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Dog Guided Navigation

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FINCA TATIN, near the Rio Dulce, Guatemala- “How many hours away is La Vaca?” I asked one of the finca staff members how long it would take us to get to a reputedly good look out point. I was told that I would need a guide, as the jungle paths are complicated, and it would be easy to get lost. I looked away discouraged, and just about gave up on the idea.

“The dog knows how to get there,” my friend Pablo, who also works at the finca, offered. My ears perked up. “Take the dog, he will get you there,” Pablo continued, “when you want to come back just say ‘La Finca’ and he will return.”

Pablo then shouted out “Livingston!” and the dog, an old rottweiler, jumped up to attention and began leading the way towards the ordered destination.

Chaya, Petra, and I followed.

The dog, accompanied by a younger, playfuler, rottweiler companion, lead the way into the jungle. We followed our canine guides along the soaking wet path, under branches, down rocky slopes, and up slight rises. I became vastly more curious if these dogs could actually guide me to where I wanted to go than in getting to the destination itself. We were being lead through the jungle by an old dog who, like a polite guide, would sit and wait for us in the path until we could catch up.

This walk seemed routine for the dog, it was no challenge — he knew exactly where he was going, and was in no hurry to get there. He would piss on a tree stump every few meters to mark our return trail.

We followed. The dogs lead. With only a call out of “Livingston” they would walk right to the city — a five hour hike through the jungle.

Was I really going to trust our directional senses to a dog? Could this canine really lead us along jungle paths that were thought to be too difficult for us humans to navigate?

Travel has taught me to that dogs are my enemy. I cannot say how often I have been chased down, had a good camping spot revealed, or otherwise confronted by an ill-trained dog. I have grown to approach dogs grudgingly, often with a stone raised in my right hand. But as I walked behind these two rottweilers through the jungle, my grudge towards their kind began to dissipate: the main enemy of the traveler was helping me travel.

The dog knew where he was going, and he also seemed to understand that his job was go guide us humans. The rottweiler did not run ahead and leave us in his wake — he could have, hiking over wet terrain is often a sluggish endeavor with a baby — but he would sit in the path and wait for his human followers. He knew that he was our guide, and he lead the way as good as any guide of my own species.

Though soon enough our walk came to its conclusion: what was basically the beginning of a dribbling stream only a day before was now a raging river. An eight hour middle of the night/ early morning torrential down pour had turned the jungle into an over wet sponge — ground water poured into the river bed creating a string of uncrossable rapids.

The old rottweiler walked up to the edge of the newly formed river, sniffed for an alternative way around, and then solemnly looked up at me: “It is no use, bud, there is no way across.”

There wasn’t.

The dog would not give up on his duty though, and he stood patiently by the side of the river, still pointing the way to Livingston. With a shout of “La Finca,” I called off the hike, our old guide then lead the way back home.

Dog guides navigating through jungle in Guatemala.

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Filed under: Central America, Guatemala, Navigation

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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