My family and I recently took up hiking. We’ve been in Washington for a year, and we finally decided to get off our collective duffs and take to the trails, and I’m certainly glad we did because, through hiking, we are treated to the most glorious of views that our state has to offer.
Many times, however, we’ve been greeted on the trails by unleashed dogs who would rather not listen to their owner, and doggie landmines left on the trail. Nothing ruins a hike through nature like an irresponsible dog owner or hiking with a dog that can’t handle the trails, so with the help of the Washington Trails Association, here is a primer for those of you who go hiking with your dog.
1. Bring your leash with you
Depending on whether it is a federal, state, or local park/hiking trail, your dog may be required to be on a leash. Some parks only require your dog to be under voice control – meaning that he will come when called. Regardless, your dog should behave. Part of being a responsible pet owner means knowing whether your hiking trail allows dogs, so check before you go. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you drive a significant distance to a trailhead only to find out that you cannot take your dog on the trail – that leads to dogs left in cars, which is a serious no-no.
Remember, just because you love your dog, doesn’t mean every one else does. Your Fido may be the most lovable fuzzball on the face of the earth, but to someone who is fearful of dogs, they see Cujo with razor sharp fangs. Keeping your dog under voice control or on a leash also prevents damage to the trail’s plants (especially the fragile alpine plants at higher altitudes). You’ll want to leash your dog if you encounter other dogs on the trail, or (depending on your dog’s prey drive) wildlife such as squirrels, rabbits, raccoon, or moles.
2. Yield to the right of way
Fellow hikers and horses have the right of way, not your dog. With human hikers, step well off the trail to let the humans pass. With horses, keep your dog calm, and step off the trail. If you are on a hill when you encounter a horse, step downhill and keep your dog close by your side. This is a good time to distract your pup with a treat – maybe even reinforce the “leave it” command – and to praise him for being a good hiker.
3. Know good trails for hiking with your dog
Some trails are just not conducive to hiking with your dog. These may be trails with large boulders, streams, steep drop-offs, or rocky cliffs. Find trails that are a match with your dog’s activity level. Is your dog comfortable with heights? Does your dog get nervous on bridges? Can your dog tolerate a 5 mile walk, or is it better to do a 1.5 mile loop? A younger dog may fare better on mountainside inclines, while your senior dog may better enjoy level walking trails.
Look for books that list dog-friendly hiking trails. The “Best Hikes with Dogs” books are good. This link will take you to the Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington book, but there are other regions available and worth the read. Some hiking/trail websites have hiker reviews; read through them and find the trails that have been hiked with dogs.
If possible, go ahead of time and walk the trail without your pup to familiarize yourself with the trail, and make an informed decision as to whether your dog can realistically walk this trail with you.
4. Clean up after your dog
All three of my boys were in Cub/Boy Scouts and learned to practice “Leave No Trace” when they went hiking or camping. That means when you visit a park, leave nothing behind that hints that you were there – leave it as you found it, or better. That includes, for us dog owners, taking your dog’s poo with you when you leave the park/trail. I’ve heard many dog owners say that those who don’t clean up after their dogs make all dog owners, even those who do clean up after their dogs, look bad.
If you don’t like the thought of carrying a bag of dog poo the remaining 3.2 miles of your hike, at least bring a trowel to bury it (at least 200 feet away from the trail and water source and six inches deep). Another option is to make your dog carry it. There are several dog backpacks available that can stow things such as water, waste bags, and snacks.
5. Bring appropriate gear/supplies
Along with the hiking essentials that you need for yourself, make sure you are equipped with the following (at a minimum) for hiking with your dog:
- Leash and collar
- Water and bowl – plan on three liters of water for your dog for a day hike. Consider a collapsible travel bowl or water dispenser
- Dog food and treats. Plan on bringing extra in case you get lost
- Plastic bags and trowel
- ID tags and photo – Make sure your dog has proper identification. Bring a photo of your dog in case he is separated from you and you need to describe him to others
- Basic canine first aid kit – gauze pads and rolls (or self cling bandage), antiseptic wipes, antibiotic cream and tape for cuts and abrasions, a few bouillon cubes to encourage the dog to drink in case of dehydration, a quick activation ice pack, and the phone number of your veterinarian
By heeding these simple instructions, you and your dog can have many rewarding hikes together, and will help keep the trails enjoyable for other hikers as well.