Why I Sent My Best Friend Home
I started the trail with big dreams of finishing the trail with my best friend by my side. My best friend is of the furry four legged sort, so I had a hard time getting her opinion on things before we got started.
Luna loves hiking and traveling and has done a remarkable job adjusting to several huge life changes, so I felt like she’d be pretty ok adjusting to life on the trail. She did in some ways: Luna was happy to hike from dawn til dusk and sleep all night in my little tent. Unfortunately she never seemed to adjust to the social aspect of the trail, which involves people in large backpacks approaching us on a regular basis.
Luna was afraid of a lot of things on the trail (backpacks, trekking pokes, hats, beards…) but the biggest threat, in her doggy mind, was The Poncho. The Poncho was large and billowing, and only came out in the nastiest weather, and covered lumbering hunchbacked figures that seemed to appear out of nowhere, sneaking up on us through the mist. Luna, being the valiant and noble sidekick she is, responded to threatening ponchos by barking and lunging viciously, occasionally catching me (and usually the wearer of the dreaded poncho) by surprise and dragging me off rocks and up hills and down mountains. While I appreciated this show of bravery and loyalty, it was entirely unacceptable behavior that was negatively impacting my hike and the hikes of other people.
I’ve managed to make a few friends on the trail, and most of them have been barked at by Luna at some time or another. Most of them have been kind and understanding about it, mentioning other German Shepherds they know that act the same way. Many people have said “she’s just doing her job,” or “what a great guard dog,” or “at least you know you’re always safe!”
This is sort of true, but I’m already pretty safe on the trail. If I felt like I had to have a guard dog with me at all times I probably wouldn’t be on the trail in the first place. Not to mention, I’m not the only person who’s safety and comfort matters on the trail. If I got barked at by a big strange dog every day on a hike, I wouldn’t feel safe or comfortable. I started to question how my choices were affecting other people’s hikes and worrying that Luna’s highly vocal nature was creating a negative experience for my fellow hikers.
By the second week of hiking, a few things became apparent. First, that Luna was not going to stop barking at people who approached us in full backpacking gear. Second, that she would continue to react more aggressively as she grew stronger. Third, that she was getting stronger quicker than I was and that at this rate I would be unable to maintain control of her in the near future. Finally, and most importantly, that many people were reasonably and understandably not ok with being barked at all the time.
Hike your own hike is a mantra I hear daily from one person or another, but hiking with Luna was becoming very distracting. I didn’t want to be the person responsible for ruining someone else’s hike or making them feel anything less than ecstatic while walking in the woods. So at the top of Albert Mountain, with 3% battery and weak signal, I called my sister and asked her to meet me in Franklin and pick up the dog. She graciously agreed and met me with trail food and had the back of her car turned into a veritable doggy resort so Luna would be comfy on the journey home.
There are other reasons that hiking with dogs is difficult, especially big dogs, and since Luna went home some things have been easier on me. It’s easier to make friends and socialize without a dog, and much easier to stay in shelters. My tent stays cleaner now and I don’t worry quite as much about Lyme disease. Going downhill is no longer a battle of keeping my dog behind me or pulling on her to keep from flying down a mountain- restraining a dog downhill was doing quite the number on my joints.
I think Luna is benefitting from being off the trail too. It was hard to work in some of her favorite things, like playing fetch or just laying around or swimming. When you hike all day it’s hard to do anything else physical, and even though Luna was having fun hiking, I could tell she needed more play time. I worried about her physically too: what if she got injured or bitten by something? How would I get her to a vet? The trail is full of risks for humans and dogs, and I like knowing that she’s safe and sound with my family in Florida.
I miss my fur child daily, but for the two of us, this is the best situation. The trail isn’t a good place for dogs that are easily frightened or overprotective. If I ever hike an extremely remote trail, I think I’d bring Luna and we’d have a grand time. Likewise, when Luna gets older and calmer she may be a better trail dog. In the mean time, the best possible place for her is cuddled up on my parents’ couch watching the Hallmark channel while my mom works from home.
I’ve met a few great trail dogs out here, they tend to be friendly and well mannered and unafraid of strangers. They also tend to not look threatening- who could be afraid of a golden retriever?
If you plan on hiking with your dog, I’d encourage you to do some major practice hikes in high traffic areas to see how your dog responds to the stresses of a new environment. Know your dog and its temperament and try to make the decision that’s best for both of you. If you do take your dog on a crazy long distance hike, make sure you have a way to get the dog to a safe place if need be. I never would have been able to handle my situation without the help of my family (thanks guys!).
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