Trekking with a dog
Multi-day walking with a dog is not as daunting a prospect as you might think, in fact it's a delight, and well worth the additional planning required. Having recently returned from walking the Cotswold Way with her Labrador Cassie, here are Lesley's thoughts and tips for all dog-owners.
Owning a dog is a great way to maintain regular exercise, and walking with your dog is one of the best ways to form a strong bond between man and beast. With anything ranging from a quick circuit of the park to a day out on the fells of the Lake District, most dog owners will consider their job done. But what about if you want to take on something a little longer, over a series of days? When it comes to trekking, (long-distance walking), most people, given the option, will tend to leave the dog at home, rather than wrap their minds around the additional issues associated with accommodating the dog, and all it's needs. They will however, be missing out on an exceptional opportunity to cement a friendship and bond with their dog which would be hard to achieve in other ways. It just needs a little more planning.
First, obviously only consider taking your dog on a long-distance walk if it is fairly young, fit, and either used to long walks, or has had the opportunity to build up fitness and duration of walks for a good few weeks before you go. Dogs get tired too, and need to be ready for the trek.
Consider what accommodation you will be using on the way. Camping is one possibility, adding some flexibility, but making for additional difficulties if the weather is cold or wet. A small tent and wet dog don't tend to make a good combination!
Bed and breakfast is the other option, but will need to be carefully planned and booked, as not everyone welcomes tired muddy dogs, or even clean dry ones, so your accommodation options may be much more limited. Having said that, establishments which welcome dogs will often go overboard to make your dog welcome - Cassie was given her own breakfast on two or three occasions during our eight days on the Cotswold Way.
Do make sure that your dog is carefully supervised, so that its behaviour encourages the establishment to continue accepting dogs. Dont ever allow them on beds, even if this is normally allowed at home.
So what does a dog need?
It's always best to try to give your dog the brand and type of food that they are used to. Some walking routes will pass village shops regularly, allowing you to buy dog food almost on a day by day basis, but you should probably aim to carry some food anyway, in case shops are shut, or your plans have to change.
If you give your dog dry complete food, then weigh out each meal, and pack in separate sealed plastic bags. This will make meal times quick and efficient to administer when you arrive at the end of the day. Plan on giving your dog more food than normal, or switch to a higher energy formula, as your dog will be using many more calories than normal.
You can also use the empty plastic bags to hold a lunchtime snack for the dog - they will appreciate a spare sausage from breakfast, or a bit of bacon!
Keep a good supply of water for your dog, especially in hot weather. Some dogs will only tend to drink two or three times a day, others more frequently. This means it's sometimes a good idea to carry extra water for the dog during the day, but always make sure they are well hydrated at the start and end of each day.
Light, collapsible water/food bowl. Fabric ones work very well, and are both very lightweight, and collapse into a small space. Other plastic options are available at varying costs.
Dog bed. A good idea, although Cassie managed to avoid lying on her bed most of the time! A small 'vetbed' is lightweight, warm and squashes into a small space.
Small towel. You could take a normal towel, or if you have old trekking towels, take one of those. Other options can include cheap, light, highly absorbent car- cleaning cloths, which work well, and wash and dry easily and quickly.
Poo bags, some wet wipes, that's about it!
Oh... and a small favourite dog toy is a good idea, as it can be very comforting for your dog when in a strange place night after night.
So, that's a fair bit of extra bulk and weight to take, just when you have managed to get your own kit down to a streamlined lightweight minimum!
You don't have to carry it all yourself though...
Carrying food and equipment
Depending on the size of dog, you may feel you can and should carry everything yourself, however with a dog that's on the large side, there's a lot of weight in the food needed, but there's also the option of getting the dog to carry some, or even all of its own gear. Doggy panniers are the answer. There are a number of brands available, but we weren't sure if our dog would go along with the whole idea, so only bought cheap, unbranded panniers, just in case the idea didn't work. It all worked fine, although they always seemed to lean either to the right or to the left - something that may be better controlled with a higher quality product. Just 'google' dog backpacks and see what comes up.
Well ahead of the trip, introduce your dog to the panniers, at first with nothing in the bags, and just to wear for a few minutes around the house, with oodles of praise and encouragement. You can then gradually build up the time wearing the panniers, out on walks, and then with a small amount of weight. Cassie our Labrador never carried very much weight, just a couple of days worth of dog food, her 'vetbed' rolled up in a waterproof bag on the top, a cuddly toy, and water bowl. But she loved it, and seemed to think she was doing a great job 'helping'! Be warned though, You'll get loads of comments that you're 'cheating by getting the dog to carry it all' but most people, particularly dog owners, will think its a great idea, and ask you where you got the panniers!
A cautionary word
Being strongly territorial, you will already know that your dog will have routines and preferences when it comes to toilet needs. These can be challenging, if not well neigh impossible to accommodate when staying at a different location each night. Strange things may happen, and you may find your pet goes to extraordinary lengths to only perform when the circumstances feel exactly right!
Lesley is the Marketing Director and co-owner of Cicerone, and has a Diploma in Marketing. A geographer at heart and in practice, she is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.View Articles by Lesley Williams