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Training a Trail Dog Part One: Meet Duke the Springer Spaniel/Brittany

This is Part One of Tree’s series on Backpacking with her dog, Duke. Have advice, questions, or tips? Add them in the comments below! ked6g9s8nqca-f8a0vqzklcgm-4ilhlmylpkrgfwjuvxyfyp7tui997wcwul9y9hp0resh4o-ncx1dgfwtefomjnnvr8809h3x0h96hini6nqtb2n3gczo1xfshhmwd6mfij-c2-1Lots of outdoor enthusiasts daydream about having the purrfect adventure pet, but there’s a lot more work to raise a good hiking dog than there is just to raise a good dog. This summer I made a life changing decision and adopted a dog/soulmate/best friend. His name is Hayduke (after the character in Edward Abbey’s book The Monkey Wrench Gang), and he’s a 3-year-old Springer Spaniel/Brittany/Superhero mix who loves cuddling and chasing bugs. I had been thinking of getting a dog since the death of our beloved black Labrador, Roxy, in June, and then on the AT in New Hampshire I met an endless stream of wonderful trail dogs making me want one even more.


    I found Duke when searching craigslist for a tortoise in need of a new home (I almost adopted a tortoise instead thinking I wasn’t ready but then realized I know nothing about taking care of a tortoise but everything about taking care of a dog); his family was moving to Texas and couldn’t bring him with them. For the record, I do not suggest opting for a dog from craigslist over a dog from a shelter. Adopting a shelter dog ensures that they are fixed, up to date on shots, dewormed, and assessed for their temperament. I got pretty lucky with Duke even though he did turn out to be overdue on all his shots and had been living with intestinal parasites for a while.


In the short couple weeks I’ve had him, he has already proven himself as the perfect adventure dog. When I met Duke for the first time it was on the way up to Wanakena, New York for a Ranger School Alumni Reunion. I thought I would only be meeting him, but once I had hung out with him for a few minutes and completely fallen in love with him I asked to take him home that day, so the first couple days we were together were spent camping on the shores of beautiful Cranberry Lake and hiking through the Dubuar Forest and Five Ponds Wilderness. He was perfectly comfortable sleeping in a tent with me (he had his own sleeping pad but decided he preferred to share mine with me), helped me nurse a hangover in a hammock and enjoyed lovely canoe rides down the Oswegatchie River.


His next adventure was meeting my parents, who knew I wanted a dog but were unaware I had one until I showed up at their house around 11 pm with Dr. Dukertins. Initially they were mad but now they call me asking me when the next time I’ll bring him over is. From there we left to go on a Lean-2-Rescue trip to reset the foundations of three Lean-tos on Raquette Lake (a place where it only rains when I am present). He loves being around large groups of campers because he manages to find plenty of discarded hot dogs (leave no trace people! Do it for the dogs!). There was another dog there named Ziggy and the two of them shared the dishwashing duties. Up until this point he had been perfectly well behaved, never running off too far and always returning, but then he heard the barking of a yellow lab at a camp adjacent to the lean-to site and I had to then frequently chase him down to bring him back which lead to many lectures from a very cranky lady who kept insisting that I would get a ticket if I didn’t leash him up (which I did after the first escape but he wiggled out of his harness). Duke also had a little trouble with the weather: being a spaniel he was bred for a fairly warm, dry climate, so when it rained for hours he started shivering and I had to dry him off a little and put him in my tent with a sleeping pad and a bone to chew on.

 We left from Raquette Lake to go to Northville, the southern Terminus of the Northville Placid Trail where we met out hiking partner Garet “Beans” Bleir. Duke had seemed ready to be a trail dog but I was definitely jumping the gun. He ran off after the first two miles and we had to hike back out and pick him up from a vet in Lake Placid leading to the decision to keep him leashed the rest of the hike (which really killed my hips).

He loved being on a walk that never ends, but when he sat for a few hours or woke up in the morning he was incredibly stiff until we were at a gas station in Long Lake taking a break and when we got up he could hardly move. I made the decision to get off trail there and bring him to the vet. It turns out that not only did he have a pretty bad case of hookworm, he also had an overuse injury to the tendons in his knee (a similar issue I deal with from the peak of my skiing days). Duke probably would have been fine with less intense mileage, even though I carried his food instead of having him wear a pack. Most of the other hikers we met with dogs were doing around ten miles a day, while we were doing 16-22. I should have known better than to take him on such a long intense hike so early on but a few days and some heavy pain meds later he felt all better. He did do very well on a leash; he started to understand that he needs to stay on the trail and go over the logs instead of under, but he has a long way to go before I trust him deep in the wilderness off-leash.

        When I adopted Hayduke, I was planning on making him into my permanent trail companion and was even hoping to take him with me when I hike the AT this year after graduation. However, I can see now that while he is my best friend and a wonderful travel companion, he might be more of a weekend backpacker than a through hiker. I still have faith that he can be trained to behave himself, but having him with me made backpacking much more stressful. It is definitely wonderful to have a little cuddle bug with you in the tent, and it’s great to have a dog that you can take anywhere, but going out for multiple days deep in the wilderness is a whole other ball game. I felt much less in the moment and much more focused on taking good care of him. This might be a feeling that will pass but I think for now I will be leaving my little bundle of joy at home for the longer trips.

For now, we’re resting our paws until the next big adventure.

Happy Trails,

-Momma Porcupine

Read about how I got the name “Porcupine” here:

A Short Story about The Long Trail

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