Trail Magic for PCT Through Hikers

Tashi with PCT hikers

Tashi & PCT Hikers at The Town Baker

2015-05-06 09.05.09

Yukon waiting for hikers on the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is 2,650 miles long and usually takes hikers about 5 months to complete it.  Northbound hikers usually start in mid-April to early May while southbound hikers start in late June through early July.  The failure rate is high, about 50% will not complete the journey.  For those who do it is an incredible achievement with a lifetime full of memories.

May 6th, 2015 I was hiking in Wrightwood, CA with my hiking body Yukon (Shepherd Mix).  Yukon is a rescue who came from the streets where we are pretty sure he had no contact with humans, to the shelter at about one year of age, to a rescue and then to me.  When I first met him he would not come to me, he was terrified.  He refused to even walk on a leash and all my dreams of him being a hiking dog seemed to disappear.  A year later with positive training and lots of controlled socialization he has become my hiking buddy.  He gets so excited when I start putting my hiking shoes on, and if I put them on in my closet he whines at the door convinced that I might go up through the attic and escape without taking him. When it comes to attention from people he is still outside of his comfort zone when they first approach but allows people to pet him and talk to him.  Afterwards he has to pull on the leash for about 30 seconds to shake off all of the adrenaline rush he gets and then he fall back beside me.  I always watch his body language during greetings and do what is best for him.  I have him continue greetings because I never want him to become fear aggressive and he does actually like people, especially if they have treats but because of his past he is always wary.

On our hike we encountered 25+ through hikers including a hiker that we gave a ride too heading into town for food and supplies.  Yukon was the highlight for the hikers.  Many stopped and asked if they could pet him saying how much they missed their own pets at home. The hiker who hitched a ride with us scratched Yukon’s head on the ride, he was so tired from our 8 mile hike that he appeared to love the head scratching.  I have another friend that lives in the town of Idyllwild, CA which is also a haven for through hikers complete with The Town Baker that is owned and operated by former through hikers who moved to Idyllwild and started the café after completion of the PCT.  Tashi’s mom meets hikers at the post office where they pick up supplies or at the The Town Baker with her dog Tashi. Many of the hiker want to pet her missing their pets back home.  It is so heartwarming that dogs can be a part of the PCT through hikers trail magic.

Do you have a dog that loves to hike and is sociable with people? You could take them on the trails or into the towns to meet the PCT thru hikers from April through about September.  This is such a great service for both the people and the dogs.  Perhaps the PCT therapy dog team will be a future endeavor.

Good luck to all of the through hikers and enjoy the journey.

Defining a Therapy Dog

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According to Wikipedia a Therapy Dog is a dog that is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning difficulties. What this definition fails to mention is that not all dogs make good therapy dogs. Some dogs are fearful or nervous around people, some dogs are great with adults but nervous with small children, some dogs are great one on one with a person but not in large groups.  Dogs are very much like us and when considering whether or not your dog should be a therapy dog you must consider your dogs mental well being.  Once that has been established the first step is basic obedience training.  A therapy dog must be able to listen to you in a therapy environment. Then I always encourage my clients to pursue AKC Canine Good Citizen and then take the test offered through Therapy Dog International.  My Advanced Class helps those dogs who are therapy dog ready to prepare for both tests.

Every once in awhile I come across a dog who is a natural for therapy dog work.  Tashi pictured above was a rescue dog who was roaming the streets.  Her owner adopted her from the local rescue. She worked very hard with her pup socializing her and attending Basic Obedience classes and continuing on with private lessons and more obedience.  Tashi is not perfect, nor is any dog.  She came with her set of baggage which included fear of noises such as metal clinking and even the sound of a training clicker would upset her.  Tashi’s mom diligently worked with her using positive reinforcement to overcome these issues.  Yesterday during training Tashi walked across metal with her toes clinking, went though a hula hoop raised off the ground and crossed a box that bent inward without any fear.  She also went under a metal fence to get to some yummy grass on the other side.  However, that is not the only thing that Tashi did yesterday. At the end of the session Tashi sat quietly and provided comfort to a very upset child. Tashi never left the child’s side and put the child at ease. Tashi’s mom also talked to the child about all the colors in Tashi’s coat and retold her story taking the child’s mind off what it was that had upset her. That is my definition of a true therapy dog team. I look forward to my continued work with Tashi and her Mom both are going to make a tremendous difference in this world.