Our winters in the mountains are awesome. Awesome and long. I love the snow, but honestly I think the pay off for eight months of winter is the glorious wild flower season, hiking in altitude, and warm summer nights.
Living between two huge mountain ranges, we literally have thousands of miles of trails to hike and enjoy. Again, our payoff for the long winters!
Almost daily, I work with people that have not had good success hiking on trails with their dogs. Either their dog doesn’t do well, or the on coming dog doesn’t do well. This has gone on for as many years as I have been in business.
Since my dogs and I hike in remote areas, I don’t experience a lot of what my clients do. I choose to hike remote for a variety of reasons, the first being that I have three border collies, and I don’t think it is right for one person to have a herd of dogs on a public trail, it puts everyone at a disadvantage, and it’s overwhelming. And I think trail traffic would be very stressful for at least two of my dogs. The second and maybe third reasons being, I also have children, and when we go out, it is to share the time with my dogs and family, in the mountains, at our own pace, sans conflict, just hangin’ with Mother Nature. These are some of my most favorite memories.
So, this past week, I had free time to check out the trails in town, and around town, where there seems to be the most tensions, problems, and conflicts. My son and I walked the trails in the morning and evening, I did leave my dogs at home so I could get a good sense of what was going on without the emotional attachment of my own dogs. Just a trail user who was observing casually.
We came across very responsible trail users (thank you!), with and without dogs, ran into a few friends (so good to see you all!), and experienced some of what our clients have been up against. The time hiking with my son was awesome last week, but even he was noticing the ‘grab bag’ of behavior out there, from human and dogs alike.
These are the areas we saw as lacking good common sense, good responsible dog ownership, and common courtesy. I will say that out of eight hikes, five were perfect, absolutely perfect conflict free hikes, with only minor stuff. Three made me never want to go to those areas ever again because of the rude human behavior, and dog park like mentality, even though we were miles into the mountains.
TRAIL HEAD/PARKING AREAS – I just about lost my crackers on a couple of our evening hikes. We drove into the trail head parking areas, and dogs were running around while their people were talking or loading up their bikes.When my son and I got out of our car and were loading up our gear, we had dogs come over into our space, and circle our car. No person bothered calling their dog back.
Trail heads are not dog parks. If you and your dog are not showing self control when you get out of the car, it isn’t going to get better as you go along the trail. Start with self control in the car, and when you are in the trail head area, your dog should stay int he car until you are ready, or by your side, or on a leash. Parking areas with moving cars, and other trail users are not a safe place to run around. PLEASE make better choices, be more respectful, and keep your dog safe.
NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO MEET YOUR DOG – We had a few dogs come into our space, get a bit pushy, and block us. If we would have had our dogs with us, this would not have gone well.
Not everyone is going to want to have as intimate a relationship with your dog as you do, in fact most don’t. On trails there are hikers, bikers, elderly, children, some babies in backpacks, and other animals. Your dog should not be determining who they are going to meet and greet, and who they determine is friend or foe, your job is to keep them with you.
TRAILS ARE NOT DOG PARKS – We saw quite a few dogs without people. The dogs were happily exploring the trail and surrounding hillsides and meadows, a couple chasing small prey, sans people. We only had one dog that growled at us as we were walking up the trail, so we stepped to the side and let him pass. When we did come across their people, they were completely disengaged with their dog. No communication, no interaction, no apparent relationship. Trails were being used to freely exercise their dogs without the concern of others.
Trails are not dog parks. You and your dog are guests on a trail, whether it is in the front or back country. If you take your dog on a trail you have a specific and EXTRA obligation to have them with you, either on or off leash (depending on how much training you have done). Trails are multi use, horse packers, llama packers, mountain bikers, bird watchers, etc. You should feel obligated to be respectful and kind to those around you, so everyone can enjoy their day out and about.
POOP – We saw a plethora of poop on in town trails, and trails that went to our local schools. We saw less poop when we went higher into the mountains. And we had some trails with no poop at all.
If you are in town, seriously, pick up after your dog, and drop the bag into a trash can. Eliminating (pooping) is a biological function, they have to do it, don’t be surprised and caught off guard when it happens! It’s part of what a healthy functioning animal does. BUT, this means you need to be watching your dog, and be close to your dog to see that it is happening. Which also means you cannot let your dog run all over the place like a dog park, and run away from you where you cannot see them. Which means you have to be responsible.
So, it kind of goes hand in hand, or hand in bag, or bag on poop. In heavy use, densely populated dog areas, it is imperative to clean up. Seriously, if all the poop on the trails in town were human poop, they would be closed as a ‘biological hazard’.
If you are in the back country and your dog poops, please kick it off the trail and let Mother Nature turn it into fertilizer.
STRESSED OUT DOGS – We met and saw dogs who were not prepared to walk on a narrow trail and come head on to people or people with dogs. These dogs were definitely on guard, and not enjoying themselves.
If your dog needs space in order to feel safe, choosing narrow trails that are high volume for hikers and other users is not fair to your dog. Choose trails with switch backs so you can see who is in front or behind, choose wider trails or less populated trails. Just because your friends are going to a certain hiking area doesn’t mean it is right for you and your dog. If you are going to bring your dog, you need to take what they can handle into consideration, and what you have done in order to help them be successful.
Be safe, enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer, and be responsible ~ Nancy