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Subject: rec.pets.dogs: Canine Activities: Camping and Backpacking FAQ

This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:42 GMT

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This is posted with the permission and cooperation of the author. It is posted monthly and archived with the other rec.pets.dogs.* FAQs but for the latest and most up to date copy, you should look at the URL listed above. Feel free to include a link to the URL from your web site, but please do not copy the article to your site. This will assist us in our effort to make sure the most up to date versions of this information is readily available. Last-modified: 23 Jul 1995 ======= The latest versions of these FAQ's may be found via the Web at http://io.com/user/tittle/dogs-faq/homepage.html. There are nearly 50 FAQ's available for this group. For a complete listing of these, get the "Complete List of RPD FAQs". This article is posted bimonthly in rec.pets.dogs, and is available via anonymous ftp to rtfm.mit.edu under pub/usenet/news.answers/dogs-faq/faq-list, via the Web at http://io.com/user/tittle/dogs-faq/lists/faq-list.html, or via email by sending your message to mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu with send usenet/news.answers/dogs-faq/faq-list in the body of the message. ========== HIKING/BACKPACKING WITH CANINES This page is authored and maintained by Terri Watson <elf@cs.washington.edu>. Please carefully read the disclaimer at the end of this document. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document. This page is still under construction. Comments, corrections, and/or additions should be sent to <elf@cs.washington.edu>. Packing with a canine companion can be a wonderful experience and an excellent opportunity to get away from the routines and scenes of daily life. Most dogs love the opportunity to get out and enjoy the sights and scents of the trail. Owners often find that they enjoy the outing even more as they see the hike from a canine perspective. With their keener senses, dogs can "point out" interesting features or animals that their people might otherwise overlook. Who can participate? From the human perspective, basically most people that can go hiking without a dog can go hiking with one. The additional constraints are that you must be (1) physically able to restrain your dog (or dogs) in the presence of distractions, such as a running deer or squirrel, and (2) responsible enough to prevent the dog from being a nuisance to other people or animals. This includes picking up after your pet. From the canine perspective, if the dog is healthy, fit and well-behaved around other people (both adults and children) and animals, she can usually accompany the owner(s) on their outings. Of course, for both humans and dogs, a visit to the doctor to evaluate general health is a good idea before starting or increasing physical demands. Particularly if you choose to have your canine carry a pack, you should be confident they are in good health and structurally sound. Consider having your dog's hips X-rayed in order to check for hip displasia before asking him to carry a full pack over long distances. Dogs, like people, need to gradually build up strength and endurance. See the section on packing with your dog for more information on conditioning. Preparations and Equipment EQUIPMENT (FOR THE DOG) collar and leash You need a collar with identification and a leash. I use a rolled leather buckle collar onto which I attach the rabies, dog license, and identification tags. My leash of choice is a 6 foot long, round synthetic leash, with a loop for the hand and a sturdy snap. The leash will often end up getting wet - I've found that the synthetics dry more quickly than leather. Be certain before setting out that the leash, snap, collar and buckle are in good condition and will not break if the dog suddenly lunges after the rabbit that's been teasing him unmercifully from just ahead on the path. Some people like to use retractable-type leashes to give their dogs more freedom. While these are fine where allowed, I've found that they more easily tangle around bushes or other people. In fact, my current companion bears the scars from when Tika ran behind him more quickly than I could follow or think to drop the leash. He ended up with rope burns behind one knee. Be careful! Carrying an additional collar and leash is a good idea in case of loss or breakage. booties Depending on the type of terrain, the weight of the pack, and the dog's tendency to tear her footpads, you might wish to consider buying some booties to protect your dog's feet. There are many different types of booties, suited to different terrain. Many of the trails that I hike in the Cascade moutains are somewhat rocky, so I use cordura booties lined with a synthetic-type polar fleece. My dog Tika, a Belgian Sheepdog, only needs them on her front feet; the back ones do not get cut up easily. These are fabric booties that slide on like a short sock, and are held in place with velcro that wraps around the dogs leg just above the foot. You have to experiment to find out how tight to make the velcro. You want it just tight enough to stay on the dog's foot. Vet-Wrap is handy for keeping booties in place (but not too tight), especially on rear paws. Keep an eye out for lost booties until you have the right knack for putting them on, especially after a scramble. My dog also gets sore feet in icy snow, so I use booties there too. If you're going to be mostly in snow then I would use the polar-fleece only type (no cordura on the outside) as they provide better traction in those conditions. Another trick for snow hiking is to put vasiline on the dog's paws to help prevent ice-balls from forming between the toe-pads. I've heard that desert hiking may also require booties, but since that's not yet in our repertoire, I'm not sure what type of booties would be best. The main concern there seems to be stickers and sharp plants (cactus, yucca bushes, etc.) pack I have a Wenaha pack. It has two parts, a pad that is attached to the dog with three straps: across the chest, around the body right behind the front legs, and around the body near the end of the ribcage. The pack attaches to the pad with a plastic buckle at the center front of the pad and three velcro strips: one large one down the center and two smaller ones on the sides. Do not over-tighten the straps as they can be uncomfortable for the dog and interfere with breathing and motion. A Wolfhound owner advises, "With Wolfhounds and similarly built breeds, it is very important to place all weight on the shoulders, NOT the back." I like the two part pack design because it allows me to quickly remove and replace the pack during rest stops. I chose a red pack and I leave the underlying pad on until Tika comes into the tent at night. Should she get away from me for some reason, the red pad will (hopefully) identify her as a domestic animal - a valid concern during hunting season. It also makes her easier to spot in a variety of terrain. IDENTIFICATION Tattoos and microchips are two other forms of identification for your dog. Unfortunately, for these techniques to allow recovery, more knowledge on the part of the person finding the dog is required. Check with your local shelters to be certain of the procedure they follow with lost dogs. Tattoos are generally a number that is registered with one of several animal tattoo registries. Be certain that you register with a large, well-known registry that shelters in your area will contact. Tattoos have the added benefit that many states prohibit labs anre research facilities from using tatooed animals. The tattoo'd area should be visible. With some breeds that means shaving or trimming hair from the area (often the inside of a rear leg) on a regular basis. Some shelters will check for a tattoo before euthanizing a dog, but do not check before placing him for adoption, so be careful. Although more shelters are participating in microchip programs, many still do not (and do not have the equipment to) check for microchips. There are also different brands of microchips that require different scanners (readers). Make sure that the shelters in your area have scanners for the chip that you implant. As these chips become more standardized, hopefully these kinds of concerns will be reduced. VACINATIONS As should be apparent from above, the dog's rabies vacination and dog license should be current. The dog should be current on all other regular vacinations as well and you may want to ask your vet about additional vacinations or medical precautions applicable in your area. Some examples include: heatworm medication (only start this after having a test that shows your dog does not currently have heartworm), lyme shot, flea and tick control, and bordatella vacination (kennel cough). FOOD AND WATER Clean drinking water is a must for both you and your dog. Although natural water sources may be plentiful on your hike, the water my be contaminated with giardia (a protozoan parasite), or harmful bacteria or chemicals. In areas where giardia is a problem you should not allow your dog to drink from steams or lakes on your hike. Always make sure that you carry enough water for your hike. See the section on weather below for additional information. NOTIFY A FRIEND You should let someone know what your travel plans are, especially when going to a less frequently traveled area. It's also much safer not to hike alone in such areas. If you are injured or otherwise unable to return from your outing, then having someone else able to go for help or to help get you out can mean the difference in some cases between life and death. You may also be more at risk for adverse encouters with ornery wildlife or people when you're on your own. If you insist on traveling alone, a cellular phone can provide some measure of security but you shouldn't rely on it. Converage is not the best in some areas and technology is never perfect. (Batteries die, phones get dropped and break, etc.) In either case, make sure that you leave a responsible friend a detailed description of your itinerary and check in with them as soon as you return. The check-in is essential because if you often forget to check back with them when you get home, then when you're really in trouble it may take an extra day for them to realize that there's a problem and notify searchers. Packing with your dog ACCUSTOMIZING THE DOG TO THE PACK Some dogs will adjust to a pack more easily than others. As is sometimes done with horses, start with something light, such as a towel, to get the dog used to the feeling of something riding on his back. This is particularly useful with puppies that are too young to carry a pack. I would would not recommend putting anything other than an empty pack stuffed with newspaper on a puppy under a year old. Just as with agility and jumping in obedience, there is a risk of doing structural damage by putting an increased load on developing bones. In larger breeds you might need to wait until 18 months or older. Check with your veterinarian to be safe. Depending on the dog's reactions and temperament, you can proceed to put the pad (if your pack has a separate one) and then the pack itself. Take him for short walks and see how he reacts. He should learn to associate getting to go out with the pack, and will quickly start to look forward to wearing it. Once he's comfortable with the pack, fill it with odd things that will feel and sound like the pack will when it's actually used for an outing. Crumpled newspaper, half filled water-bottles (sloshing), tin cups or pots that bump one another, etc. As you start filling the pack more (volume, not weight), you may notice that your dog mis-judges walking through doors, around trees, and even your legs, bumping them with the pack. Another problem is slightly mis-judging jumps, falling short because of the additional weight. This is another good reason not to ask your dog to carry too much weight too quickly. These problems will get better with experience, although if you hike infrequently, there may be a brief re-adjustment necessary at the start of each hike. WEIGHT Most working breeds and athletic mid-sized dogs can carry about 33% of their body weight. Start the dog off with 25% of their weight for a short hike and see how they do. Gradually work up to 33% and progressively longer hikes. If you have a small (eg, Fox Terrier) or large breed (eg, Great Dane), or a breed with a less athletic build, then your dog's ideal pack weight may be a bit different from the percentages listed here. CONDITIONING Just like people, dogs must be conditioned for any performance activity. If your dog is a couch potato, don't expect her to suddenly be able to carry a full pack on a 10 mile hike. Some dogs will refuse to carry a pack that's too heavy, but others will injure themselves trying. Start off with short hikes and light weight. Gradually increase the length of the hikes and the weight in the pack. Keep an eye on your dog's movement, be reasonable in your expectations, and ask your vet for advice when you're unsure. Some of my friends with working Northern-breed dogs have reported their dogs happily carrying 40-45% of their weight, but these dogs are in top physical condition. CONTENTS You should not put anything in the dog's pack that you cannot afford to lose. Fragile items, or items that should not get wet, are also a poor choice. The dog will often scramble though tight spots with less grace than his human counterparts, banging the pack against rocks or trees in the process. This is particularly true with a novice dog that has still not learned how much wider they are with a filled pack on. Another must is to pack both sides with roughly equal weight and volume. Failure to do this will result in, at best, a dog that's off-balance, and at worst, one side of the pack flipping over to the other, or the whole pack sliding over to one side. Items that I have put at various times in the dog's pack: extra water, rain gear, 3/4 length sleeping pad, dog food (sealed in plastic bags), dog comb, dog frisbee, extra bags for cleanup, the camp stove inside of cooking pots (so it was protected from banging), camp soap and sponge, etc. Where to hike? Unfortunately, uncontrolled dogs and irresponsible pet owners have contributed to the closing of trails in a number of places. The following are rules of thumb for picking a trail or area, but since there are exceptions to must of these, the only way not to be surprised is to call the correct admistrative office and check to be certain that dogs are allowed. It would be quite dissappointing to drive several hours to your selected trailhead only to find that dogs are not allowed. The forest service offices are often a good place to start, and they should be able to direct you to other numbers as appropriate. Dogs are not allowed on National Park or National Monument trails. On-leash dogs are permitted on or near the paved, developed areas, but that's all. National Forests often allow dogs on their trails, but there are exceptions, so check first. Dogs are usually allowed on wilderness area trails, but again, check to be sure. Weather Warmer temperatures on a hike call for additional precautions to guard your dog against heat exhaustion or heat stroke. As mentioned above, always make sure that you carry enough water for your hike and give give your dog (and yourself) frequent drinks. When I am backpacking, I carry a plastic cup hooked to the outside of the pack to make it easier to get to. If it's too difficult to get to a cup or bowl, you may be tempted not to water your dog frequently enough. Some people teach their dogs to drink directly from a water bottle. I prefer the cup because I lose less water onto the ground. Watch your dog for signs of heat exhaustion or stroke. Particularly, unusually rapid panting, and/or a bright red tougue or mucous membranes. The dog's primary mechanism for cooling off is through panting. Since this cooling process uses evaporation the dog will require more water when he is panting heavily. I have read that the shorter-nosed breeds (eg, Bulldogs, Pugs) may have a less efficient heat exchange rate, so should be watched especially closely. If you determine that your dog is overheating, your should stop immediately and get her into the shade. You should check with your vet for the best ways to cool down an overheated dog. Since I've never run into an extreme case, I've just kept my dog cool using the same approach they use for endurance riding in horses. I put cool water on her belly and groin area. The logic here is that you want to cool down areas where there is a large blood supply, and allow evaporation off the skin to provide heat exchange. If you're near running water you might put the dog into that, but I don't know what the dangers of a sudden temperature change might be. The main idea you should take from this is that heat stroke is a life threatening condition and your should be able to recognize the warning signs and know how to prevent it. Even on a cooler day, if it is very sunny, and your dog is working hard and is a dark coated breed, they can get overheated. Cold weather poses its own set of problems, although I am less familiar with these. The main thing I have run into is my dog getting cold in our tent during early season hikes. She is an indoor dog, and not heavily coated. If it's a cold night, once she has come into the tent and been still for a couple of hours, she will sometimes start shivering. My solution has been to invite her onto my sleeping mat to get her off of the cold ground and give her the additional insulation of curling up against me. If you routinely hike in colder climates or have a short coated dog, you might consider having a pad to get them off of the ground, and/or a blanket or towel to throw over them. Don't be fooled by cold weather. Adequate fluid levels are essential for heat maintainance in both temperature extremes. Drink plenty of water and make your dog do the same. Trail Etiquette Dogs are required to be on-leash on most maintained public trails. In many places, the leash is required to be 6 feet or less in length. You should always respect these rules. The reasons for this are numerous, I'll list a few examples here. Your dog might frighten others by running up to them. Even if she's friendly, people that are afraid of dogs might become agitated and get seriously injured indirectly through falling or backing into something in their fright. Your dog might chase other animals, scaring them, injuring them, or being killed or injured by them. Your dog might startle a horse on the trail, injuring either horse, rider, or the dog herself. Just having your dog on-leash is not sufficient. You should keep him calm when passing others on the trail, preferably training him to sit quietly to one side of the trail as others walk by, or to calmly walk by others without barking or straining against the leash to jump on them. Even a polite sniff can be intimidating to a non-dog person, especially children. Good canine manners will go a long way towards creating good will and increased tolerance of canine presence. Know your dog. Be aware of what situations may make him act strangely or provoke an agressive or defensive reaction. Then prevent these situations or, if unavoidable, be prepared to deal appropriately with them. You should never take a dog out on the trail if you feel there is any chance of someone being injured by him. Of course, not all trails require leashes, and even on the ones that do, many people do not obey the rules. You and your dog may be accosted by other dogs, some of which may be agressive. When you encounter other users on the trail, the following guidelines apply: horses have right-of-way over hikers, and hikers are supposed to have right-of-way over mountain bikes. Hikers going downhill have right-of-way over those coming up. Especially with horses, try to get well clear of the trail and leave them plenty of room to pass. Again, don't allow any barking or jumping to the end of the leash. You can quiet some dogs by preventing them from being able to see the horses. Always pick up after your dog on the trail. On your way out, consider packing out other people's trash if you have extra room in the dog's pack. Be friendly and courteous to other people on the trail. If they have questions about your dog and/or her pack, try to be informative and helpful. I have often encountered people on the trail that reacted positively to my dog "carrying her weight" and wanted to know how to get their pet to do the same. The more responsible, educated dog-owners that want to bring their pets with them on the trail, and that themselves in turn leave a positive impression on others, the more likely we are to stave off additional closings and possibly even get other trails re-opened to our canine friends. Obstacles on the Trail Although there certainly are trails that are relatively obstacle free, my experience in the Cascades, outside of the National Park areas, are that most trails will have at least a few challenges. Hiking, particularly on less traveled trails, is the best practical application of agility training that I have ever encountered. On a recent early-season hike up Robinson Creek in the Pasayten Wilderness, we encountered numerous fallen trees across the path, snow that would give underfoot - dropping the fallee by up to four feet, and a wooden bridge that was washed out due to racing high water (spring melt) in the creek. For those that choose to go off-trail (where allowed) the list is even longer. If you're planning to attempt these kinds of hikes, you should have a dog that is very confident and trusts and follows your commands. Log-bridges are common in my area. This is where a large log spans a creek, usually with a hand-rail on one-side. The top of the log has been hewn off so that the surface is relatively flat. Since some of these may be many feet above the water they cross, your dog may or may not be aprehensive. In our hiking, we generally cross a number of "natural" log-bridges, ie, ones with no handrail and no level surface. Tika takes these in stride, sometimes I will point and give the agility command "bridge" if there are multiple choices and I want her to take a certain one. This is one of a few cases where I take her off-leash to negotiate an obstacle. This is typically done with a companion going ahead and then standing at the other side waiting. Then Tika crosses and then myself. In cases where I am concerned with the risk of her falling (she is typically more surefooted than I on such crossings), I do the following: I attach the leash to her collar and tighten the collar one notch so that it won't slip off. (The leash is usually attached to a loop on the back of the harness pad.) This is because for my particular pad, the loop is not in a good place for controlling her. I remove her booties to give her feet a better purchase. I remove the pack, leaving only the harness pad, so she can move naturally and won't have additional weight or bulk to deal with if she should fall in a creek or into a hole. I crawl across with her, holding her harness and ready to catch her if she slips. The reason I crawl or slide along in these cases is that if I were standing I would not be able to balance well enough if she suddenly fell. (Of course, one can't really recomend doing these things. I'm just relating my experiences.) For stream crossings that the dog can safely swim or wade through, I remove the pack and booties if it's deep enough to warrant it. Other obstacles are logs or downed trees that the dog must go over, around, under or in some cases all of the above! Again, I take the leash off of Tika so that it won't get caught as she works her way through. Generally she picks her on path, but in some cases if I see something better, or she gets stuck, I will command "back" and then point another way with an "over" or "tunnel" command. The "stay" command is invaluable here, if she gets in a tight spot, or the pack catches on something she can't free - then a "stay" will keep her calm and still until I solve the problem. Last resort is to pick her up and hand her to someone on the far side. Other Dogs on the Trail Not all dog owners are responsible with respect to their pets behavior on the trail. Some will even allow aggressive dogs off-leash. Encounters with these dogs can result in a fight between your animal and theirs, even if your dog is leashed, so be prepared to prevent this occurance. Although I've personally not had a problem yet, a fellow hiker who has repeatedly run into this scenario offers the following advice: Always carry a can of Halt!, which is a mild pepper-spray, the exact same stuff many local letter-carriers have on their belts. It can be bought for around $6.00 in many cycling stores, and is legal and definitely works. He points out that while he hates to hurt the dogs (the owners are the ones that really need the correction), his and his dogs' safety comes first, plus, it's more humane to stop a fight before it starts. The stuff has no lasting effects and can be washed out of the dog's eyes or whatever with water. Halt! has a range of only some 15' or so, and if there's a wind blowing, you or your dog can get a "back-blast" from it if you're not careful. He always makes every effort to resolve the issue in other ways but if he thinks an attack is coming (you learn to read their body-language after awhile), he uses it and just keeps going. Camping under construction - more here later Hiking/Backpacking Clubs I'm going to try to compile a list of clubs by area that organize canine hiking outings. If you know of such, please send me the name, area and contact info. Along the same lines, I am not aware of such a club in the Seattle area, so I am in the process of organizing one. If you're interested in participating, please send me email. I haven't checked for name conflicts yet (I'm sure there is one), but if no one is using it, then I planned to call the group "Cascade Canines". Disclaimer Hiking, camping and backpacking are, like many other recreations, potentially dangerous activities. The author of this document is not an instructor or an authority in any of these areas, or in veterinary science or in the area of dog training in general. You are responsible for the health, welfare and actions of your canine companion. This document is the author's attempt to pass on to the interested reader some tidbits gathered from her personal experience as well as items heard repeatedly from others, not all of which has she experienced firsthand. In other words, some of the content in this document is strictly hearsay. You should always check with your veterinarian and/or other experts when you are beyond your own area of expertise. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document. Acknowledgements Thanks to Dave Musikoff of California Canine Hikers, and Linda Coffel for contributed material and/or suggestions for this document. _________________________________________________________________ This page is copyrighted by Terri Watson <elf@cs.washington.edu> and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of the author.