Thursday, December 18, 2014
Home > Advice > Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Dog (Part 2)
Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Dog (Part 2)

Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Dog (Part 2)

If you missed Part 1 of Hiking with a Dog, you can click here to read it.  We covered diet, paws, ticks and gear.  This time we wanted to talk about a few things to consider before hiking with your dog.

Before we get to that though, we wanted to give an update on Rooney.  In Part 1, we talked about the dangers of ticks and we mentioned that our pup contracted a tick-borne illness on the AT.  Several people sent us messages asking how Rooney was doing today and we wanted to say thank you for the concern!  We’re happy to report that he’s doing great and is fully recovered.  We got off the trail when his injuries first occurred and took him straight to a vet.  He had a cast for a few days (to protect his swollen paw) and a month of medication.  Bottom line, we took time off the trail and made him our priority.  Today, he is back to his normal, healthy, happy self.

Quick disclaimer before we continue with this post – we are not veterinarians nor are we experts on dogs.  But we do have a good deal of experience on the AT.  We were living in Damascus, VA when we first brought Rooney home so he grew up on the AT and between hiking with Serial and trail running with Minutes, Rooney logged a consistent 40-50 miles a week.  When it came time for our 1400-mile section hike, Rooney was ready and we knew what to expect.

Our goal with this post is to help you look at the pros and cons of bringing a dog on a long distance hike and to help you determine if it’s the right move for you.

Is your dog ready for a long distance hike?  This is a touchy subject for some because the truthful answer is “probably not.”  It takes a lot of work to thru-hike.  Most people don’t make it to Katahdin and even fewer dogs do.  It IS possible though, if you have the right dog and you have the right preparation and mindset going in.  If you can answer yes to these questions, then you’re on the right track.

  • Is your dog the right breed to be active for 8-12 hours a day?  There isn’t a list of breeds we can give you.  Just be realistic and honest about your dog’s capabilities.
  • Is your dog acclimated to the trail?  Will your dog be comfortable and respectful around wildlife, hikers, other dogs, shelters and other people’s gear?
  • Have you built up your dog’s hiking endurance?  His/her paws, joints and endurance need to be gradually built up and conditioned to the trail.  You know how the trail whips people into shape in the first few weeks?  That’s not how it works for dogs.  You should get your dog into shape the year or two before the trail.  Don’t let the trail be a shock to your pet’s system.
  • Are you prepared for your dog’s personality to (possibly) change a little?  If your dog has been raised in a home, living on the trail may change him/her.  One change we saw in Rooney is that now he is overly protective of food.  We can’t feed him around other dogs at all now.  He had hiker hunger on the trail, just like we did, and he lost the comfort of regularly feeling full.  He became very possessive of his food and even now he will snap at another dog if they get too close to it.  We are still working on changing this behavior, even though we have been off the trail for months.
  • Are you willing to put your dog’s needs before your own?  Sitting at home by your computer, this is an easy one to say “yes” to.  But you need to picture these situations and really, honestly ask yourself if you will resent your dog or ignore your dog’s needs.
    • You’ve been in the woods for 4 days and you are hungry and dirty.  You finally get to town and there are zero hostels or hotels that are pet-friendly.  Your hiker crew is ordering pizza and getting ready to shower, watch TV and sleep in beds.  You and your dog are grabbing food and heading back to the woods to sleep on the ground.  Are you okay with it?
    • You get to town and there’s a hostel that charges $10 for a bunk, but doesn’t allow pets.  The hotel charges $50/night plus a $25 pet fee.  Your only choices are to fork over the money or head back to the woods.  Are you okay with it?
    • You’re in town and found a pet-friendly, affordable place to stay (huzzah!) and your friends are heading out to the restaurant for pizza and beer.  The place you’re staying doesn’t allow you to leave your pet alone in a room so you have to skip out on the restaurant.  Are you okay with it?
    • Your dog gets hurt.  Your only choices are to have someone come get your dog and watch him/her while you finish the trail or to end your hike.  Are you okay with it?  (read this one twice and really consider it)

Pet policies on the trail.  There are two places that you are not allowed to take your dog on the AT and will require extra planning: The Smoky Mountains and Baxter State Park.  When you get to the Smokies, you are looking at 5-7 days of hiking that your dog will have to skip, unless you have a service dog.  If your dog is not a service dog, you will need to plan for this section and there are two main options:  skipping this section or boarding your dog. The Smokies are epic so we don’t recommend skipping it, but that’s your choice.  We boarded our dog through the Smokies and it was a good break for him and also a good break for us.  Taking care of a dog on the trail is hard work.  It was really nice to have a week off to just hike together and not be managing Rooney’s needs.  The place we boarded him met us in Fontana and picked Rooney up.  Rooney stayed at their hostel at the end of the Smokies and we hiked to him.  When we exited the Smokies, Rooney was waiting for us and was rested.  He was really happy to see us and start hiking again.  If you want to know the specifics of how much it cost or which hostel we used, send us an email at jill {at} atraillife {dot com}.

Baxter State Park is the second time you will need to make arrangements for your pooch.  Since it’s the end or the beginning of the trail for most hikers, it might work best to ask someone to pick you up/drop you off and stay an extra day to watch your dog.  There are boarding services there, but we can’t vouch for them personally.  When Serial thru-hiked, we didn’t have Rooney and our section hike ended in NY so we haven’t dealt with a dog in Baxter.

Trail Etiquette.  It’s always better to be extra respectful of others on the trail, especially in the beginning. Once you get to know the hikers around you and have a hiking crew that you see everyday, you can relax a bit but that takes time and will depend on the hikers in your group.  Use common sense and these basic tips that we learned to make it a pleasant experience for everyone.

  • Be respectful of others.  You don’t know if the hikers around you have allergies or a fear of dogs so keep your pup leashed and ask permission before letting your dog approach someone.
  • Speak up for your dog.  If someone else has a dog at the shelter and you don’t want your dog to play with him/her, politely say so.  If someone is feeding your dog food scraps, politely explain that you’d prefer not to start that habit.  If you are respecting other’s feelings about dogs, they should respect your dog too and it’s your job to make sure that happens.
  • Leash your dog.  Every time we went to a shelter or were near a group of people, we had Rooney on a leash.  The only exception was when we were camping away from a shelter, with people we knew well.  When we were hiking, we would let him off the leash when we were alone, but we never crossed a road or came in contact with another hiker without putting him on a leash.  Even if you think your dog has perfect response to voice commands, you can’t predict how they will react in every situation.  And more importantly you can’t predict how other people (or their dogs) will react to your pup.  Use your leash.
  • Keep your dog out of other people’s stuff.  No exceptions.  Do not let your dog eat someone’s food or step on his/her gear.  It will not lead to anything good.
  • Be prepared to sleep in your tent.  The only time we ever stayed in a shelter was in the Smokies, when Rooney was boarded.  We did see other dogs in shelters occasionally, but not often and it usually wasn’t encouraged by other hikers.  Rooney came to know the tent as his home and it was a place of comfort for him so we were content to stay in it every night.  We even used it indoors once.

Questions from Readers.  Thank you to Tracy for submitting the wonderful questions!

  1. What did you have in your first aid kit that was dog specific?  Rooney’s first aid kit included a tick key, tweezers, acidophilus supplements, paw wax and his monthly tick treatment.  His full gear list can be found here.
  2. When you started hiking could you describe a typical day (did you tire before your dog or did he tire before you)?  We tired before him, without fail.  Rooney has crazy energy.  If we had a low mileage day (anything less than 15 miles), he would do sprints at camp that night to burn off his extra energy.  He is really happy when he’s out in the woods so we never felt like he was too tired to continue, but he did sleep soundly every night.  And when we had zero or nero days at a hotel, he zonked out the whole time.  He climbed up on the bed and promptly passed out, waking only to stuff his face with food.  (Hmmm…sounds a lot like us actually).  But when he woke up the next morning, he was amazingly perky and always ready to go again.
  3. Did you find yourself taking more breaks than others because of him?  Not really.  When we took a break in the beginning, Rooney was still running around and playing.  Once we settled in, maybe a month in or so, he would take a quick nap at lunch, but it didn’t last very long and he was always ready to go when we were, and usually before us.

We hope this was helpful for those planning their hike.  It wasn’t our intention to discourage you from bringing your dog, we just wanted to be realistic about how hard it is to hike 8-10 hours every day and how much extra work it is to have your dog with you.  We love our dog a ton and have been living and hiking on the AT with him for 2000+ miles and 3 years, but even we’ve had days when we wished he wasn’t there.  It’s just the reality of it.

We never once felt that Rooney was being pushed past his limits physically, but we regularly felt that we were putting his needs over ours.   And that can take a toll on a hiker.  So pause a moment and really think it through.  If you don’t want to bring your dog, don’t feel guilty.  And if you still want to bring your dog on the trail, that’s awesome.  We’ll do everything we can to help you prepare!

If you have other questions, leave them in the comments or send us an email.  We’d be happy to answer them!  In the meantime, you can read all of our posts on hiking with a dog by clicking here.  And while you’re there, be sure to enter for a chance to win an Aquapac Mini Waterproof Camera Case. 

~Minutes, Serial and Rooney

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About ATrailLife

Serial is an AT thru-hiker with over 6,200 miles of hiking under his belt. Minutes is an AT section-hiker who's enjoyed over 2,500 miles of hiking and trail running. Together we're raising our 3 year old Weimaraner, Rooney, and working towards our dream of living in the mountains. You can follow our adventures at
  • http://Questionaboutsleepingarrangements. Thomas Mackay

    I’m hoping to being my dog along on my hike with me and we are now in the process of working out as many kinks as possible. One that still gets me is sleeping arrangements. I want my dog Buddy to be comfortable at night sleeping in my tent with me. We have battled many cold-weather backpacking trips trying to get it figured out. I’ve wrapped him in a fleece, jackets, blankets, etc. One especially cold night ~20F I brought him in my sleeping bag with me (yes he weighs 60 lbs it was warm but crowded).

    Obviously a normal AT hike takes place during the warmer times of the year, do you have any insight on this topic or was it generally a non-issue?

    • ATrailLife

      Hello! Thanks for the question. It sounds like you have a similar approach to ours. When we hike, we carry a large tent that has a enough room for both of us and Rooney. Typically Rooney curls up near our feet, in between us and it’s a snug fit, but one we have become used to. Serial and I each carry a small section of a thin thermarest with us for sitting throughout the day and at camp so we just take those pieces and use them as a sleeping pad for Rooney. He sleeps on top of that so he’s not directly on the ground. We also carry a small fleece blanket that we picked up at a Walmart along the trail. Most nights that is enough for him, although whenever he adjusts his position in the night, one of us usually wakes up too and puts the blanket back on him. On the really cold nights, Rooney wakes one of us up and nudges the sleeping bag. It’s sort of his signal that he needs to climb in. Usually Serial opens his sleeping bag and lets Rooney snuggle in.

      So it sounds like you’re doing the same thing that we do. It’s worked well so far! Good luck on your hike and give Buddy a scratch behind the ears for us :-)

  • Grammie Bear

    The best part of hiking is being with my dog 24/7 so I appreciate your insights. Here are a few other things people hiking with dogs should consider. Identify which vet clinics near the Trail offer day boarding and find out if they offer single doses of Heart Guard and prophylactics to fight parasites (I recommend K9 Advantix II because it is waterproof and repels black flies in addition to mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and lice) . Remember to carry your vaccination records with you. Carry a 4-5 day supply of any meds you dog might need, include Benedryl (check with the vet for dosage) and ask your vet for a pain reliever like Previcox. I also carry a quick clotting preparation and liquid bandage.

    • ATrailLife

      Great tips! The vaccination records are important and I’m so glad you thought to bring it up. We needed them for boarding in the Smokies and anytime we wanted to have him groomed in town. Our first aid kit was pretty light and you have great ideas for bulking it up. Thanks!

  • Diane King

    We have a Doberman who is similar is size and temperament to what you describe. What did you do about keeping Rooney dry and warm when it was cold and rainy? Also, you imply that you had him off leash at times and you mentioned that he is a hunting dog – did you find he got so obsessed with a scent or wildlife that it was hard to get him to return to you? Our dog is so energetic and loves to explore so much that I can’t imagine leaving him on leash all the time. Yet I agree totally with all the reasons to keep him on leash. Did you feel the same? How did you handle that? Aid you bury his poop? What are the trail ethics on that?

  • ATrailLife

    Hi! Thanks for the questions. Taking them one at a time…
    1 – Rooney has short hair so he is sensitive to the hot and the cold, and we did factor that into his gear. When it was cold and rainy, he hiked with a pack cover that kept his gear dry and also kept his body dry. When we stopped hiking, we took everything off of him and let him get in the tent immediately. I carried a small fleece blanket that was for him and he had a small piece of thermarest that he slept on. The two combined kept him warm and if he needed anything extra, he climbed in Serial’s sleeping bag with him. It’s never bothered us to have Rooney on or in our gear.
    2 – Rooney grew up on the AT (we lived in Damascus, VA) so we have been training him off-leash and near wildlife for years now. We trust him to come back to us if he does run off, but that doesn’t happen very often. I think he wants to run off and his instinct is to chase things (especially deer), but he really doesn’t act on it much anymore. He also doesn’t leave the trail when we hike, he stays on trail and he will stay behind us with voice command when we need. If we encounter another hiker or dog, he doesn’t run up to them, he knows that he needs to come back to us to be leashed. None of this came naturally to him, it’s the result of LOTS of repetitive training on the trail.
    3 – I do feel the same about leash vs non-leash. For us it’s not practical to have him on the leash all day, he would be all wound-up with energy and we would be annoyed with him pulling. It’s just a balance act of knowing when we can have him off and when we need to have him on, for his own safety as much as other people’s safety.
    4 – As far as dog poop goes, you should follow the same rules and guidelines as you would for your own poop. I know you can’t run over and dig a hole then have your dog poop in it – no one expects that. But they do expect that your dog goes off-trail and that you make a reasonable attempt to cover it with leaves and dirt so that it will decompose quickly. If your dog does go on the trail, you must remove it. Gross and inconvenient, but necessary. Somehow Rooney has always known to run off trail to go. He stays in eye sight and we recognize the signs now and know that he’s not running away so we just let him go do his thing.

    Hope this helps! Let us know if you have any more questions!


    • Diane King

      It is very helpful. Thanks!

  • Greever

    I agree with everything you’ve talked about! My concern is more along the lines of my personal experience. I’m worried that huck might ward off potential friends or companions. She’s a friendly dog, that’s not the issue, I’m just worried about the socialization that can be lost because of huck. Missing out on hostels, food, towns… But then again, I can’t imagine leaving her for 5-6 months. Do you feel like you “missed out” on certain things and regret it in ways, or ultimately was the experience worthwhile?

    • ATrailLife

      Hey, Greever! This is a hard one because you raise a good point and I can’t reassure you that you won’t miss out on some of those things. I don’t think your dog will ward off friends or prevent you from bonding with other hikers, you will spend much more time on the trail than in towns after all, but you will definitely miss out on a lot of town things because of your dog. For me personally, I do feel like it was a lot of extra work and that we did miss out on social things sometimes, but I don’t feel any less of a connection to the hikers in my group. I just missed the times in a bar or restaurant. But who knows how you will feel about it, you know? It’s different for everyone. The AT is definitely a social environment and it’s okay to want to experience the full effect. 6 months in the scope of life isn’t very long and if you have someone who you trust to watch your dog, you shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving Huck for a bit. And if you decide to take Huck with you, don’t stress about missing a town outing. The real bonding happens on the trail and you’ll still be part of a bonded group.

      Good luck and have fun on your hike!!!


  • Erin

    I’m curious to hear whatever advice you can offer about the appropriate age of a dog for a thru hike. If he is a little bit older but doesn’t act a day over two years old and is well adapted and experienced with long distance hiking do you think age won’t really matter all that much? I intend to be extremely responsible and prepare my dog a year or so in advance for the trip so that he is ready. I figure that is the only way me and him have any sort of chance of making it to the end! Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Jill@ATrailLife

      Hey Erin!

      Thanks for the question. I don’t think that age is as important as physical capability & behavior, when it comes to the trail. For age though, a senior dog would face more challenges physically than a younger dog and a puppy is still growing and shouldn’t hike or run long distances so somewhere in between is probably your best bet.

      As long as you know your dog can physically hike that many miles (some breeds or ages simply can’t), then the next important thing to think about is their ability to behave in the trail environment. If you have a full year to prepare, that is great! You can train your dog to behave well on the trail and it will make both of your experiences better.

      Hope this helps! :-)


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  • Kelly Mcclanahan

    Your log has been so helpful in making our plans to take Jersey with us. We can’t imagine leaving her behind, and have excepted that her wellness could very well derail our plans to thru hike the entire 6 mos. My #1 concern has been ticks, as well. You said it wasn’t uncommon to pick off 10-12 daily. Did you use any tick medicine on him…K9 Advantix I believe is what it is called? (I live in CO and we have no need for the stuff here, so I never can remember the name.) Also, to clarify the food issue. I feed RAW as well, and hate the idea of switching to kibble for the hike. I have done some research on other options. In hindsight do you see there are newer options that would provde the calories necessary to substain his weight? Again, I hate the idea of kibble, as I am sure you do. When you switched, did you notice his stomach upset at all during the transition? Thank you for all the help! This has been very insighful!

    • Jill@ATrailLife

      Hi Kelly! Ticks are definitely an issue on the AT, and our year was particularly bad because of the rain. We did use a monthly tick treatment and sometimes when we would take a tick off Rooney, we would find it was already dead, especially if it was close to the area between his shoulders where the tick treatment was located. But mostly we were pulling off live ticks, usually within a few hours or so of them attaching. We checked Rooney every single time we stopped for a break, just gave him pets and felt for ticks. Twice a day we did a thorough check of his ears, feet, etc. The areas you don’t check just by petting him. Looking back on it, I don’t think there was anything we could have done differently. It’s just a risk that you have to accept.

      The diet on trail for us was definitely hard to get our heads around, but we couldn’t keep weight on him with the raw food. He needed calories, plain and simple. And thankfully the kibble was just fine on his stomach. I think it’s similar to us eating snickers bars in Costco size quantities and being fine. Rooney was burning mad energy and the kibble was burned off quickly. We did supplement it with olive oil and packets of tuna and chicken. And in town, we gave him tons of raw food. So we felt like he was as balanced as he could be for living on the trail. Looking back on it, I don’t think we could have afford-ably gone a different way. I really hate the idea behind kibble and love the raw diet, but much like we gave up veggies and healthy eats on the trail, so did Rooney. He went right back to raw after the trail and is doing perfectly fine these days. Still loves raw and is a healthy, happy boy. :-)

  • Heather

    I’ve been following a few blogs written by thru hikers and yours is the first to really go in depth about the experience with a fur child. Thanks so much for the information! I’m trying to plan a thru hike for 2016 so that we can be as prepared as possible. How did you tackle the rockier sections in the north? The photos I’m seeing of some of the terrain just don’t seem possible to tackle with a pooch. My Mick is pretty agile and nimble for his 75 pound bulk, but I can’t imagine him scaling boulders. Any tips for that?

    • zrdavis

      Hey Heather. Thanks for the kind words. Although the post is on this site, the credit for this one goes to Jill from . Let’s see if we can’t get her to weigh in…

      Best of luck with your upcoming thru!

    • ATrailLife

      Hi Heather – glad you found the post helpful! We hiked GA-NY with our dog and didn’t have an issues with his abilities or sections that we had to re-route because of the rocks. However, in the North I know there are a few parts that are tough and are sometimes skipped (a mile or two, not huge sections) so that dogs don’t get hurt. Since I haven’t hiked that far North with Rooney, I’m going to punt you to a really wonderful blog from 2012 – check out their posts from Sept-Oct, when they are further North. They mention steep rock slabs that didn’t work with a dog and I’m sure if you reached out to them, they’d be happy to discuss it in more detail. We crossed paths with them a few times and they were a really kind couple with an athletic and agile dog. Hope this helps!


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