Are you thinking about long distance hiking with your pooch? You have come to the right place if you’re looking for advice! I am a Vet Tech and a multi-trail thru hiker with lots of experience hiking long distance with a dog.
However, this may not be the advice you want to hear: I really don’t recommend long distance hiking with a dog. If you can, have someone reliable watch him. Seriously.
Okay, don’t get me wrong, I love my dog more than almost everything in the world. Sage, trailname “Justa”, has hiked the Colorado Trail, the Tahoe Rim Trail, the Bigfoot Trail (twice), and about 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Nothing makes him happier than getting out on the trail and it can be very rewarding to have him with me. All I am saying is that hiking long distance (300+ miles) with a dog has special challenges that you should know about before you make this decision.
Hike Your Dog’s Hike
Having my dog with me affects where I can hike, what time of day I can hike (and therefore my mileage), how much crap I have to carry, where I camp, how and where I can resupply, where I can find lodging in town, how much money I spend, how I will get to/from the trail, and sometimes whether I can finish my hike at all. Everyone I have talked to who has done it, agrees that is comes with sacrifice.
I met a hiker at PCT Days last year, trailname “Luna”. She and her husband hiked the PCT that year, 1600 miles of which they had their dog “Sup Dog” with them. We got on the subject of hiking with a dog and she put it into perspective. “It’s no longer Hike Your Own Hike. If you have your dog with you, you will be hiking “your dog’s own hike”.
Where You Can Hike
As for where to hike, your options will be more limited. Want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail, or the Grand Enchantment Trail? What will you do with your dog going through all of the National Parks? Dogs aren’t allowed in the backcountry there. Or maybe you are thinking of the Arizona Trail or the Oregon Desert Trail? How will your dog do in 110 degree weather with no water for long stretches? You know when you are too hot. Will your dog tell you if he is too hot before it is too late? Are you prepared to hike at night? Can you carry your dog if he gets heat stroke?
Dangers to your dog are numerous on a long hike. They include fatigue, hypothermia, and heat stroke. He could easily get stung by a bee, quilled by a porcupine, bit by a rattlesnake, attacked by a predator, rip a pad, break a bone, eat something toxic, eat something infected, fall, drown, or get lost. He could acquire Lymes disease, leptospirosis, giardia, salmon poisoning, heartworm, hantavirus, or an allergic reation to poison oak (what even is half of that crap?). Yeah, all of these things could happen to you, too. But, he may not be thinking clearly about these dangers when he smells that rotten fish carcass or chases that coyote up the trail. What will you do then? Do your WFR skills translate well to dog biology (remember, he probably won’t tell you exactly what is wrong with him)?
Maybe I am overly cautious about the dangers. But, as a Veterinary Technician (= animal nurse), I have seen almost all of these things happen. Also, as a border collie owner, several of these things have happened to us (ugh)! We can put ourselves into a fair amount of discomfort while hiking, but I don’t think it is right to do this to our dog. We sign up for the responsibility to these creatures when we adopt them–to keep them healthy and happy.
It is going to change how you plan for your hike too. When you get to a road to resupply, how will you hitchhike with a wet and muddy dog? In town, you want to take that handy local shuttle? Nope. Want to find a hotel room for under $120 that allows pets? Maybe you will have to go to a different town. Are you going to even find something for your dog to eat in that convenience store? Or, are you willing to help carry 20 extra pounds of dog food? You will likely have to re-think your whole resupply strategy.
Being a Dog
Finally, it is tiring enough hiking, but are you prepared for the amount of supervision your dog will require? There he is, chasing the last black footed ferret in the state. There he goes digging up someone’s cat hole. Gross! There he goes for a swim in the cow pond right before it’s time to crawl into the tent for the night. Wait, is he trying to take a crap in the middle of camp?
Still ready to take on the challenge (and reward) of bringing your dog with you? I want to help you learn from my experiences and do it right. Please see “Long Distance Hiking With a Dog: Selecting a Trail“, Long Distance Hiking With a Dog: Pre-Trail Health” and “Sage’s Favorite Things Gear List“.
Sage and Tree have been featured in Dogster Magazine and are brand ambassadors for TurboPUP and Groundbird Gear hiking-related dog products.