Sep 11 2009

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Wilderness Dog

Posted at 10:16 am under Blog Post

Judy and I now call our dog, Matika, the 100 Mile Wilderness Dog.  Not only did she accompany me on that trek but she carried her own pack most of the way.  She carried about 6-8 pounds in a two-pouch dog pack that vaguely resembles a saddlebag.  That was roughly half of the extra weight that her companionship cost me.  Despite all my complaints about being overloaded on my trek, the few extra pounds I carried on her behalf were well worth the trouble.

Not all dogs are suited for long-distance, backcountry travel.  Small dogs can’t make the trip for obvious reasons.  Really hairy dogs are too easily overheated.  Others simply aren’t strong enough or nimble enough on their feet to do it.  Matika passed the trail’s tests with flying colors.  Most of the time, she was 20 yards ahead of me and rarin’ to go.  “Wait, Tika, wait!” became a common refrain during the course of the day.  Whenever she heard it, she would stop, turn around and wait until I gave her the release command.  Usually she was higher up an ascending trail than me and all smiles.  Sometimes that irritated me to no end.

Most dogs aren’t disciplined enough to travel the trail.  Matika has learned over past the 3 years, since Judy and I rescued her from an animal shelter, that commands are not negotiable.  She’s no robot, but she minds me most of the time.  When she and I approach other hikers and I shout: “Back,” she knows to get behind me.  When I say “Sit” or “Stay,” she does what she’s told.  Her obedience is absolutely essential whenever we’re in the wild.  Someday it could be the difference between life and death.

Early in the trip, Matika fell 8 feet off a boulder, while negotiating a particularly tricky section of trail.  Fortunately, she landed on her feet in soft forest duff so she wasn’t injured.  After that, she was much more wary of tight spots in the rocks, exposed cliffs, rotten boardwalk, stream crossings, and any object in the trail that she couldn’t see over.  She would stop and wait for me to lead the way.  I wouldn’t even have to give her a command.  Good dog!  We got into a rhythm after a while and were able to tackle anything that came along.  I carried her pack whenever we forded a deep stream or navigated steep uphill and downhill sections.  I picked her up and lifted her over fallen trees and big rocks whenever it was too much for her to handle.  She learned to trust me implicitly.

Chasing chipmunks was the only thing she did that pissed me off on a regular basis.  At first I let it go, thinking she’d never catch them anyway.  Then it occurred to me that she might hurt her feet while bounding recklessly after them through the cluttered woods.  That’s when I invented a new command:  “No chipmunks!”  I barked it whenever her ears perked up at the tempting chatter of those little critters.  The command didn’t quite take.  We’ll have to work on that one.  Yeah, that means Matika will be accompanying me on all future treks.  She’s obedient for the most part, strong, agile and has her trail legs now.  And I thoroughly enjoy her company.  Animals make the best trail companions, I think.  They’re more in tune with their surroundings than most humans, take to the wild faster, and don’t talk all the time.  What else could a woods wanderer ask for?  A little less chipmunk obsession, that’s all.

One response so far

One Response to “Wilderness Dog”

  1. Maine Owlon 12 Sep 2009 at 11:43 am 1

    In regards to your blog on hiking without a compass- if your dog (Matika) is with you, your dog is an automatic return home link. Dogs will instinctively return on the same path you left. Your dog constantly is leaving scent and ‘end trails’ all along the path that he can re-reference for a return trip. It is easy to forget the power of a dogs nose. It is good to see people out there but remember that your dog is your best friend.