Take to the Trails! How to Prepare for Long Hikes with your Primitive Pal

Do you and your primitive dog enjoy hiking on the trails? Ever had the urge to pack up and go for a long distance hike or multi day hike but aren’t sure what you’ll need or how to prepare? Or maybe you have but either feel you pack too much or are missing some items. In this blog you’ll find a comprehensive list of things to pack and how to prepare yourself and your primitive dog for life in the woods. 

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First you’ll want to make sure you and your dog are both physically fit to endure the terrain. Depending on where you go, you may have to climb over downed trees, walk on jagged rocks or hop on boulders. You’ll want to invest in some good hiking boots to protect your most valuable body part, your feet! You and you canine companion will most likely spend a good part of the day on them, so you’ll want to work your way up to doing to amount of miles you intend to on your trip. Find local trails to slowly start increasing your mileage.

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Once your both comfortable putting in more miles, you can start introducing a backpack for each of you to carry. It’s important to find one that is comfortable and fits according to your body. Packs can get quite heavy depending on how long you plan to be out there. Your primitive dog can carry a small pack, too, even if it’s just some extra water or a little dog food. To introduce a backpack you’ll want to find one that sits on your dog’s shoulders, not their back. You know your dog best, go slow if they’re weary of new things or being handled. The goal is to have the backpack mean fun adventures lie ahead! Once your dog is comfortable wearing an empty pack and you’ve hit the trails, slowly increase the weight and distribute it evenly in the saddlebags. Maybe some small bottles of water to start or small zip lock baggies with dog food on each side. When you increase the weight of the pack, decrease the miles you put in. This helps their bodies adjust to carrying more weight without the strain of higher mileage. Train like this for a month or two. Good prep work takes time. We recommend working your way up to you and your primitive dog being able to hike with full packs for the amount of miles you’d want to hike in a day, a few times a week. 

 This is an example of how I pack food for my dogs while on the trail. It all gets separated into meals and rationed appropriately.

This is an example of how I pack food for my dogs while on the trail. It all gets separated into meals and rationed appropriately.

What should you have in your pack? Glad you asked! 
No matter how long you’ll be hiking, you should have an extra days worth of food for both of you. Hiking some high miles will burn plenty of calories. You’ll want some easy to eat snacks, also. Your primitive pup will burn twice as many calories if not more. You may find it hard to believe but you should double their food intake to keep them from dropping too much weight while on the trail. Just for reference, if my dog normally eats a cup of food per meal, twice a day, I will up her intake to a cup and a half to two cups per meal, twice a day. Food intake depends largely upon the distance traveled and the type of terrain we cover. Adding a high value freeze dried raw food will help stimulate your primitive dog’s appetite (if they enjoy it) while making their food lighter to carry and help add more calories.

Poop bags! Food = poop so even though you’re in the woods, you’ll want to at least have poop bags with you in case your pup has to go while near a public venue. Otherwise, just make sure they keep the trails clean and deposit their waste in the woods. Bump, scratch, bruise or scrape? Pull out your first aid kit! Keep a decent first aid kit in your pack to tend to you or your pup for any minor injuries you may endure. If your dog has any medications, you’ll want to pack them in your first aid kit as well. Always check with your veterinarian before setting out on a strenuous journey to make sure your primitive dog is in peak condition to prevent any medical issues or aggravating any existing conditions. Research emergency veterinary hospitals in the surrounding areas so that in case of an emergency you know where to request to go. Hopefully you won’t need to use them but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Many hiking or trail guides will contain this information so look into books that highlight resources in the area. If you’re hiking overnight you’ll want to pack a light sleeping bag and sleeping pad. There are ones specifically made for overnight hikers that are lightweight and easy to store in a backpack. 

Trail etiquette! 
Your primitive pup is likely to encounter other hikers, dogs and wildlife (possibly horses depending where you go) so you’ll want to train to desensitize them to encountering other hikers wearing backpacks, dogs wearing bear bells or critter encounters. Hikers with dogs should always give way to other hikers without them. It’s just good manners.

 No running off cliffs after critters!

No running off cliffs after critters!

Keep your primitive dog on a leash no matter how friendly they are. Not everyone you’ll encounter will want to meet or interact with your dog and it would be a nightmare if they decided they wanted to hunt down a rabbit for dinner and ended up lost. I like to keep high value treats in the waist pouch of my backpack so that when we meet up with other hikers or wildlife, I keep my dog’s attention on me. I prefer to move off the trail and into the woods slightly. This makes other hikers feel more comfortable passing (I have three large dogs) and helps my dogs stay relaxed and focused on me. Basic obedience and leash manners are a must! 

 Water break with Snickers and Saga.

Water break with Snickers and Saga.

Time out!
Take some time for water breaks. You may have a hydration bladder making it easy for you to keep hiking while you drink but if natural water sources are scarce, your primitive dog won’t have the same luxury. Collapsable water bowls are inexpensive and easy to fit inside your pack or your pup’s. I’ve found that my 50lb primitive mixed breed who doesn’t normally drink a lot at home, doubled or tripled her water intake on the trail.

This will also require research on where natural water sources are for you to use to your advantage so that your personal supply doesn’t diminish. You can also refill your water supply at these natural sources but you’ll want to purify it first. Water purification tablets or drops are the easiest to use. You can also boil it but that takes more time and requires using your camping stove. Whichever drops or tablets you choose, be sure to follow the directions listed on the container. 

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Take out the trash!
Where do you put all your garbage? There a saying amongst avid hikers…”leave no trace.” This means that you leave things as nature intended it. Carry in, carry out. The easiest way to do this is to keep a small bag to put all your garbage in inside your pack or you can strap it to the outside like I do. See that small red bag at the top of my pack? That’s my trash bag strapped to the outside.  

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Lights out!
If you plan to camp with your primitive dog, we highly recommend letting them experience being in a tent before getting a crash course while on the trail. Research your campsite ahead of time, even make it part of your training regimen if you can incorporate it into your training hikes before the big trek.

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We visited our campsite many times before having it be our resting spot on the second night of our five day hike. Let your primitive dog get used to the other hikers/campers setting up their tents, making campfires and introduce them to headlamps before your night out. I invited a friend and her dog to hike one time and all went well until nightfall. Floating lights were the scariest! Her dog had never experienced a headlamp before and after seeing the first one, he couldn’t settle down. Had we thought about this before our overnight hike, we could have helped him feel better about this situation. Learn from our mistakes! 

 Here is a picture of an appropriate bear hang.

Here is a picture of an appropriate bear hang.

Creatures of the night…
Wildlife takes advantage of sleeping hikers so bear hangs are in order. Bear hangs are how hikers keep their food and hygiene products safe overnight, Bears are attracted to ANYTHING with scent so even your little travel toothpaste needs to be strung up in a tree.

Paracord is strong and comes in varied length. This is 100 feet of paracord holding up about 20lbs of dog and human food, if not a little bit more.  Some campsites have bear boxes which are heavy duty metal boxes that have doors that lock. They are inaccessible to bears and other wildlife and keep the smell of food pretty much sealed inside. It’s not safe to keep any smelly item, whether it be food or hygiene products, inside your tent. This will likely draw unnecessary attention to your dwelling from critters. Again, better safe than sorry. Bear hangs are easily researched on how to make and some sites even provide a how-to video!

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Above all, any adventure is meant to be a fun bonding experience for you and your primitive dog! Share your hiking and camping adventures with out Facebook Community!