We all love getting outside + if we have a dog, we want to share the excitement + wonder of the world with them. I mean, that’s why you got a dog, right!? There are literally hundreds of four-legged friends out on the trails every day. When we’re out with our dogs we need to remember a few things. Dogs do not process their decisions the way we do + dogs cannot actually talk to us to tell us how they feel. We need to take a few steps to help them with this, safely.
Follow Leash Laws
Let’s jump right into this with…leash laws. Oh, leash laws. In short, it’s a law follow it. You’re not exempt from speed limits because you’re a smarter driver than the driver next to you + your Fido is not exempt from leash laws because ‘he listens well’. Sorry, not sorry. But, before we get into a debate about the validity of leash laws, let’s look at a few reasons you may want to keep your dog on a leash…regardless of the laws.
When your pup is on a leash you have control over them — both in where they go + what they can do. Here are a few things you may encounter on the trails that can put you in a situation where you want full leash control of your dog.
Other Animals: Whether you’re on neighborhood trails or deep backwoods trails, there will be other animals. Quite frankly, any other animal can pose a threat to your dog — snakes, elk, moose, bear, big cats, raccoons, skunks, etc.
Your Princess may be a ferocious beast who can take care of itself, but rabies + other diseases are not selective. Neither is snake venom or the kick of a territorial moose or the charge of a protective mama bear. Having your dog on a leash can keep her safe from all of these things.
Other People: This may come as surprising news but…not everyone loves dogs. Some people just aren’t that into four-legged pets. Other people have had bad experiences with aggressive animals. Children rarely know how to act around an unknown dog. Your dog may not know how to act around a new group of people.
You’re sharing the trail with a wide range of other humans, please take their enjoyment + safety into consideration when you’re leashing or unleashing your dog. While your favorite fluff ball may be great with 99% of other humans, do you really want that 1% to be a child your dog comes upon around the bend while off-leash?
Other Dogs: Since you’ll be sharing trails with other people you’ll also be sharing trails with their dogs. Be aware of this, on two levels. First off, dogs don’t always love each other + excited dogs are not always great at reading other dogs’ signals. Similar to the human encounters, you have no idea what sort of history a strange dog has. Maybe the leashed dog you meet on the trail has been attacked by an off-leash dog in the past. Having your pup off-leash could raise a lot of red flags, putting the other dog in a defensive position, escalating the situation unnecessarily.
Secondly, not everyone follows the leash laws. Yea, I know, not cool. But it is something we need to consider. This is especially important to consider if your dog is still learning to play well with others. If they encounter another dog while out on the trails, are you fully confident in their reaction? More importantly, are you fully prepared to take responsibility for their actions, especially if they’re more aggressive actions than you’d expect?
This little list is meant to get you thinking about why there are leash laws + why you want to bring a leash with you, even if you’re headed out for an off-leash adventure. You never know what you may come upon on the trail. Please be prepared.
Take Poo With You
While we’re on rather controversial topics, let’s jump right into dog poop. While dogs are descendants of wild animals…they are not wild animals. Their poop does not belong in the wilderness. There are a few reasons for this. For starters, if everyone who hit the trails with their dog left the poo piles behind we would be dancing around steamy piles of stank rather than enjoying the views. There are far more domesticated dogs on the trails then Mother Nature’s composting system can handle!
Furthermore, the feces that a domesticated dog creates is quite literally nothing like the feces of a wild coyote. Your fluffy pet is fed a weird combination of nutrients in those funny looking dog food chunks…food that is not common in the wilderness. Domestic canine poop also carries diseases which, when combined with the other not-so-compostable byproducts, can actually become harmful to humans.
In short, if your dog poops…pick it up + pack it out. Oh, yes, pack it out! Do not put your dog’s poop in a little black bag then leave it on the side of the trail waiting for some Poop Posse to come pick it up for you. That doesn’t happen. That Poop Posse you’re hoping for is actually a very annoyed version of people like me…dog-less hikers or runners who pack that poo out because it’s the right thing to do. I like getting Trail Karma, but I don’t like carrying your dog poop!
[Side Note: Consider investing in a pack for your dog — then they can carry their own poo bags, empty + full! They can also help you out by carrying their own food + water…]
Pack Water + Food
Speaking of your dog’s output…what about his input? If you’re headed out on a long trek on the trails, be prepared. When you’re planning to be gone long enough to pack up water + food for yourself…do the same for your pup! Fido will be able to drink from streams + rivers along the trail, but what if those water sources are dried up or stagnant?
When you’re packing along food + water for your dog do it as if they’re another human you’re responsible for. If it’s a hotter day, they’ll need more water. If it’s a strenuous hike, they’ll want more food. Pack accordingly. You may even want to invest in that aforementioned pack of your pup, then they can carry their own weight. Literally.
Know Your Dog
This may go without saying, but know your dog + pay attention to your dog. Just as dogs cannot talk to tell you what is wrong, they cannot understand your reasoning when you’re going to ‘just push for the summit’. Your furry friend will do anything for you…do not exploit that beyond their means.
If your four-legged friend is lagging behind or looking alarmed, respond to this. Do not ignore it. The only way a dog can communicate is through their body movements + physical actions. The more time you spend with your dog the better you’ll be able to read them. However, even if this is your first time hiking with a friend’s dog…you’ll be able to pick up on the basic signs of exhaustion, dehydration or fear. You just have to be paying attention!
Okay, so, we really hit some serious notes with all this safety talk. The trails should not be scary + hiking with your dog should not be anxiety-inducing. We just want you to be aware of the risks + prepared for whatever may happen while you’re out enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer! Now go find a furry friend + get outside to see the world together!