The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 50: Pooch-Packing

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Taking man's best friend into the wilderness? Where can you do it, and what do you need to know? This week on The WildeBeat, Pooch-Packing.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number fifty.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: If you count a dog as a member of your family, and love getting into the wilderness as well, then there's probably been a time when you've wanted to take your furry, four legged family member into the wilderness with you. Making an overnight trip into the wilderness with your dog can be a lot of fun.

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CHARLENE LABELLE: Iris, you ready to go for a hike? You want to go? We need to put your backpack on. Hang-on Girl. [0:11.1]

STEVE: Charlene LaBelle is the author of the book, A guide to Backpacking with Your Dog.

CHARLENE LABELLE: Any dog can backpack. Probably you want a dog that's over about 35 pounds. Smaller than that, they're just going along, and they might carry an ounce or two. And the larger dogs can carry up to 30% of their body weight in their backpacks... You want a dog that's in good condition... and not too old and not too young. You can take a young puppy with you, but you're not going to want to put a lot of weight on them because they've got developing joints. Any breed will do. The ones with the work ethic are a lot more fun, because they just seem to enjoy it more. A dog with a job is a happy dog. [0:35.8]

STEVE: But since most dogs don't wear shoes or boots, you have to take extra special care of their feet.

CHARLENE LABELLE: If you have a dog that's been living on carpet all it's life, you can't expect it to go out on the trail where it's rough and rocky... You want to start with a dog that's got a tough foot. 'Cause if you don't have a tough foot there's some different ways to do it... One of the things you can do to help toughen a foot if you don't have a dog who gets to be on rough surfaces, is you can brew really strong tea. And the tannin in the tea will help to toughen-up feet. I have quite a few of my friends will actually pack tea in with them. So when they need to soothe their dog's feet, it's another way to do that. There's a salve called, "Musher's Secret", that a lot of people use and that's something safe... You want to be careful that you don't have something that if the dog licks it off that it's going to cause their intestines or any issues with that... If I do have a dog with an injury, what I will do is I have, I always carry extra socks... you put a sock over the foot, and then this is when your duct tape comes in handy. You make a sole in the duct tape, and then you tape it to the dog's leg. And then they can keep walking on it, and that will help. [1:05.5]

STEVE: It does take a little training to get most dogs used to the idea of carrying a backpack.

CHARLENE LABELLE: One of the first things you're going to want, is you're going to want a quality dog pack. You want a pack that's made for dogs, and one that fits your dog. If you're going to go off for any length of time you're going to want a dog pack with larger panniers... You're going to want to introduce your dog to the backpack, so that everything's not completely foreign. You're going to want at home to do a little training. And that just means showing your dog the backpack. It means maybe putting some things in the backpack so that the dog can walk around and feel the load shifting and get used to it... Most dogs will take a pack, no problem. Mine as small puppies, I'll do things like I'll throw a towel on their back, so they get used to something being on their back. And a lot of people will do something like that. I've seen dogs that have never seen a pack in their life come show-up for a day-hike. And they show up, and throw a pack on, and away we go... But they'll do things like they'll catch up on a rock or a tree, and then they'll just stand there, "Ahh, I'm stuck!" And then they'll realize, shoot, year, yeah, yeah, and they've move inches off to the side and go. [1:06.4]

STEVE: You need to keep control of your dog at all times; even at night when you're asleep.

CHARLENE LABELLE: Basically the dogs sleep in the tent with me at night. But I don't lock them in a tent during the day when we're in camp... And there are times when I've hiked that I don't have a tent. And if I'm just going to be using something like a rain cloth or a tube-tent... I attach them to my person. I attach them, not to my hands, I attach them to my ankle. So if they are going to drag me they're going to be dragging my core, and I have free hands to grab onto things. And I've had them get a little excited, and I've been thankful that I had them tethered to my body. [0:35.3]

STEVE: You'll need to bring a few extra things when packing for your dog's first backpacking trip.

CHARLENE LABELLE: I really do like using a nice, heavy lead. I've been using more of the man-made materials -- the nylon-type rope ones. Or, I guess they're cotton with a core in it. It's easier on your hands, even though I rarely have the leash in my hands. My leash is normally hooked to my belly band of my backpack.... as for first-aid supplies pretty much everything that you use for people you can use with dogs. I do use a lot more duct tape with the dogs instead of bandages and duct tape works really well. Socks will make a really good bootie. You know, we take, we use a lot of the same medications. So I use like Ascriptin. We both carry Ascriptin because it's the Maalox-coated aspirin, but it's easier on the dog's tummy, it's also easier on you... I tend to feed my dogs a little bit of a higher, or richer food. So they tend to eat more puppy foods when we hike. They get more nutrition out of it, and it's not too much for them because they're actually burning extra calories, more than they normally would. And also the puppy foods, if they're digesting it really well, they tend to leave smaller deposits. [1:13.6]

STEVE: Those deposits are one of the things that concerns Ben Lawhon of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Ben has these suggestions for keeping the impact low on your dog's backpacking trips.

BEN LAWHON: One is knowing your pet. And what I mean by that is knowing if your pet is prone to chase wildlife, if your pet is prone to range far from you when you're on the trail, or when you're at a camp site. Knowing if your pet is prone to digging, for example, or deficating in water sources, for example, and just having a good sense of, is my pet capable of enjoying this area with me and doing little or no harm while we're out there... The second thing I would keep in mind is disposal of waste with your pet. And for dogs, what we recommend is simply to cat-hole the waste if it's appropriate, or if you're only our for a day, for example, consider packing the waste out. Again it's a fairly unnatural part of the ecosystem where you might typically find elk feces and marmot feces but not dogs that are eating Alpo, you know, and Purina... The other thing with pets would be to, know when it's appropriate to restrain your pet. Meaning know when you need to put your pet on a leash. And knowing when it's time to call your pet back if they're either ranging too far or harassing wildlife, or whatever it may be... Not everybody likes dogs. Not everybody wants to see your dog out there. Not everybody wants to have your dog run up to them when they're on the trail hiking... So it's being a considerate pet owner, and making sure that your pet is not impacting the experience of other people that are out there. Because again we're all trying to enjoy a finite resource... And so those are really the key things to keep in mind. Preparedness, the waste disposal piece, harassing wildlife, and also just being considerate of the other visitors that are out there. [1:38.8]

STEVE: Once you've got your dog in shape to backpack, you'll want to decide where to take'em. The patchwork of regulations that come from the different jurisdictions can be confusing. In the national forests, dogs are allowed without significant restrictions in most areas. They prohibit dogs only in a very few very high-use wilderness areas, such as the summit of Mount Shasta. So national forest areas are probably your best bet when planning a backpacking trip with your dog. The national parks have more limitations. Laurel Boyers is the wilderness manager at Yosemite National Park.

LAUREL BOYERS: Dogs are allowed basically where cars can go in the park. So you can bring your dogs to certain campgrounds, and take them into certain areas of the park... A dog is a predator, a horse is not a predator. So it's a little different impact on the wildlife. They leave behind different things. There are canine species within the park, that dogs would carry similar diseases to; distemper and things like that... I mean, I used to have a well-behaved dog too, and at one point saw my dog eat a marmot... And I thought he was well behaved and came when I called him. You know, there's a wildness in dogs too, that comes out when they're out there. And they so act differently then when they're in the city or in your house. And so yeah, maybe they're well behaved, or they stay right with you when you're walking on a city street. But frankly, when a deer runs by, or a fawn's right there, they may or may not behave. And the park's really made a decision that because there are options elsewhere for those same sort of recreational experiences, that we should err on the side of preservation. We whould say that there really truly are too many impacts from dogs. That we're just going to say, "No." [1:04.7]

STEVE: But when it comes to your local parks and state and regional forests, deserts, BLM land and other public lands, you really have to check with the management of that particular park to be certain of the rules.

CHARLENE LABELLE: You want to have fun. You want to make sure that you and your dog are both mentally into what you're going to do... The first mile a lot of dogs will tell you that you're killing them. But after a mile if your dog is still not having a good time, you need to re-think what you're doing. But most dogs it doesn't take but a couple of 100 yards and they're, "Oh Cool!" [0:22.4]

STEVE: My thanks to listener John Trefethen for bringing up the subject. You can find links to additional information, and download a high-fidelity stereo version of this show, on our web site.

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Next time — Fueling up for the trail.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to support future editions of The WildeBeat. Contribute your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The Wildebeat, program number fifty. Thank you for listening.

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