Kona and I always hike solo. It's our time together and Kona's time away from the scary sights and sounds of the city. We're happy on the trails, just the two of us.
So when a friend invited me on a group hike, an all day group hike, I hesitated. I worried Kona would be scared by the company, which would ruin the hike for both of us.
With Kona, it's easy to overdue things. While exposure to new experiences helps many dogs build confidence, new experiences typically push Kona beyond her ability to cope and only reinforce her fears. But I thought this was a challenge Kona could handle, or so I hoped.
When we met our friends at the parking lot, I opened the car door but left Kona in her crate. I wanted her to hear me talk to our hiking partners, in hopes Kona would connect that these were people I knew. I was happily surprised to see another dog in our group. While Kona doesn't have impeccable social skills, other dogs can still be great icebreakers for her.
When Kona hopped out of her crate, she looked around, sniffed a few ankles and started pulling for the trailhead. And so the five of us humans and two dogs took off for seven hours on the trail.
Kona showed how far she's come with people. While she dodged every outstretched hand, she showed no stress by the new company. I soon relaxed and enjoyed the trail.
Kona led the way. Our group's pace was slower than what we're use to, so we stopped every few minutes to let everyone catch up. Kona kept a lookout for her new "buddies."
Before long, we reached our first saddle.
The wind whipped up and over the canyon. As I held my hat, I looked at Kona for signs of stress. While the wind pinned her tail awkwardly to the side of her body, she looked anxiously only for the next lizard.
We trudged along, tucking in and out of the overbearing wind with each contour of our climb.
After 4,000 feet of climbing, and one close encounter with a sleeping rattlesnake (I, of course, would never almost step on a sleeping rattlesnake. Nope, not me.), we made it to the summit. While the rest of our group sat down for snacks and water, Kona proceeded to entertain everyone with her lizard pouncing (which she didn't give up until it was time to start our descent).
Kona and I, along with a friend, jogged the descent back to the parking lot. Kona showed her only obvious signs of nervousness when my friend jogged close to my heels. (Someone chasing you can be scary!) As long as my friend stayed several paces behind, Kona seemed fine.
My crazy pulling monster willing trotted behind me as we neared the end of our long adventure. We made several stops for water before making it back to the car.
As we jogged into the parking lot, a group of five kids shouted, "Look at the dog!" and Kona's tail went straight to her belly. We made a sprint for the car, where the allure of barbeque chicken overpowered the screeching kids and Kona chopped down a much deserved snack.
I think our day worked just fine.