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Begins: Apr 1, 2008
Date: Sun, Nov 22nd, 2009
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Getting the dog ready (dog installment #2)
Getting the dog ready (dog installment #2)
As noted in an earlier journal post, I’ve decided to start writing about my experiences hiking with a dog. All dogs are different, like people, and anything I have to say on this subject relates to my dog alone. I’m only sharing it in the hope that it might be helpful to someone else who is either hiking long distance with a dog or considering it. And I’m writing it here because I think people like to hike with their dogs but may have difficulty finding information from people who actually do it.
Our dog, Mr. Cody, is a 75 lb Border collie mix. He has been long distance hiking with us for 6 seasons (20 miles a day for 2-3 weeks at a time, and several shorter hikes each summer).
Mr. C. jogs three miles a day with me five to six times a week. On the weekends we usually go for at least one, three to six mile walk. As summer and hiking season start approaching we step up the weekend walks to longer distances, ten to fifteen miles or more. Consequently, Mr. C is in very good shape, but there is a mental aspect to going on a long distance hike that is particularly hard for a dog, especially starting out at 20 miles a day . In general, they don’t have the ability to mentally prepare for a long hike the way people do. Every year I try different approaches to overcome this and I think I get a little better at it and funnily enough, Mr. C does too.
Here are some of the things we do:
A few weeks before the hike, I add Mr. Cody’s backpack to our daily run. I start with a 1 lb can of food in each of his saddle bags and after a week add another can in each bag until he’s up to 6-8 lbs altogether. I do this partly to condition his feet to the weight and partly to let him know that a hike is coming up. I have read that dogs can carry up to 15% of their body weight and I’ve met some that do so while backpacking, but I haven’t met any long distance hikers who do this. I think anything more than 10% of the dog's body weight is probably too much. Mr. C. rarely carries more than 4 lbs and usually it’s less. This means that Kerry and I carry some of his food on longer resupply sections. Some people don’t think dogs should carry a pack at all and that’s ok too. Mr. C. sees us pick up our packs and I think having his own pack just makes him feel a member of our group.
In addition, two to three weeks before a hike, I start a daily regimen of applying paw cream, available in pet stores, to his paw pads nightly. The cream is messy, but if it is administered when Mr. C. lays down for the night it will absorb into his pads and by morning they are “dry.” It conditions the pads and by the time he hits the trail they are soft and leathery like old shoes. One caution, when we started doing this, we had to train Mr. Cody not to lick his paws--he learned very quickly not to do so and on some level, I think he understood what the cream was for. Dogs are very sensitive about their feet and many do not like their paws to be handled (fingers between their toes etc), so it is best to start handling the dog's paws while they are young. I will say more on this in my next post on “paws.”
After six years of a routine like this, by now, Mr. C. has the picture that something is up. But dogs are very much creatures of the present moment, so we wait until a few days before the hike to start talking to him about the upcoming, “hike.” If we start talking about it too soon it's confusing to him when we don't head out immediately. I suspect this won’t sound as ridiculous to a dog owner as it might to others. Mr. C. knows the difference between a “walk” and a “hike.” A walk is something that he enjoys on a regular basis. When we say, “hike,” his ears stand straight up (they stand at 3/4 mast the rest of the time) and he cocks his head as if to say, “really?”
And then, yes, we are ready to go.
Confessions Of A Serial Hiker
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones. Learn more: www.pcta.org
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