Backpacking with a pooch...

9:59 p.m. on August 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Now I know some of you in here have dogs that you hike with, but I am just curious as to some knowledge and tricks you might have for me concerning "hikin pooches". Im looking at some doggy packs and stuff, but do you guys/gals have any recommendations for me? Obviously he needs to be fit (as do I) and used to his pack.

10:21 p.m. on August 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Train your dog as you would yourself - gradually. Don't just suddenly take Fido out for a long one. Work him up to it slowly. I made this bad mistake once and ended up carrying my 9 year old beagle mix on my shoulders for the last 3+ miles of a long day hike. He was fine soon after, but boy did I feel like a piece of sh-- when he started limping on worn down paw pads. He never tried to stop though, didn't even slow, he just kept going because that's what he thought I wanted him to do.

While I'm on the subject...Back in February I reported that I had lost my long-time hiking companion to a sudden illness. I am happy to announce that Penny Lane Whidmore, The cutest 15" beagle puppy in the world, will be available for us to pick up on Sept. 20th.

10:45 p.m. on August 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Hey CShamrock!

My dog prefers his Mountainsmith pack the best. It has held up well although I have made a few modifications.

One pack I have has a handle on top so you can pick up or assist your dog while hiking, I have not found it all that useful.
One thing to keep in mind is that dogs (and other mammals) are designed to "slide" through the brush thanks to their coat, when you put a pack on a dog you have just created a way for the dog to get hung up in brush/vines and the like.
But the dog should be fine on open trails and should be trained to walk at your side or behind you anyway, and lot's of places require a leash, which is a good idea if for no other reason than to be considerate of other hikers. If your dog is not well trained specifically as a trail dog, letting your dog wander about freely will only cause trouble for you or your group.

I would just get a simple pack without a lot of tabs, extra pockets and such, look for something that is double or triple stitched, made out of a heavy synthetic waterproof material with heavy duty zippers. All you need is two large compartments, thats it.
You also need to get something to use as a pack blanket to go between the dog and the pack if you plan to hike a long ways and/or if your dog has a short coat. Again something synthetic, you can cut up an old blanket like I did and get several, but make it slightly smaller than the pack so it does not protrude and get hung up on twigs and stuff.

I started pack training my dog Boo by keeping some dry dog food in the pack and feeding him out of the pack for a week.
Then we started going for walks around the yard with his pack on, and I let him sleep with it. The dog needs to feel like the pack is his/hers and let it be a gradual process!
Slowly work up to hikes with a little weight in the pack, and check the pack for fit every so often, make sure it is not rubbing a raw spot on the dogs back, hindquarters, or that the sides of the pack are not rubbing the dogs front legs as it walks.
Pay close attention to the condition of the pads on the dogs feet as well since this is one of the biggest problems with pack dogs. You will also need a first aid kit just for your dog, there are many articles on the web about this. At a minimum you need to be able to take care of cracked or cut pads, this is serious and should be checked frequently!

I know that's more than you asked for but I don't have many people to discuss it with.
Get a book on the subject if you don't have one, or just google it and learn basic doggie first aid and the warning signs that your dog is sick, or dehydrated, or suffering heat exhaustion. Remember, this is a process for both of you, don't buy a pack and hit the trail the next morning, your dog will probably refuse to wear the pack from then on. They're not dumb like us! HaHa

Good luck!

6:51 a.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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There are a few books on the subject. Some, like this one have been revised recently. Others are quite outdated.

11:51 a.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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One thing not mentioned is "boots" for your canine. These are standard for mushers, but I see them a lot on the rocky trails around here and in the Sierra. Many brands have "lug" soles. That is, rubber soles with a small pattern. Whether this pattern actually helps is debatable, but the protection for the paws is important, just as it is for humans. Vibram, the well-known maker of boot soles for humans, is among the brands of soles for dog booties. I've seen them on several brands.

1:38 p.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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Boots are great in snow, but one of my dogs WILL NOT keep them on. This, again, is an early training thing. Start putting booties on as a pup so they think it's normal. Beware though, that on longer treks, and on dry land, dog boots can create the same problems for fido as your boots can cause for you. They can harbor debris, causing chafing and even penetration wounds. They should be professionally fitted to get the proper fit to avoid rubbing. Also, You must keep checking for blisters and soggy feet. Paws in booties stay wet. Boots worn on the animal too often can cause the foot pads to become soft, losing some of their natural resistance to abrasion - like ours! :)

2:04 p.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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Lots of pros and cons to the booties, like f klock said it is an early training thing.

My second dog would wear them, my current dog will not, and seems to have a better grip without them, but he has very large feet and strong nails (more like claws) that he grabs a hold with. His feet seem to do fine without them with a little preventive care.
We have had a couple instances where he cut his pads on a sharp rock, and we "fixed" it buy rinsing the cut out and using super glue to close the cut then covering that area with a small piece of duct tape. I tried moleskin but it would not stay on too long.

I can certainly see the need for booties on long distance trips, most of what I do with my dog is under 50 miles, and I haven't found them to be crucial.

12:29 a.m. on August 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks for the info. About the dog pads, we happen to live where there is lots of rocks, sand, and a gravel driveway. So im pretty sure he has good strong pads, but I will still take care of them.
Ive heard some sayings that dogs may attract other animals, is that true? Or are you better off with a dog to scare away other animals

8:53 a.m. on August 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Well, that depends on how well your dog is trained for the most part. I haven't experienced the dog actually attracting animals just by his presence.
Only speaking from my own experience here, but usually when I have had problems it was because the dog was running out of camp or off trail sticking his nose where it really didn't belong.
In all fairness to the dog he was just curious and excited by all the new scents and sounds.
Some dogs are bad about confronting other animals such as Raccoons or Snakes. Some dogs will run around marking all the trees.
In any case, these little forays can create problems for the dog and dog owner alike. Raccoon or Opossum bites can be particularly nasty and there is always the risk of Rabies to the owner of the dog as he tries to break up the fight.

Dogs should be trained to stay away from snakes, mine is trained to bark if he spots or smells a snake, and then come to my side, this gives the snake a chance to get away without being confronted by the dog.
Snakes will generally get out of your way if you do not provoke them. Sometimes they stay put, especially Copperheads that are sunning on the trail early in the morning, again, this is just what I have experienced in the areas I go to.

A dog will help keep your camp from being invaded by critters during the night, just his scent seems to be enough for most critters to stay away. I haven't found anything to stop rodents completely though, for me this is mostly a problem around established shelters and tent areas.

A dog has a lot of instincts and natural abilities that can be VERY beneficial to us in the back country, but only if your dog is well trained and after you have spent some time observing your dogs behavior on a few trips.

A dogs hearing, keen sense of smell, ability to back track his own scent, and other abilities are very useful to me especially on solo trips. My dog routinely hears things long before I do, or things that I would not have heard at all.
I find this reassuring, especially on solo trips at night.
A dog will also look in the direction he hears things, and can zero in on that direction long before humans can.
The sound of running water, an injured or lost hiker, thunder, movement in the brush, ect.
I am also convinced my dog can smell water.

I personally don't take my dog on trails that see a lot of use, or in state parks, ect. Dogs in these areas are more of a nuisance to other hikers than anything else.
I only take him in more pristine/remote areas as a companion and a tool for me to use to stay safe, and mostly on solos.
My dog is trained to stay by my side for the most part, he does wander around while we hike, but not too far.
I have fitted his collar with both a red strobe and a bell. This helps me keep track of him and helps let other animals in the area know that we are around, this is very important in bear territory. If going to an area with bears you should keep the dog strictly by your side, or at least very close.

So it's not so much that you need a dog to scare away dangerous animals as it is using their exceptional abilities to smell what you can not smell, and hear what you can not hear, see what you can not see (especially at night), and using that information to make better decisions that will make your trip more enjoyable and keep you safer.

But only a well trained dog will be of any use to you in that regard. You must bond with the dog, be his/her best friend, and spend time observing their body language so you can interpret that into useful information.

Hope that was useful CSamrock

7:22 p.m. on August 27, 2008 (EDT)
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One thing I forgot to mention is that anytime you introduce a new product to a pet it's a good idea to do so at home and check to make sure that they do not have an allergic reaction to the new material, this is more common than you would think.

Good luck

4:09 a.m. on September 16, 2008 (EDT)
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trout- how did you get your dog to bark and return to you when he/she smells a snake?

7:24 p.m. on September 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Well, I certainly can not take all the credit for the training my dog has received. I have paid for some of it, but mostly a friend of mine has been a huge help to me in terms of training my dog and "reading" the dogs behavior.

The technique we used is not the only way I'm sure, but we used my friends basement where he keeps a King snake for killing rodents. My dog was not the only dog he trained this way.

My dog could already both Heel (come to my left side), and Speak (bark on command) before we did this.

We took my dog in the basement and showed it the King snake.
Next we walked around the yard some, then re-introduced the dog to the basement
and encouraged the dog to find the snake, I stayed back a little, as my friend worked my dog. It took little time for the dog to find the snake, but instead of praising him, we said "Speak - Heel" . Only when he would do this correctly would he be rewarded, he had to both bark and come by my side.

It is my understanding that this is easier with some breeds than others.
Mine is an American Akita, they are stoic, quiet, very observant, and easy to train, it was a good choice for me since my wife said that I'm like that too. HaHa!

Another way is to put a shock collar on the dog and zap him/her when the dog finds a snake so it will learn to stay away.
I think that method is short sighted and does not use the dog to his/her potential, the dog should come to your side, not run around like a banshee.

Anyway that is how we did it, it's probably not 100% and we did reinforce this on the trail for a while, but now he just does it. It seems to be mostly visual, but he has keyed on snake skin a couple times, and a couple times I saw nothing, although it looked like a place you would find a snake. I just like to have some warning.
Here is a picture of my dog.

1:49 a.m. on September 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Dogs are sweet and wish I had one, but then again, I went on a hike with this friend and she brought her dog and the damn thing kept walking just back of me and either getting poked by mu sticks or tangled in my legs. annoying.

I also do all of my hiking in the sierra and I'm not sure of all the regs, but basically, they don't allow dogs out in the back-country in most parks. Leave the pup at home and don't worry about the rangers trying to catch you.

12:53 p.m. on September 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Hi JMTxseven,
I agree with you,hiking with an untrained or under trained dog is a PITA.
I would not advise anyone to take a dog if they would not pick a suitable breed, or would not train it. There are plenty of places to hike with a dog that do not see a lot of other hikers.
As I posted above, I only take my dog in remote areas that see little or no traffic. My dog is very well trained and causes me less trouble than some people that have tagged along with me on my more remote trips.
If you ever get a chance to spend time with a real pack dog who has been properly trained I think you would enjoy the experience since you like dogs.
They are quiet and do not get in your way as you hike. Once trained you do not have to constantly manage them. Managing an untrained dog is just more work and stress for us, and others who are trying to escape the rat race in the first place. If it's not your cup of tea that's cool too.
Lots of areas do not allow dogs, as it should be, because they are a nuisance to other hikers trying to enjoy the outdoor experience, especially our beautiful parks. The staff already has too much to do without handling dog issues.
I have not been to the Sierras, I have read about them, and want to visit one day.
Do you have any pics you can post?

2:56 p.m. on September 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Hi there,

I've hiked extensively with my dog all throughout the Sierra's. He rarely misses a trip. Unfortunately I'm limited in some of the regions I can go to (unless I'm off trail and being covert-kinda fun), but we've logged many hundreds of miles together. My dog has a ruff wear pack. Some of the features you will want to look for are soft strap covers and nothing abrasive. My dog is a short haired breed so that may not be as big of an issue for your dog. Sometimes the straps can have sharp edges (where they're cut and melted). That could easily irritate your pooch. Balancing the dogs weight is an obvious one. I will usually try to manually feel out the weight of each packside, but will then make adjustments accordingly after hiking for about a half hour or so. He carries all his own food, night camp jacket, down jacket/sleeping bag, and plastic oragami food bowl (collapses down flat-and great to hike w/ by the way). He manages his packweight very well and really doesn't even seem to notice it (he's only 3). This particular pack has an attachment for a leash (trailheads, etc), and a nice handle that runs down his spine. It's a great pack and the best one for my dog at the time I purchased it almost 3 years ago. Hope this helps!

6:26 p.m. on September 26, 2008 (EDT)
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I don't know if anyone knows this, but the color of your dogs pads actually determines the distance and terrain he is best suited for. The darker his feet, the more difficult terrain he can handle, a dog with pink colored pads for example will get tired more quickly. Look it up on the AKC website.

I've been hiking with an Alaskan husky who I just recently started training with a pack. She is very adapt at getting across rock scrambles. Sometimes better than her owner, which can make holding onto the leash a bit tricky.

8:37 p.m. on September 26, 2008 (EDT)
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hey mikekey,
Yes that is true about the color of the pads for the most part, it is a fairly good indicator from what I've read. Also a good bit of hair between the pads is a plus, as is a tightly formed foot versus a long loose foot which are more prone to injury.

On that type of terrain the dogs 4 wheel drive becomes apparent doesn't it.
Husky is a good pick! Do you have any pictures of her?

10:25 a.m. on September 28, 2008 (EDT)
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12:59 p.m. on September 28, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks for posting those mikekey.
Great shots!
That's the Shenandoah area I guess?

5:24 p.m. on September 28, 2008 (EDT)
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My dog is a 5 years old Border Collie, and he is a good companion both winter and summer. I've posted pics from the last wintertrip here, but I was this summer on two trips where he carried backpack. I must get these pics posted here later, promise.

He carries from 10 to 6 kilos in his pack, and it does not bother him at all. I had with me socks in case of sore feet, but did not need to use them. I check his feet daily for soreness.

To balance the backpack I bring with me a small scale (0-5kg). Then I get a good estimate. If it still sags on one side i slip in a small stone or switches one small item to the light side.

Huskies are great dogs, I had two Siberians some years ago. But I like the BC too. Does not need to bother with chasing other animals, never runs more than 50 meters away from me. Every dog breed has pro and cons.

6:03 p.m. on September 28, 2008 (EDT)
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I saw your pictures of your winter tour in your trip report, beautiful country & smart looking dog!

8:34 a.m. on October 15, 2008 (EDT)
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We’ve taken our dog on quite a few overnighters so we’ve been looking for a good lightweight food that he likes. We recently found a great resource at the same place we’re we get some of our own food:

Our dog likes the Thrive and Verve dehydrated food.

In case anyone is interested, we’ve found their human meals to be very good too. We’ve ordered several as well as a few things from the grocery store and so far, we’ve been happy with everything.

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