lot of tears and weighing every positive and negative.
I’m going to start with the benefits
I’m hiking with my best friend. I absolutely love being with Stretch. He’s like an extended part of myself. He’s a good sport. He doesn’t complain. He’s a great protector. I just feel safer – from bears and strange people.
He’s a good snuggler. At the end of a long day, he’s the sweetest snuggle partner. That’s just what I want after a hard, exhausting day.
He helps the hitch. I’d say he usually helps me get a ride. Sticking my thumb out is awkward and uncomfortable but having him beside me seems to help the equation and makes me not as nervous for who is behind the wheel.
He’s a hit on trail. I’ve noticed everyone loves seeing dogs on trail and he brings a smile to people’s faces. Animal therapy is a real thing.
Okay, so now I’m going to list some challenges and some specific examples to go along with them
You have to carry extra weight. Stretch started with his own pack but I decided to take it off shortly after his first week. He was losing hair where the pack rubbed and it seemed to slow him down. I think even if your dog carries their own food and water, you’ll still have to carry some additional dog supplies/additional weight. Stretch was burning more calories and ate more, just like me. I was feeding him 3/4 cups of dry food a day and he was still lost weight. I also gave him people food snacks like beef jerky, slim Jim’s, peanut butter, etc.
I’d carry 5/6 extra pounds in dog food and supplies. 2 liters of water was usually enough to share but a few times we did run out before we reached another water source.
You have to be mindful of their paws. I start treating his paws with Mushers Secret balm right away when we joined me. I would absolutely do this, otherwise their paws can cut and be rubbed raw.
You can’t stay at most hostels and it’s more expensive to stay at a motel. Most hostels don’t allow dogs. Some motels don’t either. The motels that do make you pay at least $10-20 extra for a dog.
Constant criticism. This was most surprising to me and honestly didn’t expect it at all. I have gotten constant unsolicited criticism for having a dog on trail. This usually happens when I’m in towns but it has also happened on trail.
Example 1: After we climbed down Dragons Tooth (Dragons Tooth has been one of the most difficult descents thus far), an older male thru hiker came over to us and proceeded to feel Stretch up and down. He told me Stretch was weak and needed 3 days rest. He also said he should go home immediately. I was also very tired and felt weak. It was a very hard climb and descent!
Example 2: I was sitting outside of a restaurant and got take out so I could sit with the dog. Stretch was sleeping on the pavement in the sun (he loves to sun bathe) and I had just fed him a hamburger. A man came out and asked me if Stretch was okay. He didn’t ask once, he asked about three times. I understood he was concerned about my dog but I just wasn’t sure what to say about it. He was tired and was resting.
The questions and criticism were constant when Stretch was with me. Sometimes the questions seemed innocent and genuine but a lot of times I felt as if I was seen as a jerk or an animal abuser. I personally think keeping your dog active and outside is much better than cooped up in a home for 10 hours a day. Everyone has their own opinions – which I have realized.
It’s difficult to eat out. You are passing through towns often. Stretch is a very well behaved dog but he is very attached me. He can’t relax when we’re separated unless there are other people nearby. Unless the restaurant has a patio, I feel guilty leaving him in the heat while I go inside and eat.
I had to stop early often. My days were cut short frequently because Stretch was so exhausted. We were pushing it if we did anything over 16 miles. He was walking at least 8 hours a day, sometimes more. Going on an 8 hour walk up and down mountains all day long is tough and he didn’t have a say in it really.
Some other dog owners I know have made a routine of starting early, letting their dog nap and rest midday, (which I usually did) and hiking into the night. That way they avoided the hottest part of the day.
He became stressed and protective. It’s a very different environment for a dog. He lived in a tent, the people are bigger (because of their packs), everyday his home moved, and I think he saw trekking poles as weapons at first. It’s a lot to adjust to, even for me! Stretch eventually adjusted but his first few weeks were hard. He barked and lunged at a few men. He felt protective and uncomfortable. He had never acted this way before. The only times I had heard Stretch bark previously was at squirrels up a tree. He’s a very non-verbal dog.
The ticks, flies, and fleas are horrible and constant. Sometimes we’d stop and I’d pull 12 ticks off of him. Especially in Virginia. They are awful and cling so easily to a dog’s hair. The fleas aren’t as bad but the flies are. As soon as we’d stop, they’d be all over him – like a cow in a pasture. He couldn’t rest when we breaked at times and I hated seeing him in distress.
I was constantly worried and concerned if he was hydrated, well fed, and rested. It’s hard enough taking care of yourself while thru hiking. Taking care of another being can be stressful.
These are all my own opinions based on my experience. Stretch hiked from Mile 502 in Virginia – 1203 in Pennsylvania. That’s a little over 700 miles. I’m so grateful he was able to join me for that. He was almost always leashed when we hiked and I trained him to walk behind me so he didn’t pull. He’s an American Staffordshire Terrier Mix – one of the breeds commonly known as a pit bull.
I’m going to miss him dearly but I do think it’s the right decision. I’m ready for bigger miles and longer days and I’m sure Stretch is ready to catch up on all the day naps he missed. He’ll be staying at my parents home in northeast Ohio for the next couple months while I finish my hike.
If you do have any questions at all, I’d be more than happy to answer in the comments.
Thanks for reading. Happy hiking!
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