Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a dog

  1. A big decision for you both

So the time to hike is approaching and you really don’t want to leave your dog behind so you can share all the good times together. There’s a lot to consider when you decide to bring your canine companion on a journey like an Appalachian Trail thru hike.

I hope to offer some tips and advice on how to succeed in a successful hike and shed light on potential issues you may incur. Whether you have a registered service animal or just a family pet(member). Logistically you will be adding to an already difficult task and will deal with issues other hikers do not have.

There are 2 areas where dogs (excluding service animals) are not permitted and you will need to make arrangements for kenneling of your pet. They are the Great Smokey Mountains and Baxter State Park in North Carolina and Maine respectively.

Basic health and fitness
The Appalachian Trail or other long trails are rugged and require lots of intense activities. Your canine companion should be in good enough shape to deal with the amount of exercise required to hike for days at a time. I used all of my spare time for nearly a year to keep my service beagle fit and used to Long Day’s of hiking.

Should your dog decide it doesn’t want to hike anymore and it’s of a larger variety your hike is finished for the day and possibly for the dog unless you can coax or carry them to a better location.

Take Frequent breaks

I find that taking a break especially at a location with an amazing view allows me to relax and gives Koko the chance to be silly or nap as well as snack so 15 to 30 minute breaks multiple times a day are a required part of my hike.

I use the time to catch up with family and friends and Koko uses it to nap or play or both and when the break is finished she is ready to pump out a few more miles.

Breaks from hiking during the day are critical to maintain energy levels and break up the monotony of miles and miles of trail hiking. Periodically you may find your pet suddenly stopping just to enjoy the views and the smells of all the fascinating areas you visit. I frequently catch Koko smiling and thoroughly enjoying the day.

Remember to limit your miles based on your animals abilities and to pay attention to their stride to notice changes such as limps. It’s also a good time to give your pet a well-deserved massage to loosen up any tight muscles.

Establish rules and enforce them

Just like children our pups can be adventurous and if they think it’s just a walk in the park or only for fun they may tend to get distracted or want to only play and your basic mileage will suffer. Owning a beagle and keeping her from being distracted is a challenge at times but basic rules and reminders of the rules help her to remain focused on the task at hand.

Obviously but also necessary remember ALWAYS LEASH your companion. This will prevent possible loss of your pet and also establish limits and order and allow for a better hiking companion as well. Simple voice tones and gentle leash nudges are usually enough to remind your pet of whatever your basic hiking needs are.

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Leashing your fur friend will also alleviate the endless running ahead then behind which can add additional miles to an already challenging experience. This will only fatigue the animal and they will burn even more energy than needed to hike the days distance as well as adding miles to their hike.

I prefer my leash to be around 11 feet long for hiking and it’s attached to my backpack with a sturdy carbineer and a bungee to subtly pull as if I am tugging at the leash. The extra length is for difficult sections and stream and river crossings where jumping may be required.

Although I dread when I must growl loudly and yell commands I find it necessary when commands are not obeyed. I use a 3 strike approach with the command a slightly louder command and an even louder command if that fails then a harshly growled command with NOW generally works except in cases of rain so far.

Without boundaries essentially the dog is controlling the hike who’s the master?

Feeding and weight management

Be prepared to carry extra weight on a regular basis. You can put a pack on your pet but pack weight should be kept to around 10%of the animals weight. Larger breeds may be able to handle more weight but also need a larger food supply and having them carry it can cause potential issues with hungry scavengers. On a positive note you will generally only need to carry enough food for about 4 to 5 days provided you can get to the next resupply location.

Shortly after you begin to experience hiker hunger so will your canine. Suddenly 4 days of food is gone and you need more already. Again now your pack weight is going to increase due to your pets extra energy consumption with a possibility of double weight to carry in dog food.

Feeding should consist of a high quality diet with a boost of some high energy boosts of human tidbits. I use real bacon bits and pepperoni or cheese and I chop up beef jerky as well. The extra fat and protein are a bonus and they insure good food interest and help break up the monotony of plain dry dog food. There are also commercial brands add in packets that are lightweight and tasty that will help to boost the nutritional value of your companions meals.

Relax and refocus

It is important to remember that canines live and exist in the now. They do not dwell on the past or worry about the future as a hiking owner it pays to stay calm during the hike to guide your fur friend along the way. Owning a beagle a breed notorious for distracted attention is a good example and reminder to relax and get the pup refocused on the task of hiking.

Your pet will respond better if your demeanor is calm and you are not stressed during the hike. Take a few deep breaths and get yourself free of whatever personal issues may be bothering you and your pet will be able to feed from that positive attitude and hike better due to your State of calm.

Final thoughts

Consider using a hiking staff as opposed to trekking poles this allows for a free hand to deal with leash tangles and unhooking your leash when needed without having to unstrap a trekking poles to get a free hand.

Poop should be lightly buried or moved off the trail and should you be in town disposed of properly. On the trail I dig a small hole with my hiking staff and gather nearby leaves to cover the waste so others do not see or step on it.

Although hiking a major trail with a canine is an extra challenge it is also a task that can be accomplished with a little knowledge and advice. I hope you found this article helpful thanks for visiting my site and please feel free to comment below.

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