Hiking with Dogs-Part 1

Hiking with Dogs-Part 1: An Interview with Rachel Kowalsky & Isis

A few months ago I “met” Rachel over on the Hike Like A Woman facebook page. Immediately I was impressed by her story. You see a few years ago Rachel was diagnosed with a thyroid disease which required a few lifestyle changes. So, she started walking and climbing. She eventually summited all of the forty-eight 4,000 footers in New Hampshire and that was just the beginning. She’s unstoppable, really. But, the best part about her story is her loyal dog, Isis, who is her almost constant companion in the wilderness.

When I asked Rachel if she’d talk to us about hiking with dogs she happily agreed to an interview. We’re breaking her interview down into two parts so be sure to check out the second half tomorrow.


Q1. Isis, your dog has bagged more peaks than most hikers. What kind of a dog is Isis? Can you tell us about how Isis got started hiking?  

Isis is a Shiba Inu. When I began looking for a hiking companion, I went to all the shelters in my area first and found dogs that were too old, big, or needed extensive retraining. Shelter dogs are great and I recommend adoption over buying always. However, for what I wanted, I found a reputable breeder and Isis came into my life.

She had no clue when we were driving home that she’d climb the majority of the high peaks in New England before she turns two years old (August 9, 2012). Isis began hiking her peaks at the age of 4 months and she began in the winter months of New Hampshire (sometimes harsh cold). She’s double coated so she does better in the cooler month. She is checked out extensively by her vet at each visit and gets a gold star each time. 

Shiba Inu’s are very active dogs and wonderful companions with the right owner. Shiba’s are prone to anxiety and depression if not active. They are what is known as “one owner dogs” and become very protective and possessive of their owners (preferring their company over anyone else).

At the same time, these dogs can be aloof and almost cat like in behaviors and they are stubborn too. Isis can be right next to me for days and then she won’t give me the time of day for about a week unless I am feeding her and when walking. If we are not on a trail she chooses the direction or she will sit down and not budge (we get into power struggles often as she thinks she is the boss).

The breed can be anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds and the funny thing is that we have a friend who also has a Shiba (same coloring and everything!). He’s 40 pounds and makes Isis look like a tiny little thing. These dogs play rough in that they bark and snarl at other dogs and rough house that looks like vicious fighting.

Many other dog owners are put off by this so, they do get a bad rap. Shibas need to be kept leashed as they are hunters and escape artists. They will not stop if the get a scent and have been known to dig under fences to go roaming. The breed is not for everyone and I would encourage you to read up on them prior to adopting or purchasing from a reputable breeder.   

Isis & Rachel.jpg

Q2. We don’t have a dog but we see a lot of unleashed dogs out on the trails. Our local Game & Fish recommends hiking with dogs on leash to protect them from wildlife and to protect the wildlife as well. But, at the same time I understand why it would be fun to hike with a dog off leash. What are your thoughts on hiking with dogs on leashes? Is Isis leashed when you hike?

This is the great debate between hikers with dogs. I have a lot of people in my circles that see Isis on a leash and immediately ask if I am off leash training or have tried to encourage me in that direction. Her leash doesn’t bother me or her so I wonder why so many ask me about this and push us that way. Simply put, Isis will run if off leash as she is bread to hunt game and if she runs across an animal, she will not stop until she gets it or gets lost. I don’t want to take the chance of this happening so, I keep her leashed. She’s able to stay close on a summit if I put her leash down so, for that I am thankful.

On trail though, a leash for her is a must. The leash also allows me to have more control to keep her safe from larger predators should we run into any. I’m real quick to scoop her up if need be and lucky for me, she is not that heavy. Also, the leash gives me more control over her with unleashed dogs who charge her because they are not under control by their owners.

All too often, I have been overrun by 2, 3, or 4 dogs and the owners are about 10 minutes behind them. (Ugh! This happens with me and my kiddos at least weekly!) Isis is protective of me so, she will see these unleashed dogs as a threat and while I do not want to get bit by her or have another dog get bit by her, I should not have to carry Isis to keep confrontations from happening because a hiker does not have eyes on or control of their dog. Be responsible owners and control your dogs please!

The other situation I seem to run into is that I am told the unleashed dog is friendly and not to worry. Well, it’s not always about the unleashed dog. Isis is not very friendly when dogs rush her so, I warn the other hiker for that reason. It’s as much about Isis’ demeanor as it is the other dog and I am warning you to protect both myself and Isis as well as avoid a noisy confrontation and nasty looks when Isis gets mouthy.

The other good thing about keeping the dog leashed is that it’s minimal impact on the environment. When a dog travels through the woods off trail that has an impact and when a dog goes off the trail in the alpine zone that definitely has a significant impact on that already fragile area. Being kept on a leash confines the impact to the trail and not the surrounding fragile area. I have had many rangers thank me for leashing Isis and received many negative comments from hikers. I can assure you that Isis and I will keep hiking as we always have, attached at the hip by a leash. 

When we do hike over difficult terrain, we seem to do just fine together. We’ve scrambled up ledges together and Isis seems to know when to jump and to go far enough in so that I can lift myself up and over the ledges. It really works for us. She is in tune with my steps when they are off (if I trip), she will rush back to check on me. She knows my commands and follows them without question. In winter time, Isis’ leash provides fun to get down the mountain as I can slide and she can pull me. It’s a real fun way to descend.

Q3. What do you think are the top 5 mistakes that dog owners make when they take their dog’s hiking? Why? What should they do instead?

  • They overestimate the dogs ability.
  • They do not carry adequate food and water.
  • They do not have a first aid kit for their dog.
  • They start them too young and do not consult a vet.
  • They get a hiking dog and are not active during the week to keep the dog in shape.


When a person is thinking of adding a furry hiking companion, examine your lifestyle off the trail as well. Are you a couch potato who suddenly becomes active on the weekends? A dog is going to want to keep doing those big hikes during the week and if you work late, crash out energy wise, and generally lay low, a dog that is active is not for you.

I walk Isis before and after work and not just for bathroom breaks but because she is ACTIVE and needs to stay that way. Not being active except on the weekends can cause injury. Talk to a vet about what dog is right for you and also talk to them about the proper time to start a dog hiking on the trails. Because Isis is little, there was no danger of affecting her muscles and bones. A larger breed dog needs time to develop those legs before you get them hiking. One year is the general rule of thumb for large breed dogs. 

Always always always carry extra water and food. A dog burns calories faster than we do and needs to eat plenty on the trails. Do not just depend on water sources such as rivers and streams either. You will not always be near water. I carry kibble, treats, and a Nalgene bottle just for Isis. All treats and kibble are high in protein which is necessary for active dogs as well as grain free. Isis even gets her own trail mix for a treat and in the winter, She shares my cheese with me.

Make sure that you are stopping frequently for rests in the hot months. Isis’ first aid kit has many of the same things that I carry for myself but she also gets her own Benadryl, disposable booties (they look like balloons and are called Pawz) for cuts on pads, Mushers secret salve for winter to keep the paws ice free, and bandages just for her. I would never think twice about dumping my pack and putting her in it to pack her out (and I have done this on two very hot days when she could not go on) in an emergency. Dogs look to us to care for them. Make smart choices and if your dog cannot make it or refuses to budge on the trail, turn back. The mountain and the trail will be there another day.   

Thanks Rachel!

Be sure to check back tomorrow. We’ll finish up the interview talking about abandoned dogs on mountain peaks, Rachel’s most memorable hike with Isis and gear that Rachel recommends for dogs.

Here’s a note about from Rachel abut where you can find her and Isis on the wonderful world of the web.

Blog Spot : http://sghnh48.blogspot.com (This is also linked to my google + account) 

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pintsizehiker

Isis is also on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hikingpupisis

Please feel free to Like Isis and to contact me. I am always glad to answer questions and will accept friend requests (or you can use the follow option for limited contact). If you are hiking in New Hampshire and happen to see us, don’t be shy, say HI! We love meeting people on the trails. 


A note from the Just Trails crew. We’re looking to interview hikers who have an interesting story to tell, can share a tip, or a lesson that they’ve learned on the trails. Let me know if you’re interested in being featured on Just Trails, rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)com

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