Dogcharmer: The hills are alive!

Who should join me?

This handsome pharaoh hound would make an ideal hiking dog in the southern U.S. Here on Martha’s Vineyard, a different midsize dog would be ideal.– Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Dogcharmer,

I am getting a dog to accompany me on my hiking trips. I am looking for a pooch with stamina and a good, easily controllable personality in case we meet bears, snakes, or heaven forbid, people. Can you recommend a few breeds that would be compatible?


Roger W.


Dear Roger,

Love those words, “good, easily controllable personality.” If I could could come up with that breed on a guaranteed basis, I’d be the Einstein of the dog world. If you lived in Alaska, I could narrow the field a little, to those breeds better suited to long cold seasons. Same if you lived in the Florida Keys; we might be talking about pharaoh hounds and other breeds that thrive in the heat. But we’re talking about the mixed bag of New Jersey weather, which is similar to here in Martha’s Vineyard.

For serious hiking, the first thing I’d suggest is that you don’t get a toy breed or a very large breed. Be it a Maltese or toy poodle, a tiny dog is going to have trouble keeping up, will have to be carried over insurmountable (to it) obstacles, won’t be able to make it across most streams, will get injured more easily, and will have a much harder time dealing with the cold or heat. In my experience, the large breeds are more likely to sustain injuries, have stamina issues, overheating problems in the summer, and agility weaknesses if there’s a lot of climbing. I’ll never forget the tragedy of a Newfie (Newfoundland) dog overheating and dropping dead during a search and rescue (SAR) practice in the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. If you’re 2½ miles from the nearest car, and your large dog gets injured and needs to be carried, you don’t want to be swinging your Great Dane over your shoulder for the hike out!

So anything from the size of a Jack Russell to a Doberman should do fine, which narrows the field down to nothing helpful. The reality is, whatever breed you get, it’s going to have to be trained to “stick around,” or not to stray too far away, to come when called, and to “leave it” when you encounter a skunk or bear.

When I got my first Doberman, Michelle, that I trained to be a search dog, she was 9 weeks old. The first night I had her, I took her to the middle of a 12-acre field, put her down, and very slowly walked away. She had never been in a wide open field, never mind at night, so, being a little insecure, her response was to chase after me. Great. Just what I wanted. The next morning, I brought her to the woods’ edge, put her down, and when she went sniffing about, I hid behind a large rock and observed. After a few minutes she realized I was gone, and again, out of a little insecurity, started looking for me, which is exactly what I wanted. Dog chases after me, instead of what happens with so many people: They’re chasing after the off-leash dog.

My 18-pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Tri, hiked everywhere with us, no problem, except once, when we got caught in a sudden snowstorm in the Catskills. So much wet snow stuck to his underside and feet that I had to carry him home.

I would also suggest not getting a brachycephalic dog, the flat-faced ones like bulldogs and pugs. Whatever you get, be it a purebred or a mutt from the shelter (which I would recommend), teach that recall, to come when called, and the “leave it.” To quote Roy Rogers, “Happy Trails.” And Happy New Year!


The Dogcharmer

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