What I learnt doing a long distance hike with a dog
Before Offa’s Dyke, I wrote a blog post on the kit I was planning to take with me for my dog (you can read it here: http://www.mycountryside.org.uk/2010/02/15/the-weight-penalty-of-hiking-with-a-dog/). A comment today from Hilke has reminded me that I never really followed up on what I learnt from doing a long distance hike with a dog.
Having a clip was absolutely indispensable – it is so handy to easily be able to clip the dog to pretty much anything. The clip I have is a large lightweight clip (in fetching pink) – I think it originally came from a camping store. When not in use it just clips to the side of the rucksack, although I have been known to walk ‘hands free’ with the dog clipped to my side (on her Halti so she does not pull – this does require a bit of vigilance though if your dog is a chaser).
On Offa’s Dyke I really wish I had used her Halti every day all day. The constant additional strain on my feet due to her light not ongoing pulling pressure ultimately caused me to damage the metatarsal bridge of my feet, which meant they were in agony for most of the second half of the walk.
The Aqua Sorb towel, whilst a pretty good idea, ended up not really being that useful and just a dead weight in my bag. We were pretty lucky with the weather, so I just tried to make sure she had a swim close to our stopping point at the end of the day, and then letting her dry out of her roll mat during the evening.
Having half a cheap roll matt as a dog bed worked really well – it doubled up as a seat for me during the day on wet ground, it dried quickly, and provided all the warmth the dog needed at night.
For food and water bowls I bought a set of Orikaso folding bowls and plates (there is also a cup in the set, but this is less useful for the dog!). They are cheap, fold flat, and very light – I did a review of them here: http://www.mycountryside.org.uk/2010/05/19/review-orikaso-folding-platebowlcup/. The bowl is great for water, and the plate just about holds a meal worth of food.
Other bits: I would have probably taken less poo bags, as I ended up with loads left at the end. I would probably also now avoid special dog wipes for the first aid kit, and just have a few extra antiseptic wipes. The tick removers were not used, but are still in the first aid kit just in case.
The clip, halti, half roll mat and Orikaso bowl/plate still go with me on any trip with the dog (as well as the poo bags and tick remover).
Food and Water
There was plenty of water available throughout the trip for the dog, but I am still glad I carried some backup water just in case. Since Offa’s Dyke, I have bought a Travel Tap from backpackinglight.co.uk (http://www.backpackinglight.co.uk/product353.asp?PageID=40) – this allows me to safety drink water from hill / mountain streams, which reduces the pressure of my water supply so I usually just carry a 2l supply for both of us as a backup.
Food is still troublesome. On Offa’s Dyke we probably could have managed without the support vehicle doing daily drops of dog food with a bit of planning and foresight (there were plenty of shops, and where there was not, a pre-planned parcel would have done fine). Even now I still take a few tins and biscuits up into the hills with me for a night camp although I am starting to think about dropping the heavy tins and having more dried food and taking some gravy grannuals to make it a bit more enjoyable for the dog (she hates dried food).
I completely failed to find any freeze dried dog food in the UK – it seems to exist in the US though.
When I approached my vet about doing Offa’s Dyke, his response was that as long as she does all the training we do, then she will be just as prepared as we are. Halfway through the hike, after a night of not eating due to a poorly stomach, she was clearly tired – whilst seeing a squirrel would still excite her, she spent most of the morning walking to heel – at this point we made the decision to give her half a day off. She very gratefully curled up in the support vehicle and apparently slept all afternoon (and was back to her usual self the next day). Likewise towards the end of the walk, she started getting tired again, so we gave her another half a day rest before the final (and longest) day. The vet was right – she was as prepared as us – but whilst we knew the overall purpose (to raise money for charity) so could work through the tiredness, she did not. It was the right decision to give her a rest, and if I did it again without a support vehicle, I would include a few rest days.
On our return home, it did take her a few weeks before she was asking for her lunchtime walk with her usual excitement – I think she was worried it would end up being another 13 day trip if we left the house again!
Her paws coped fine – they were slightly worn and a bit tatty by the end, but they did not get sore or cause her any discomfort. I never did try any boots.
Do you have any advice to give people thinking about doing a long distance hike with a dog?