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A tramper’s best friend

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April 2021 Issue

Dogs are part of the family, so instead of sending Fido to a kennel next time you plan a tramp, why not take him with you, writes Greta Yeoman

Lisa Finnerty loves heading into the outdoors; but even more so if she’s accompanied by her dog Ghost.

“I love going hiking but it’s just another level with a dog,” she says.

The Canterbury-based tramper and alpinist has travelled as far afield as the Catlins and Northland with her puppy pal. The duo has tramped and camped together and even climbed mountains where Finnerty has required an ice axe and crampons. The cold doesn’t seem to bother Ghost’s paws and in any case, it’s safer for him without dog boots.

“One time, Ghost slipped and dug his claws into the ice, which confirmed there was no way I was using booties for him,” Finnerty says.

She says she has spent the past two years building up Ghost’s confidence and fitness in the backcountry, saying: “We couldn’t do last year what we’ve done this year.”

Timaru-based tramper Claire Wilkins has similar sentiments about tramping with her greyhound Gem.

While greyhounds are known for their short bursts of energy and frequent naps, she says Gem is an enthusiastic trail walker.

“She gets out of the truck and she races straight to the start of the trail, raring to go,” she says.

Wilkins jokes that Gem, with her dog-sized PJs, raincoat and sleeping bag is the top priority for the family when they go hiking.

“Making sure she’s comfortable is our number one priority; sorry kids,” she says.

Martin Walker is a Christchurch-based tramper and the owner of outdoor retailer Further Faster. He says taking his dog Badger into the outdoors with him was a natural inclination after he moved from the United Kingdom where dogs are allowed almost everywhere.

He says many people don’t realise they can take their dogs on hikes with them.

“You’d be surprised how much access there is,” he says. “There’s an awful lot of places you can go.”

It is one of the reasons he started the Mountain Dog Challenge, which encourages dog owners to take their pooches up 10 peaks in Canterbury.

“It’s really got people and their dogs into the outdoors,” Walker says.

Upon completion of the challenge, participating pooches receive a bandana. The challenge has also expanded to include Wellington.

Walker encourages dog owners to check the Department of Conservation website for dog-friendly areas, call a local DOC office or even give him a call at his store for some recommendations.

Finnerty has found access for dogs to be variable around the country.
She is a strong believer in doing plenty of research, getting dog permits from DOC when required and making sure places are actually open to four-legged trampers.

For Palmerston North pest control volunteer Emma Gregg, dogs represent a real threat to conservation work.

While her trips to check traps in the Ruahine and Tararua ranges often see her accompanied by her dog Coda, she says he has been well trained to tackle a range of backcountry environments and to stay away from wildlife and bait.

Claire Wilkins takes her greyhound Gem on her tramps and will pack special equipment to keep her warm.

“It’s a tricky one,” she says. “We’d all love to take our dogs everywhere.”

She says there is a group pushing to allow dog access in all national parks but doesn’t believe this would be good for conservation.

“It’s just not worth it,” she says.

While there are various avian aversion training programmes available for dog owners to ensure their dogs will not approach native wildlife like kiwi, most of the people Wilderness spoke to had seen little point in attending the course because they were not visiting areas where kiwi are present. Gregg says some owners may also be wary of the training because electric-shock collars are used to scare dogs away from native wildlife.

But she strongly advocates for this and other pre-tramp training for dogs.

While her dog Coda is so used to rough terrain he’s even taken on the Tararua Peaks ladder, she says owners should make sure dogs know what they are going to be faced with.

“Take your dogs on day walks where they can be introduced to bridges and rivers, and sleep in a tent at home with your dog before attempting an overnight camping trip,” she says.

Invercargill-based dog sledder and tramper Georgie Galloway has similar thoughts, having taken her six dogs into the bush.

“Keep it slow and keep it positive,” she says of the training she has given her pets.

Due to the number of dogs she hikes with, Galloway gets the dogs to carry their own jackets and dehydrated dog food, split across two RuffWear dog backpacks. The packs save her carrying about 1.5kg of dog food on an overnight trip.

“It makes a huge difference and they don’t notice it at all,” she says of the   equipment. “They learn their width pretty quickly.”

Galloway sleeps with the dogs in one tent. “I sleep in the middle so that each of the dogs can touch me,” she says. “We’ve got such a good bond, so that really helps.”

Gregg usually overnights in huts where Coda sleeps in his coat on the porch.

She says her personal gear may have changed over the years but her dog set-up is simple: freeze-dried dog food, a lead, a collapsible bowl and a coat in winter.

Lisa Finnerty also believes in keeping things simple, taking a quarter of a foam mat for Ghost to sleep on in the tent and using her pack liner as his sleeping bag.

She says she always carries water for Ghost but says gear for dogs does not need to be over complicated.

For those who do want to deck out their dogs, Further Faster’s Martin Walker says there is a wide range of dog-sized tramping gear.

“Anything you can buy a person, you can pretty much get for a dog,” he says. “You can get a softshell jacket for your dog and there is a range of packs.”

Walker’s dog Badger always carries his own gear.

“He’s got his own sleeping bag, his own pack and he usually just sleeps in the tent with us.”

But in the end, it is less about the gear and more about the enjoyment of being outdoors with your dog.

“It’s just great fun,” Walker says. “Dogs have a short life, let’s give them the best life.”

The Department of Conservation website has tracks listed by region and you can search for those with ‘dog access’.