At the CTF office we absorb a lot of reports about these trips with dogs and we have learned some realities worth sharing. The dog-trip reality that stands out the most is that a fairly low percentage of dog travelers complete the trip with their pooch. Hopefully the tips here will contribute to even more successful trips with favorite canine friends.
Resources include this excellent Facebook group where distance-hikers share advice:
One big-picture tip is that dog owners do best when they embrace the philosophy to, “hike your dog’s hike.” You and your dog make a group. Your group has the best chance of success when the group proceeds in ways that are in sync with the least capable individual. Likely your dog’s capabilities are more limited than yours and your chance for group success goes up if you travel in sync with your dog’s limitations.
Summer heat is a serious consideration. Many dog owners have reported that their pooch got overheated and their energy suffered so much they needed to go home. Dogs with darker and black hair tend to have more trouble. The only apparent solutions seem to be limiting daily mileage and taking afternoon breaks in the shade.
Paw health is also reported as potentially troublesome. Some dog’s paws get scraped up so badly that they start to bleed and the animal cannot continue. Part of this trouble can also stem from daily mileage that is too high. Owners do best when they inspect paws frequently and carry and use products like Mushers Secret and Dog Booties.
Daily mileage is one of the biggest considerations of all. Often the owner has a tight time schedule for the thru-hike and needs to crank out serious miles every day. Many dog travelers have reported that their dog just couldn’t handle the high daily mileage the human required.
Dogs almost always travel more miles than their owners as they go out front and back and forth. Some of the most experienced pet owners have recommended always using a leash to limit the dog’s mileage and ‘up’ the chance for success. One recommended leash strategy is to buy and use something like is offered at this link:
Those planning a long trip with their dog have many many considerations, far more than appear here. One more resource, specifically related to The Colorado Trail is this web page on the CTF website:
Train your dog long before your trip by hiking lots of trail miles, hills, and multi-day challenges. Train and toughen their paws. Get them used to serious miles and warm temperatures. Your dog’s thru-hike capability is hard to discern beforehand, so it is best to do extensive training to learn if your dog can handle it, rather than jeopardize your trip.
Our last big-picture tip is, before you depart, make a bailout plan for your best friend. Gain the help of a friend or family member who might rescue the pooch for a lengthy stay while you continue on your thru-hike.