Lecture: Hiking with Dogs

April 29, 2008 at 3:33 pm 14 comments

Five years ago, when I struggled on the 1872 foot ascent of Rock Castle Gorge, Tony Airaghi encouraged me to take my time and then he said something that I expect to remember for years to come:

We aren’t here to kill ourselves. We’re here to have a good time.

I think about Tony’s statement almost every time I take a break and at times I paraphrase it to struggling strangers. And today, I declare with great conviction – That goes for dogs as well.

This weekend at McAfee’s Knob, we encountered a hiker with a female dog that was obviously struggling. Slow and stiff, she was not enjoying the ascent.

“How old is that dog?” I asked.

“Fourteen,” the owner replied.

Apparently, the owner could tell what I was thinking.

“It’s okay,” the owner added, “I gave her two [painkillers] this morning.”

First off–just because you drug a dog does not mean it is not injuring itself. Second off– what does it say if you drug a dog and it is STILL hurting?!?

Just a little while later, we could see this poor dog try to call it quits. Not once, but TWICE, the dog crawled off to the side of the trail and tried to lay down under the shade. Even from my vantage point, I could clearly see its legs shaking.

Both times, the owner became very frustrated, yelled at the dog and yanked it back up.

Dogs go out of their way to please their owners. If a dog is trying to lay down while you are walking, it is DONE.

Even though the owner and the dog eventually made it to the top and probably did not need to have the dog carried down the mountain on a stretcher, it is my personal assessment that they should have turned around. The moment it was clear this was no longer fun for the dog is when the return trip should have commenced. You got out, you enjoyed the day, summon the strength to wuss out, for goodness sake.

A different, but as miserable, hiking dog.

As Jimmie and Henry continue to age, it is a very real concern of mine that I will push them too far. So I’m constantly assessing (aka worrying about) their readiness. I’m already accepting that both dogs may have made their last trip up to Dragon’s Tooth. Anything six miles or over, I make a call about Henry (who has some back problems) on a case by case basis. He hasn’t done anything over ten miles since 2006. He’s sat out my last two birthday hikes. Even smaller hikes, like Pearis Mountain in the snow, I leave him behind if he seems sore. Henry did join us at McAfee’s Knob this past weekend. With him in mind, we took the less strenuous fire road for the first 2.5 miles and watched him for signs of soreness.

Now, it’s never easy to leave either dog behind. They are well conditioned to know what the hiking boots and the backpack mean and get extremely excited when those items emerge (for my last birthday hike, I actually hid my boots the night before so Henry wouldn’t see me get them in the morning). When I do leave either one behind, I can hear a lot of crying as I get in my car. It makes me sad. They want to come along so badly. But you know what? I know where we are going– they don’t. I know the ascent, the length and typically have an idea of the terrain. They don’t.

So I do my very best to use that extra knowledge to make a decision that is best for the dog. It’s not always black and white. One day I very well may make the wrong call. And if I do– I’ll turn around.

I’m not out there to kill myself or my dogs. I’m out there for all of us to have a good time.


Entry filed under: Appalachian Trail, Henry, Hiking, Jimmie, McAfee's Knob, Tony Airaghi.

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14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sour Swinger  |  April 29, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    I don’t know TGAW. Sounds like your getting soft and showing more too much empathy. A dogs a dog. Perhaps I’m just being too cold hearted though?

  • 2. Clint  |  April 29, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    If they fail you, they make excellent dinner. (I’m just building upon SourSW’s comment for humor purposes.)

  • 3. Carolyn  |  April 29, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    **** that dog owner! I can’t believe that story. Animal cruelty! I can’t believe she drugged the dog, and then dragged it and yelled at it and forced it to hike all that way!!!!!!! That seems really messed up to me. That is so not fair to the dog.

  • 4. Carolyn  |  April 29, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    Oh, and you better submit Tony’s saying to that blog of “things that were said that lasted.”

  • 5. Sour Swinger  |  April 29, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Doggy dinner!!! Sounds delicious! However you shouldn’t wait until they get too old as the meat will probably be too tender.

  • 6. tgaw  |  April 29, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    @SourSwinger – I thought tender meat was desirable? Don’t people pay a premium for tender meat?

  • 7. geekhiker  |  April 29, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    That’s just a sad story. On the last backpack, we had an older (13-year) dog along, and he did fine, though the distance was only a few miles. His owner never pushed him, gave him plenty of time to rest and stay hydrated, and it was clear the dog liked being outdoors.

    And continuing the humorous bent – I would think I nice stew would do the trick…

  • 8. Sour Swinger  |  April 30, 2008 at 7:28 am

    I think I used the wrong word then. I do know that meat from really old cows taste worse. Hence why some of the best cut steaks come from calves.

  • 9. charles nichol  |  April 30, 2008 at 8:51 am

    hi vicky. this is uncle chuck and I am in the new castle library with your cousin mark. I asked him to show me a few computer skills and he took me to your web site. I was hoping to see picutures of my farm but we could not find any under Pennsylvania Link.

    I enjoyed your recent visit even though you showed up at midnight!

    best regards

    typed and written by mark sawyer with approval of

    Charles Nichol.

  • 10. tgaw  |  April 30, 2008 at 9:07 am

    @charles nichol – If you are still online, here is a post about the farm:


    And more pictures are here:

    McConnell's Mill - Vicky and Uncle Chuck

    And if that isn’t enough, just yesterday I mailed three prints to you!

    I enjoyed my recent visit as well.


  • 11. Aaron  |  May 2, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    That really pisses me off.

    I hate seeing folks running with young puppies. Seriously! Puppies love to run, but it’s bad for their development if you run them them like that when they’re young.

  • 12. Anne  |  May 4, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Where was Tony when I was struggling to get to the waterfall after 5 glasses of champagne the night before, when we ran out of water?

  • 13. Anne  |  May 4, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Moon is getting slow across the bridge. She still enjoys the walk, though. We spend a lot more time on benches in Occoquan with water bottles.

  • 14. sandrar  |  September 10, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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