A Packdog certificate on a Greyhound? Almost!

My friend Caron is working toward getting a Packdog Certificate on her greyhound! What’s that all about? you may ask. Well, I decided to do an interview with on about the certificate, the training and her greyhounds. Zephyr currently has three legs out of four towards his first Packdog certification.

Dani – So I saw on your blog that you are hiking with your greyhound Zephyr and working towards a packdog certificate? What does Zephyr need to do to get this certificate?

Caron – The dogs have to start out on a hike carrying at least 20% of their body weight in a backpack and complete 4 hikes successfully to get the certificate.  Zephyr has to carry about 17 lb. in his pack.  There are a few types of hikes to choose from.  One can be an overnight primitive backpacking trip with each day’s hike being at least 5 miles, this counts as two of the four hikes.  The others can be single day hikes of at least 10 miles or back-to-back day hikes of 8 miles each.  For every 1,000 feet of elevation gain a mile can be subtracted from the distance, up to 2 miles.


Zephyr and Caron with their hiking group


Dani – So the certificate comes from the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club – but Zephyr is a greyhound and other breeds hiked with you as well, so what’s up with that?

Caron – It’s really great, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America offers the certificate for any breed of dog.  We’ve had Swissys, Bernese Mountain Dogs, a Bearded Collie, a Viszla, a Labrador, a Greyhound and a Papillon on the hikes.  They all get along great together.

Dani – Is this just a local program or is it nationwide?

Caron – It’s a nationwide program.  You just need to organize your hike and submit it to the club for approval about 2 months before the hike date.  My friend Chris, who has the Swissys, has been doing this for our hikes. The info is on the GSMD site http://gsmdca.homestead.com/Activities/Packing.html

Dani – What do the dogs carry?

Caron – The dogs can carry anything that they or you will need on the hikes.  Most of their weight comes from carrying water that we put in the flexible Camelback type of containers.  They are nice because they are soft and conform to the dog’s shape, and when it’s warm out you can chill them in the fridge before the hike.  And with nice tall dogs like greyhounds the water will come out of the tube continuously to squirt in a bowl or mouth.  The dogs usually carry their own food and snacks too.  Zephyr carried his rolled up blanket on top for our overnight trip.  I like to put things I use a lot like the camera and my snacks in his pack because it’s easier to get to than taking my pack off.  You don’t have to keep the weight at 20% for the whole hike so, by the end the dogs are carrying a lot less weight.

Dani – How do you get ready for your hikes?

Caron – We do lots of training hikes with Zephyr wearing the pack and slowly build up to the 17 lb. weight.  It took about 2 months to get him up to carrying full weight.  We do about 2 hikes a week with the pack and about 3 other hikes without Zephyr wearing the pack.  It’s important to give him a couple days off too.  I make sure to let him eat as much as he wants, he eats a mostly raw food diet, when we’re doing lots of hikes.  I actually do a lot of the same things for him that a person who was getting ready for a backpacking trip would do.  The GSMD site has lots of good information on this too.

Dani – Do the dogs hike on leash or off?

Caron – Most of the time they are off-leash because we are on forest trails without a lot of people around.  If we get to an area with people we put them on-leash.  It is really fun to see 6 or so different types of dogs all with their packs on having a great time on the trail together.  We have had no problems with them wanting to run off.  They just go back and forth on the trail and do a little exploring on the side.

Dani – Do any of the dogs ever try to ditch their pack?

Caron – No one has tried to ditch a pack yet, except for maybe a human.  The packs don’t bother the dogs at all.  In fact I think our biggest worry on the hikes has been that they might get too tired or hurt from running around and playing together with the packs on.  Carrying the weight doesn’t seem to keep them from wanting to play.  But, none of the dogs has gotten hurt or been too tired to finish a hike.

Zephyr with his pack loaded


Dani – You have a young Greyhound to – does he go along?
Caron – Astro is just starting to learn about hiking and he loves it.  He hasn’t gone on any of the Pack Dog hikes because they are so long.  But, he’s done a few hikes up to about 4 miles long.  Of course he went a lot farther because of all the time running back and forth with Zephyr.  He wont start carrying a pack until he’s at least 9 months old and that would be with no or very little weight.  Actually the dogs have to be at least 18 months old to start working towards their Pack Dog certificate.  That’s to protect the growing joints and bones.
Dani – How long have you been hiking with your dog(s)?
Caron – Zephyr and I started going on hikes when he was a puppy so it’s been almost 3 years.  I’ve always loved hiking and wanted a greyhound to take along with me.  When I was a kid I spent a lot of time outside exploring with my Doberman.  Having Zephyr, and now Astro, along has really made hiking a lot more fun.
Dani – Do you participate in hikes all year or is it seasonal?
Caron – I try to make it all year long but we do slow down in winter because of the snow.  Luckily Zephyr and Astro love the snow so occasionally we do a snow hike in the forest.  Someday I’d like to try Cross-Country Skiing or Snowshoeing with them.  We live within an hour of warmer areas without snow, so we try to get there a few times in the winter.
Dani – What has been your most interesting hiking experience with your dogs?
Caron – That’s got to be when we’ve come across animals that Zephyr decides he should chase.  He’s taken off after deer a few times, there’s really no stopping him and no keeping up with him.  I still get a little nervous while he’s gone, but he’s always come right back.  I actually got a GPS dog tracking collar this past summer so I can still “see” him when he’s out of sight.  The really cool thing was seeing all the turns he makes while running on the GPS that he follows his path exactly on his way back to me. Once he found a rabbit and it was great watching him weave through the trees chasing it. There was also one cow herding/coursing episode that was pretty funny.  Cows don’t listen to or want to play with greyhounds. 🙂 Luckily we’ve had nothing bad happen on a hike.
Dani – Zephyr also participates in other dog sports, can you tell me about those?

Zephyr doing what he loves the most!

Caron – Zephyr has mostly participated in Lure Coursing.  He loves it, and finished his championship this past fall.  Off-leash hiking is how I keep him in shape for coursing.  We’ve also done some Conformation showing, a little Rally, and some agility training.  I’m sure we’ll keep doing more of these sports and Astro seems like he will love it to.  I really enjoy doing the different dog sports even if we’re not great at all of them.

Caron lives in sunny Arizona (well, the part where it snows, too) with her two greyhounds, some cats and her husband, Ernie. You can read more about Caron and her dogs on her blog at http://hikinghounds.blogspot.com/