By Gregory Kempers
Few things beat spending the afternoon out in the mountains, and sharing that time with your pup is one of those things! But not all natural areas are dog-friendly and those that are often have restrictions. It’s up to us as owners and hikers to know the rules and follow them. All rules are subject to change, and if we don’t do our part, someday in the future we might not be allowed to bring our dogs in the backcountry at all!
Know the rules where you’re hiking
A lot of natural areas have heavy restrictions on pets. For example, most national parks don’t allow dogs on their backcountry trails, but they usually do allow them on the heavily used front country areas. Whenever you go out to explore a new part of nature, do a little research ahead of time and make sure you’re following the rules. All national land has easily accessible information on whether or not pets are allowed, usually on the front page of their website. Many allow pets, and those that do usually require a leash, while some prohibit dogs entirely.
Keep them on a leash!
Most national forests, parks and monuments that allow pets require you to have them on a 6ft lead at all times. In the few areas that do allow off-leash pets, you need to make sure that they reliably respond to your voice. The key word here is “reliably”. This is for their safety as well as to protect wildlife and other hikers. Most dogs still have a prey instinct and will want to chase animals they see on the trail. Your furry friend running off after an elk can turn your quick, midday hike in the woods into a two hour ordeal to find them. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s not fun.
Stick to the trails
You should be doing this regardless of whether or not you have a dog with you, but pets can be especially destructive on unestablished land. A poorly supervised dog will dig holes and damage vegetation.
Make sure they’re up for it
Firstly, has your dog been sitting on the couch ever since you got them? If that’s the case, it might not be the best idea to take them on a long, strenuous hike right off the bat. Just like us, dogs need time to get used to what you’re asking of them. If your pup is mostly sedentary, try taking them on a half hour hike and progress from there. Before you know it, they’ll be joining you on summit pushes and skiing trips!
Second, consider the expected temperature of your adventure. For example, I own an Alaskan Husky, a breed with a thick coat that has allowed him to pull sleds in forty below. It would be ill-advised to take him hiking in the desert in the summer. If you have a tough breed like that, read up on the signs of overheating in dogs, how to properly treat it, and bring lots of extra water for them!
Avoid disturbing wildlife
This goes back to keeping your dog on a leash or voice command. Many protected nature areas are protected for a reason. Species like migratory birds are very vulnerable depending on the time of the year.
Pick up after them!
Aside from the fact that it’s the law just about everywhere, it’s just basic human decency to clean up after your pup. Nothing ruins a hike like stepping in a steamer! Do your fellow hikers a favor and clean up! Many trailheads now have free doggie bags for you to use, so there really isn’t an excuse.