Husky Hiking: Holy Mother of Learning Curves

Husky Hiking: Holy Mother of Learning Curves


Basecamp and I after hiking Mount Quandary, a 14er near Breckenridge, CO.

Basecamp and I after hiking Mount Quandary, a 14er near Breckenridge, CO.


My wife (Basecamp aka Marie) and I (Yeti Legs aka Wesley) have a lot of hiking miles under our belt from the PCT, to the TMB, the CT, and a ton of smaller hikes sprinkled in between. It’s always been us against the elements against our own minds (if that makes sense). To date, we’ve only had to consider one another and our own limitations. If one of us has a need or injury, we talk it out and come up with a solution: simple as that. But, what if one of us couldn’t communicate with the other?

Insert, Loba.


Loba leashed on trail but still happy as a clam.


Loba is our 1-year-old musky (a malamute-husky mix) whom we adopted around 4 months ago. We are her 5th home in such a short life so far, which is sad to us, but she’s not going anywhere now. She’s a bright light in our lives now, but also introduces a significant number of technicalities and difficulties to the mix. Now, imagine two people who love to do epic things for long periods of time that are physically strenuous incorporating a dog into the mix.

Loba can only communicate with us in basic ways, so we have to read and predict her needs.

For starters, our sweet girl is still a puppy and has some training left to nail down before she passes our metaphorical academy. For the most part, we feel that we lucked out with her. She’s wonderful at night sleeping beside our bed or in her kennel (yes she does hop in the bed sometimes because she loves us of course), she walks into her crate whenever we call her, she doesn’t have an ounce of aggression in her, she paces herself when eating, and she’s only used the potty in our apartment a small handful of times and always on the hard floor (all instigated or due to tummy issues).

What we are still working on involves cutting out the puppy play biting, her jumping on us with excitement, pulling on her leash, and the most difficult thing of all- her bolting when she’s off leash in the backcountry. These are things that we are trying to positively reinforce with treats and praises, but that’s easier said than done, especially with off-leashing. We can speak to her and give her commands all day, but she doesn’t understand or words like another human would, and inversely she can’t talk back to us or communicate anything other than what we perceive and what she’s trained us to understand (behavioral, doggo-communicatively, need anticipation, etc.). It’s also important to remember that she (and all pet dogs) are domesticated animals which we artificially selected for. Sure, some breeds are raised with specific functions like hunting, retrieving kills, carrying, or pulling, and some seem more robust than others, but none of them are wild, self-sufficient animals. Therefore, they require a bit of help from us, their humans.


Loba on her first overnight trip in the Leadville, CO backcountry.


Now, you might be thinking, “Dogs are supposed to be on leash at all times when hiking.” In theory and best practice, that’s correct. You should ideally have your dog on leash at all times in the backcountry because there are a variety of risks that unleashing exposes them to:

  • wild animals that might take your dog for a meal,
  • increased exposure to disease,
  • unexpected injury or risk of losing them,
  • running into hikers/dogs who may be less interested in kisses (or worse) from yours,
  • the risk of your dog chasing down wildlife and possibly killing it,
  • and (on my pet peeve list) the risk that your dog may poop in the out of site and you don’t see it to clean it up (or you may just not care…and if you don’t you should).

In practice, when out in the backcountry multiple months, days, or even overnight, there are bound to be times when the idea of off-leashing seems a good option.

“Good” is a loosely used term here, but I’m thinking of when heading down a dangerous slope, across a traverse with precipitous ledge, deep water crossings, icy areas or maybe even early in the morning when he/she needs to get out and pee before the sun is up. The truth is that it’s situational. Places have varying requirements for your pet in the wild, so it’s best to know before you go. National parks heavily restrict dog access and use. National Forests may require a dog to be leashed at all times. But, what about other areas such as BLM (Bureau of Land Management), state, public, or other types of land management areas? Unless specified somewhere your pet ‘should’ be leashed but can be off leashed as long as they are under control…control being the key word here. In Colorado, “under control” means within 10 ft. of the owner and obeying commands. That may be different where you live and where you hike.

For sweet Loba, she bolts off like the start of a NASCAR race when she realizes she’s been unleashed.

We hike her leashed 98.6% of the time but have tried to exercise a bit of trust with her in areas we deem safe, but without too much luck recently. When we first adopted her, she listened pretty well when we’d try and off leash her (odd, right?), but as she’s gotten more used to us, she’s become a bit more unruly in the freedom game. Just recently, we hiked a short stretch along the rainbow trail here in Colorado and some of the ledges were sketchily snow-covered. So much so, that her propensity to chase snowy pinwheels downhill made the option of crossing with her dangerously unsafe. So, that being said, we unleashed her just to cross that small strip, but instead of following, she blazed a lightning-fast route uphill towards a herd of deer and was nowhere to be seen for over 10 minutes. A few weekends back we went hiking in the shrublands of Buena Vista and crossed another herd of mule deer. Loba was safely leashed to my waist with a durable Ruffwear leash that gave her a generous ~11 ft. of play. At only about 50 pounds of dog, she managed to pull so hard that her force broke the plastic buckle clean off the leash. She was gone in 30 seconds, over the hill after the deer and through the cow fields. There have been a few other instances where we simply wanted to see if she’d obey our “Loba come!” or “Stay close” commands. Frankly, she runs further and faster away when we call her and it always results in a mild scolding with a brisk leashing. Luckily, the one time she can be off leash without much concern is when we are at camp (without others nearby) because she associates it with ‘home’ and never leaves our eyesight.


At camp, tuckered out and napping. No leash required.


This winter we will be hiking the AZT from December ’24-January ’25, something not many people do. Loba will be with us along the hike where she isn’t prohibited (Grand Canyon NP, Saguaro NP, and the Coronado National Monument) which leaves about 600-ish miles of hiking she can do with us. That being said, I/we have no intension of keeping her leashed for that entire 600 miles as long as we can get her to obey and ‘stay close’ over the next 7 months. At a glance, Arizona requires you to have a dog leashed within 6 ft. on most public lands, so that will make things a bit more difficult.

On a short hike in Buena Vista, Colorado she stepped on a snow-covered cactus and wined and limped for a mile even after we removed the thorn, so I carried her out. That’s not practical on the AZT which is riddled with cacti. So, we need to figure out how to best train her, someone who can’t talk (and really only responds to her favorite treats when listening) on not running into cacti (leashed or otherwise), not bolting after rodents/birds/deer, and staying within our radius on or off leash. We still have a steep learning curve ahead of us.


Me carrying Loba after her catus thorn removal drama. She seems like she’s in pain, right?


We’ve looked at radio collars, whistles, and e-collars (not shock) for such training and haven’t settled on the solution yet. I know some will read this and think us to be poor dog parents for even considering such options, but I think it’s a far more realistic (and humane) option for a thru-hike rather than letting her run or break free in the wild where she likely wouldn’t survive a night alone. “Leave your dog at home!” or “Have someone watch her.” some may say. Well, she’s been passed up by 3 different owners and transitioned through a shelter to us, so we want her to be able to see and do as much as possible in the short life that she has. While she may thicken the plot and make the process more difficult, we take her with us because we can and because she deserves it.


To see more, check out our  Linktree  where you can find our Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and Podcast links!

Podcast Name: “Yeti Walks Into Basecamp”, found wherever you listen to podcasts.

We look forward to sharing more with you!

She’s even seen Mt. Rushmore! How many dogs can say that?

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Comments 1

  • Sour Patch aka Kammie : Jun 2nd

    Hey stranger-friends, great read. Congratulations on adding a new family member to your pack! I’m so excited for all of your adventures together. I know you’re not asking for advice, but if you’d like some from someone who has done a lot of outdoor recreation with huskies, here’s what I’ve got:
    Loba is a typical Husky who will likely never be trained out of or grow out of her inclination to bolt whether to celebrate her freedom or chase prey. Here are some things that work for us and our huskies while recreating outdoors:
    (1) For the sketchy traverses, send one human across first with the end of a leash or rope and a trekking pole. Plant the trekking pole in the snow/ground and attach the leash or rope to it. Have the second human do the same at the starting end with another trekking pole and attach Loba to the rope with a carabiner that can slide from one trekking pole to the other. The first human needs to have a high value treat in hand and call Loba to you before the second human releases her to move along the rope.
    (2) Never chase your Husky! Loba will always think this is a game and she will almost always win. Instead, stay calm, and slowly follow her while attempting engagement by inflecting everything you say as a question like ‘where are you going?’ ‘are you running through bushes?’ and subtly bringing her attention to you like ‘oh my goodness, what is this rock over here!?’
    (3) Find a micro-environment activity that Loba LOVES like swimming in rivers, hide and seek in bushes, digging holes in sand, etc. and only let her off leash in those areas (besides camp). Let her do all of the playing she wants before slowly approaching her with her leash to get her back on trail. It’s important you reward the re-leashing by instantly getting back on the ‘exciting’ trail and pointing out fun things to her like squirrels and rocks!
    (4) Always always always quadruple check that there is no prey anywhere near you before letting her off leash.
    (5) Extend her off leash time from camp by starting the morning with her hiking out of camp off leash with you. Maybe for 5 seconds at first and slowly increasing to maybe the first 15 minutes of every day so that she gets the freedom first thing in the morning and isn’t waiting all day to be off leash.
    (6) For potty breaks in the night, use an extra long line (50 ft?) and attach it to you. Keep in mind she’ll tangle herself very easily with the long line if there are trees and/or bushes.
    (7) For lunch breaks, open fields, etc., also use an extra long line. She’ll feel free and be less likely to force true freedom by bolting off leash later.

    I hope any of this was helpful for you guys. And even if you skipped reading it all, I hope Loba and you guys have a blast hiking together!


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