Pack hiking with Samoyeds
by Pam Landers
The beauty of pack hiking is that you have so many options for having a great time with your best friend. You can do it almost anywhere, set your own schedule, go alone or with a group, go around the park or up the mountain, make it easy or difficult, long or short, a day or afternoon hike or a three week trek.
Starting out is fairly simple. Try the empty packs on your dog
and walk him a bit so he can get used to the feel. Most of the time
he will hardly notice. If all goes well, add a few items in the pack
(an eighth of the dogšs weight or so) just to familiarize him with
both the extra poundage and the bulk. The packs should ride forward
toward the dogšs shoulders rather than back toward the loins.
It helps tremendously if your dog has been trained to walk nicely on lead. If not, a head collar will allow you both to enjoy your hike. Try some short hikes of a couple of miles with a light load until you both are feeling conditioned for longer trips. Your dog can earn points for the SCA working degrees with hikes of 5 miles or more.
You can buy packs at most good outfitters. I prefer packs that have a saddle separate from the actual pack. The pack stays put on the saddle with velcro bars. This allows the packs to be removed for rests or lunch stops without having to unstrap the saddle as well.
Always keep your dog on lead (a six foot leather lead is best) for your dogšs safety and the safety of wildlife and other hikers. Most public trails require that you honor this responsibility and I cannot stress the important of doing so too strongly. People who ignore this regulation and common courtesy are contributing to the closure of trails to hikers with dogs. Other trail users have stopped me many times to thank me for having the dogs under control. Some obedience training helps. When you meet other hikers, stop off the trail to let them pass. They will appreciate the courtesy and they will be impressed with you and your dogs.
Your dog should carry in his pack:
* Water (and a small pan if your dog does not
drink out of a bottle). This is essential. You will be amazed at how
much your dog will drink, even on a cool day. For a ten mile hike,
carry at least 5 pounds of water. Stop after the first 20 minutes or
so to see if the dog wants a drink, and every half an hour
afterward. To make sure your dog is hydrated, you might try watering
him an hour or so before you leave, baiting the water with something
tasty to encourage him to drink.
You will use up the water as you hike. The working program does not require you to replace the weight as you go; however, this does not mean that you can dump the water after hiking a while just to lighten the load. It has be to used up naturally.
* Booties. Your dog may scrape, cut or bruise its pads. Check the feet often. the booties can make the difference between a fun hike and a bad day.
* Other items your dog can carry include dog snacks, extra leashes, extra line to help cross streams, a small first aid kit (for humans and dogs), small binoculars, small cameras, sample bags of dog food, and small towels that can be used as pads between the harder items and the dogšs sides. Put anything that should not get wet in a ziplock bag.
Be sure to balance the pack by attempting to have the same weight on both sides. Pack a number of smaller items rather than a few large ones so that you can redistribute weight if the pack becomes unbalanced. It will inevitably do so as your dog drinks its water.
Suggestions for the human member of the hiking team:
* Wear good hiking boots and socks. Unless you want sore feet and twisted ankles, light walking shoes or sneakers are acceptable only for short walks on very flat, very well groomed trails. Good hiking socks are worth their weight in gold for preventing blisters.
* Wear a hat with a brim for eye and skin protection, and warmth on a cool day.
* Carry at a minimum a rain jacket, a warm layer, lunch, compass, maps, a small knife, extra plastic bags, and sun screen. For longer hikes and hikes into wilderness areas, you might add gloves, a space blanket, and matches. GPS devices are good if you know how to use them, but cell phones often do not have service in wilderness areas.
Where to go:
Many hiking opportunities abound, even around and in large cities. Check county, city and state parks and forests, local cross country ski or snowmobile trails (in non-snow seasons, of course) and national forests. Your city, county and state offices and even your local Chambers of Commerce will have information on these. This information can also usually be found on all their websites. An excellent source is your state Department of Natural Resources or Game and Fish Department (they have different names in different states.) National Parks do not allow dogs on the trails.
There are several publications out now that identify trails in
specific areas that are dog friendly, such as Best Hikes With Dogs
Colorado (Best Hikes With Dogs Colorado) by Ania Savage (Paperback -
April 15, 2005).
Any of the big internet booksellers can help you find something for your area if it is available.
For further information, especially on overnight pack hiking,
Backpacking With Your Dog, Charlene LaBelle, Alpine Publications, Loveland, CO, 1993
On the Trail With Your Canine Companion: Getting the Most of Hiking and Camping With Your Dog by Cheryl S. Smith, April 1, 1996)
The Canine Hiker's Bible by Doug Gelbert, September 30, 2000)