How Elise is preparing for a multi-day hike with her assistance dog Lenny

How Elise is preparing for a multi-day hike with her assistance dog Lenny
  • PublishedJune 11, 2024

Elise Smith has always enjoyed hiking, but it was almost impossible after she became unwell in 2018.

Then she met Lenny, the perfect assistance dog to get her back on (the walking) track. He’s a leggy miniature Labradoodle, bursting with confidence and energy.

The pair are preparing to hike the Overland Track in the central highlands of lutruwita/Tasmania. It’s a 65-kilometre, six-day trek, through spectacular world heritage forests and exposed environments with changing weather.

Elise shares how she’s preparing for the walk with an assistance dog, and what it means to return to hiking. These are her words.

An assistance dog who loves being outside

I did the Inca trail back when I was in high school and I loved it. I always knew I wanted to do more, but became unwell in 2018 and could no longer enjoy long hikes unaided.

So Lenny is coming with me. He’s my medical and psychiatric assistance dog.

Woman smiling at camera beside her medium-sized white dog on a rocky trail.
Assistance dog Lenny has made long walks possible again for Elise.(Supplied: Elise Smith)

My previous assistance dog had really tiny legs and he just wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I knew he wouldn’t thrive in that environment so we just didn’t do it, whereas Lenny is pretty much all leg and absolutely loves being outside.

He usually starts smiling the second I pick up my backpack. 

Sometimes I get very anxious out of nowhere. Lenny lets me know so I can sit down to avoid any sort of fainting spells. I also have PTSD. He will come and sit on my chest if he thinks I’m about to have a panic attack.

Hiking is definitely something I would not be able to do without him. My dad is coming with me [on the Overland Track] as my human support, but my dad just doesn’t have that ability to [anticipate] when things are going to happen the way dogs do.

How we’ve been preparing

The first thing we did was contact Parks Tasmania to get approval. We sent them an email with all of Lenny’s information and training records, to make sure it’s actually possible for him to do the walk.

We did a lot of dog-friendly walks in Victoria, just to get his manners under control.

Lenny will only walk on the left and so if people are coming from the other direction, they don’t have to worry that he’s going to get in the way. He stays to the left so people can overtake us and he won’t interrupt them.

A woman in hiking gear and backpack climbs a rocky trail beside a creek with her white dog trailing behind her.
Elise and Lenny training for a multi-day walk in Tasmania later this year.(Supplied: Elise Smith)

He’s highly trained to avoid wildlife — he won’t disturb anything. If you know what puppies are like and how inquisitive they are, it takes a lot of time and training them to not chase whatever is moving! 

Lenny always tells me when he’s about to go [to the toilet], he’s pretty much on schedule every day. We have a pack out bag [a lined, waterproof bag designed to carry waste when hiking] and compostable poo bags. We’ll just take it all out with us. It’s the benefit of having a tiny assistance dog — tiny poos!

He has some very expensive gear

Lenny has little shoes that he’s still getting used to … [to protect him from the Overland Track’s] chicken wire along boardwalks. Then he’s got a lot of winter clothes — coats, raincoats, jumpers, a sleeping mat and a sleeping bag.

He’s got a special harness that’s got a loop on the top of it, so that if I need to scramble up any high rocks, I can just lift him up and over. But he does think he’s a mountain goat and will scramble, it’s usually his favourite part of a hike. 

Lenny normally eats raw food, but we’ll take a dry food [version of the same brand]. It works really well because we can just add some water to help keep him hydrated. It means that it’s quite light and still full of nutrition.

We started small and have built from there

To anyone who’s looking to do it, just start small on a one- or two-hour walk and build your way up.

Close-up of dog and woman by the ocean in golden light. The woman's face is partially hidden behind the dog.
After much preparation, Lenny and Elise are ready to walk the Overland Track.(Supplied: Elise Smith)

[On breeds] it’s a very personal thing of which works for you.

Lenny is super friendly and food-driven like a Labrador, but he’s also incredibly intelligent. He was really easy to train, but also was physically able to do the things that I wanted to do.

He was working at seven months old [he’s now one year old]. He’s just very naturally calm in every situation. 

I was originally going to wait to do a big walk, but he is ready and so am I.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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