Thru-hiking with a dog

I’ve been dreading making this post.

I am planning on bringing my wonderful, sweet, and amazing pooch on the trail with me.

20140516_152228 Solomon is my best friend in the entire world,
just like all dogs should be for their owners.

He’s incredibly smart, active, and loving.

He is a 1.5 year old Australian-Shepherd/Catahoula mix that I adopted from an awesome rescue organization,Grassroots Animal Rescue.

My dog LOVES hiking. Absolutely loves it.

He is constantly energetic, loves sleeping outside, and, for whatever reason, loves to hike in the rain.
This is Solomon, my rescue pup 🙂

I’ve wrestled with the idea of bringing him on the trail with me for quite awhile. Unfortunately,whenever I have looked online for advice and tips, the threads almost always to devolve into nasty arguments between pro and anti hiking-dog groups. The arguments, on top of being absolutely ridiculous, do little to help either group. Dogs will always be brought on hikes, long or short. Instead of bitching at one another, it seems like it’d be more constructive to actually discuss ways to bring dogs on hikes without upsetting too many folks. I know it’s impossible to please everyone, but some civilized discussion on ways to best avoid conflict would be nice.

One of the most common arguments against bringing dogs on the trail(at least that I’ve seen) is that they aren’t physically capable of hiking long distances. I don’t understand where this argument is coming from. Obviously, there are certain breeds that aren’t built for distance hiking like this. I would question bringing a chihuahua or teacup yorkie on the trail. But working dogs and herding dogs are perfectly capable of distance hiking, perhaps more-so than their human. They are bred, physically and psychologically, to work all day long. And while, yes, some working and herding dogs would rather sleep and stay inside all day than hike for hours at a time, the same can be said for humans. It’s all about knowing your dog’s personality and keeping a close eye on them throughout the hike.

For those who do argue that thru-hiking will have negative health impacts on dogs, I’ve already discussed this with a veterinarian. My dad is a vet, and he is good about being completely honest, especially if it has to do with his grand-dog’s health. 20140504_113024 (1) He is just as excited about the hike for me as he is for Solomon. I’ve been updated on what needs to be done to keep Solomon in the best shape, which worm and tick preventatives are the best, etc. By taking the appropriate precautions, it is just as safe for Solomon to hike as it is for me to hike.

I of course have concerns and worries with bringing him. I’m worried he’ll get worn out or sick, or that he’ll end up not enjoying it. If he does get sick, worn out, or he doesn’t seem to be enjoying it anymore, then I will of course take him off the trail. At that time, I’ll have to decide whether I want to leave the trail with him or push on without him. Both would be incredibly hard decisions, but I’ll have to cross that bridge if I come to it.

20131226_153159
However, if I want, and am legally allowed, to bring this love-able and awesome fluff ball, then I’m going to. I’ll do everything I can to make sure it is enjoyable for him. I understand my hike will be more about what he can do than what I can do, and I don’t mind this. Just like some people say they know that their dog would hate to do a distance hike, I know that Solomon would rather be out on the trail with me than stuck at home for 5-6 months wondering why he was abandoned again.

I know that dogs on the trail are a hot-button issue with both thru-hikers and arm-chair hikers. Hopefully this blog will provide some usable information to help out future hikers and their furry friends! There will be more details and information in later posts for those looking to compare details or are just curious about what it takes to bring a four legged friend on the trail with you.

I’m looking forward to reading the calm and well thought out comments that may come with this post. I am open to advice or contact information for people who have distance hiked with their fur-babies! Feel free to guide me to informational sites 🙂 The more the merrier, so get crackin’!!

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Comments 10

  • Frank : Feb 7th

    The odds on finishing a thru-hike. For the past 7 years I have belonged to a group of Trail Journal junkies who have formed the “Fantasy Hiking League” each year we each pick a team of 10 hikers who use Trail Journals and plan on a Thru-hike. It’s just plain old gambling. So for 7 years now I attempt to pick 10 out of 200 or more hikers who log on to TJ. The hikers have no idea that this goes on or that they were picked. So this is just math, nothing to do with you, the dog, the 2015 weather, this years tick problem, the Norovirus or anything else. Past history tells me A hiker in your age group will go from a 1 in 5 chance of making it all the way to the end to 1 in 40 with a dog. Hikers with dogs do in fact make it all the way every year. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Bruce Luna : Dec 23rd

      Frank –

      I’m intrigued about your Fantasy Hiking League. I started a flip-flop thru-hike in 2009; but was only able to complete 1/4 of the AT (Virginia + 60 miles SOBO from Katahdin). I had to get off trail for 2 months due to wife’s surgery, and on my return then broke 2 ribs in the 100 Mile Wilderness. I did return in 2010 and completed the rest of the trail.

      I am now considering a 2016 NOBO thru hike from Springer. I’m noticing a general decline in physical (and mental) condition and am motivated while I’m still fit. And I plan to bring my German Shepherd rescue dog. I will be 70 next year and wonder if you have statistics in my class. My trail name and journal entries were under “Tic”.

      Thanks,

      Bruce L

      Reply
      • Melissa : Aug 27th

        Hey there! I’ve been planning a thru hike of the AT for a couple years, but then I got a large German shepherd and have only read negative things about bringing a dog. Therefore, I put the planning on the back burner. How was your experience with the pup?

        Thanks,
        Melissa

        Reply
  • Angie LOL Holbrook : Feb 28th

    Swayze and I started for a thru in 2011, and pulled off the trail after flipping and coming down through Maine. The granite rock tore her toenails up, and we went back in 2013 and finished those last 500 miles. The majority of dogs will love hiking. It’s up to you to make their trip enjoyable, though – not pushing them too far, attending to their feet (Swayze loved foot massages :D), not weighing their pack down, etc.

    Feel free to email me if you have any questions. 🙂 I love helping people hike!
    [email protected]

    Reply
  • Will : May 6th

    I am interested to see how it went. I know this is an older post but I am planning on doing the same in a couple years (I am active duty military and cannot do the thru hike until I am done). So, please email me and let me know how it went and any obstacles you encountered. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Eileen McGurty : Sep 20th

    Hey Kaili! How did it go with your dog? I am planning to do the Pacific Northwest Trail in summer of 2017 and want to take my dog for the parts of it that don’t go through national parks. Would love to hear what happened to you and your pup on the AT!

    Reply
  • Jessica Brown : Mar 12th

    So I’m curious how it went? I want to do a Sobo hike thru with my dog. She’s not a fan of rain or the dark but my concern was attracting animals and having enough food for her. Was there anything I should know to bring that you might not have noticed till you did it?

    Reply
  • Melissa : Aug 27th

    Hey there! I’ve been planning a thru hike of the AT for a couple years, but then I got a large German shepherd (100lbs) and have only read negative things about bringing a dog. Therefore, I put the planning on the back burner. I have recently read more inspiring pieces on bringing dogs. How was your experience with the pup? How many miles did you average a day? Are there any areas you couldn’t bring the pup and how did you handle that.

    Thanks,
    Melissa

    Reply
  • Trace : Sep 12th

    What did you do with your dog at parts of the trail where they weren’t allowed? Curious if you went an alternate route or had family/friends watch the dog until it was allowed back on trail.

    Reply
    • Trace : Sep 12th

      Also what parts of the trail were the dog not allowed on?

      Reply

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