|"Into the wild with a dog at your side|
Hiking with dogs for companionship and safety.
By rachel lee Harris
A hiker and his dog walk along a trail in Washington's Wallace Falls State Park along Highway 2 near Gold Bar. Dogs on leashes are allowed on the popular park's trails.
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MIKE SIEGEL / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 2007
As a nature writer and former wilderness ranger, Ceiridwen Terrill has spent a lot of time roaming the wilderness, often with her dogs. Her treks with Inyo, a wolf and husky mix she adopted as a traveling companion, are the subject of her new book "Part Wild." And her shepherd mix, Argos, has been trained to carry his own backpack.
"Even at 12 years old, he can put in the miles," she said on the phone from Portland, Ore., where she lives and teaches at Concordia University.
Hiking with dogs helps Terrill feel safer on the trail and is a great bonding experience, she said. But there are guidelines that hikers should adhere to for the safety of both wild and domestic animals. Here are excerpts from a conversation about trekking the great outdoors with a canine companion.
Q. How do you prepare for a long trek with your dog?
A. Almost any breed can hike — you just need to get them in shape and used to uneven or rocky terrain. Practice the "come" command, because as much as they are able to inhibit a lot of their natural drives, if they smell a wild animal, they will go deaf. If you don't have 100 percent confidence in your dog, hike with it on a 25-foot cable. What I like to do is take a Flexi lead carabiner, usually used for rock climbing, and attach it to my pack. That way, the dog is always connected to me but I'm hands-free.
Q. What supplies do dogs need?
A. Choose a pack for your dog and then start them wearing it around the neighborhood on walks to get them comfortable with it. You want one that's sturdy, well-made and secured with straps under the belly and around the chest. I always like to sew on reflective strips. You need to be able to see your dog in low light or by headlamp. Get dog boots for traction if you're going to be in snow or on rough terrain. Your exercise routine will toughen up their feet, but sometimes you need boots too, especially if you're in cactus country.
Q. What are some ways to keep your dog safe?
A. Dogs chasing wildlife is bad news; they are predators. Also, people have lost their dogs as a result. People can also lose their dogs to stream or river crossings. Make sure to remove your dog's pack and test the speed of the current. Use a harness because the dog can slip the collar. And get your dog used to water before going.
Q. What other precautions should people take?
A. Bring a first-aid kit and a snakebite kit. Heat is not to be taken lightly. There are just some places that are too hot for dogs. Be aware of poison oak. They can get it on their fur and transfer it right to you. Check the water conditions with local rangers. Carrying enough water for you and your dog adds a bunch of weight. So at least make sure to camp near water at night.
Q. Do you enjoy camping with your dogs?
A. Absolutely. If you've been building the weight of your dog's pack during training, it can carry its own food on longer trips, but make sure to pack it away at night, where animals can't get at it. Collapsible nylon bowls are great — lightweight and water-resistant. And then I use the 25-foot cable in camp.
Q. What are your favorite outdoor destinations for dogs?
A. National parks are not my first choice; the majority of them don't allow dogs on hiking trails. The upside is that there is usually a national forest adjacent or a wilderness area, and both allow dogs. They are less manicured, but they are quite safe. I would also go to Bureau of Land Management areas. Personally, I love the Grand Staircase near Kanab, Utah. Also, Red Rock Canyon, outside of Las Vegas.
Q. Why do you feel safer with your dog?
A. They can save your life. My ex-husband and I were lost in a blizzard in the Sierra Nevada for 19 hours with two of our dogs. When we were freezing, they kept us warm. I slipped and fell with a huge pack on my back. Thelma, my female, tugged at my pant leg and boot until I got up."