I have survived the Appalachians including the onslaught of the bear dog. OK, let start from the beginning. For those unfamiliar with this great American hike, the Appalachian Trail consists of many, many miles of walking, climbing, sliding, falling, crying, laughing, and just about everything else. It comprises of about 2200 miles through forested and mountainous countryside through states such as Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Main, and others. The exact mileage is unknown because the trail changes a little bit each year as needed due to fallen trees or better more refined routes through the terrain. There are about 30 clubs that are mainly in charge of up keep and they do an excellent job. It is more of a labor of love because no one is compensated and the work can be exceptionally taxing. Much of the trail leads through un populated, wilderness areas, though small towns are often only a day or two walk away. You will pass through farm land, dense, green forests, National Forests, over roads, rivers, creeks, and just about everything else you can imagine in the outdoors. The trail is best known for those folks that are called thru hikers which are people willing to walk the entirety of the trail or at least hundreds of miles. With backpacks full of supplies and a healthy attitude for adventure and the unknown, hikers set upon the Appalachian trail each year to test their limits and perhaps discover something about themselves as well as the people and country side around them.
The Bear Dogs of the Appalachian Trail
Now most people who think of hiking such a long and arduous trail will want to learn more about the hazards. Among them are snakes, ticks, mice and rats with disease, cold, and warm temperature. Coyotes, wolves, fox, and mountain lion can be problematic. You will hear a lot about Big Foot, a creature said to exist…sort of a cross between early man and a caveman. I can’ t say that I have ever seen one, nor do I believe Big Foot exists. Nevertheless, there are some very strange noises out in the woods you will come across, often defying explanation. But, one of the most feared hazards that garner a lot of attention each year on the trail is the American black bear. Now since I have hiked the trail and have come face to face with these bears, they admittedly will get your attention. These creatures are mostly foraging for food and it is rare that they will charge you or become aggressive in other ways unless you physically threaten them or come in between them and their cubs. Nevertheless, they can be problematic and deaths have occurred on the Appalachian Trail as a result of a bear attack. The part of the Trail that has the most black bear is probably the Shenandoah National Forest and the Smoky Mountain Nation Forest. This is where I came face to face with both bear and the bear dog. Ok, now let me emphasize this is all true as I have personal experience with it. The bear dogs are actually dogs trained to run wild in the woods…survive in the woods….and scare off the bear in the woods. The bear dogs that I saw had a distinctive “B” cut out in their hair hide and were friendly and very hungry. Now bears are not intimidated by much, but they cannot stand dogs, particularly the bear dogs that know their scent and are trained to run along the Appalachian trail and nearby side trails looking for and harassing bears away. The dogs know the water sources and where the bears like to hang out and take it upon themselves to be the Appalachian trail hikers’s best friend. They also have attached to their collar a device that allows the owner/trainer to track where they are. After a period of days, these animals are gathered up again by the owner and a new set of dogs are let loose. The small pack of bear dogs I came across were friendly, energetic, lonely, and somewhat malnourished. My own supplies were limited, but when you have been hiking the Trail for days with very little contact with the outside world, the bear dogs are a welcomed site and when I came to understand what they do, they got some of my food those days.
You will not find many references about the bear dogs of the AT, but I am here to tell you they exist. They are not wild dogs or stranded dogs living in the forest, though I came across some of those as well. It is a shame that people abandon their dogs out in the wild. But the bear dogs of the Appalachians are something altogether different. Bred and trained to root out the wild bears that frequent the trail looking for food, these dogs perform a very practical task. Almost mythical in their appearance and behavior, they are exceptionally friendly to humans and I suspect that is both a natural behavior as well as trained behavior. But once they set upon the scent or sight of a bear….look out…it is off to the races.