I want to walk the Camino de Santiago with my dog!
We know you do. And we understand why you do. But we have to tell you, it is incredibly difficult to do it safely.
We have been walking the Camino for over 20 years. And from the beginning, we wanted to bring each of our dogs with us to enjoy the adventure. They would have loved it! Being outdoors all day, meeting new people, smelling the amazing scents of The Way. Fabulous. But we didn’t attempt it for 19 years.
Because. It is really difficult for a dog of ANY age to walk 15 to 20 miles, day in and day out. Even if you choose to walk less, the terrain is often rocky or made of crushed oyster shells, which can easily cut a dog’s paw pads. And what will you do if your dog ruptures a tendon or ligament, or worse, breaks a bone? Is he of a size where you can carry him for miles if necessary to get help? And unfortunately, there is little veterinary care easily available on the Camino unless you are looking for a large animal vet who cares for sheep and cows. And last but not least, there is almost no place that you can spend the night with a dog – certainly not the Albergues and very few hotels.
We have seen people try it over the years, carrying tents to sleep outside and doing things like putting mole skin on their dog’s paws to try to protect against the terrain. Mole skin is a disastrous idea! The inner layer of skin on the paw has sweat glands that convey perspiration to the outer layer of skin, which helps cool a hot dog and keeps the pads from getting too dry. When you block those glands, your dog can’t properly cool himself. Keeping him in booties all day for weeks on end is equally problematic because the sweat will not evaporate and he could end up with fungal infections or worse.
So, now that I have told you all the reasons it is difficult, I will tell you how you CAN do it safely because we did it last year with our nine year old Labrador retriever, Dino.
- Why would you bring your dog to the Camino? In our case, we adopted Dino about six months prior to bringing him and we knew a couple of important things about him. He loved being outdoors and going for walks more than anything in the world, except perhaps cookies. And he had had a very rough life having been abandoned at 8 ½ years old and in poor health. We believe that walking the Camino can help any being heal, and we thought that he would really benefit from walking the Camino with us – emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
- How will you get your dog to Spain? Unless you have a private jet or you wish to kennel your dog on the QE2 to England, the only way is to put him in the belly of a jet and fly him. We did that, knowing that we would be in Spain for quite a while and that he was in good health at that point. It is always scary to fly your dog, and we went to great pains to find a direct flight to Madrid. Please contact a customs broker who ships animals to assist you getting through customs upon arrival in Spain. It was hard for a Spaniard to navigate the paperwork; for a foreigner it would be literally impossible – and your dog would be waiting in a crate for you to figure it out. Both the airlines and Spain have extensive rules on paperwork, rabies vaccines, and health certificates. You must do it exactly right!
- How far should we walk each day and is the whole Camino dog accessible? The distance that you can safely walk depends on your dog. We knew that Dino was older and not in the peak of physical fitness despite our training walks. And he had a wonky tendon in his left front leg. So, we drove a car to a starting point each day and one of us would start walking with Dino. The other person would drive the car to a point about 3–5 km up the road and park the car where it intersected the path, and start walking there alone. After Dino walked to where the car was, the first person drove him in the car for a while to the next meeting point with the other person, and then he started walking again –we took turns walking with him. Always bringing the car along with us and no more than a few kilometers away. We were able to walk together for several miles when we knew that we would end in a big town where a taxi would let him ride back to the car or hotel with us. But it is very difficult to safely walk with your dog without transportation available to you because your dog could become exhausted or get injured, and being miles from a road with no way to get help is very dangerous. You also have to understand the terrain, and the guide books don’t explain what the terrain is like for a dog; the guide books focus on elevation and where there are places to eat. Because we have walked the Camino so many times, we knew that certain sections were essentially inaccessible for Dino. For example, the descent from Alto de Perdon outside Pamplona is dangerous for people because of the size of the rocks on the descent and their tendency to roll. I can’t imagine a dog being able to do that safely when their paws would be smaller than the rock and they have to balance their weight on four legs, each on a potentially moving rock. It is asking for tendon problems or worse because of the rolling rocks.
- Where will we stay? Well, that is the million dollar question. In our case, we found little apartments for rent on the equivalent of Air B&B or hotels that took dogs, but only one of them was on the path itself. We often spent two or three nights in one hotel and drove 30 minutes or more to a start point for the walk, knowing we would have to drive quite a distance at the end of the day. While it is very common in the US for hotels to take dogs, it is not very common at all in Spain, so you would need to plan where you were staying each and every night of the trip.
So the bottom line is this: I believe you can safely bring your dog to the Camino, but it requires extensive knowledge, planning, and financial resources to do it. We walked just a small section with Dino for about a week. He loved every minute of it and was quite a celebrity on the path. And it was a something we had thought about and wanted to do for years. Please don’t romanticize what it would be like for your dog! Be prepared, be careful, and be sure that you know this is something your dog would want to do and be able to do physically and emotionally. If all those things fall into place, Buen Camino Fido!
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