I have been an advocate for hiking with dogs for almost three decades. I have also been that same advocate for trail etiquette with your dog in the back country.
The best way to phrase it is, you are hiking with a predator and opportunistic scavenger in the back country, you have a responsibility to train your dog to be with you while a guest on these trails. You are a team, and must work like a team. Once you take your dogs leash off you are signaling the world that your dog is 100% under your control on that trail and will not interfere with others.
Trails, 100% of the time are NOT dog parks.
I often times hear the phrase I just need to let my dog be a dog.
Well here is your wake up call, dogs are 100% of the time dogs, they wake up each morning with canine DNA.
If letting your dog run and interfere with others on trails, chase wildlife, nip at bikers, or have a grand ol’ walk about without you, is your definition of a dog being a dog, it is warped, permissive, and inaccurate.
One year ago this week I had an encounter on a trail that left a gigantic impression, literally and figuratively, that I think is appropriate to share now.
While I usually write about me and my dogs adventures on trails, last year I entered the hiking with pack goats world. Our goats are for our enjoyment, pasture management, and to get more gear into the backcountry for climbing and/or hunting and camping. So they have jobs, as do all of our animals.
I became a member of NAPgA (North American Packgoat Association), pretty awesome group of animal loving people, and I started my education with prey animals, packgoats.
What I learned from my mentors before hitting the backcountry was this –
- Collars with bells
- Identification on their collars
- Training saddles
- Lead ropes with carabiner clips
- Hike with a walking stick/s, gun, and/or guardian dog
- First Aid kit for all involved
- Hike in your desired hunting area or trails less traveled, remote
- Grain & Peanuts for goats learning about water crossings
When I asked my mentors about the most common trail problems they encountered, hands down, in every state, every single goatpacking Team said, domestic dogs and their people. Not mountain lions, not wolves, but domestic dogs running free on trails.
When I asked my goat veterinarian what I should carry in regards to first aid while on remote trails, he very quickly said, the only thing I ever do with packgoats is stitch them up after they get ripped open by a dog on a trail, carry sutures if you are ready for that.
I know the dog-culture in our area intimately, so our outings were chosen on remote trails in the middle of no place.
I will be honest, after the first couple of hikes, short and successful, I had a feeling of stoke I have never had with my dogs on trails. A pack Team, with purpose.
A year ago I took my goats onto a remote trail as usual, walking sticks in hand, and off we went, and in a blink, a dog came crashing into us, with a voice in the distance, my dog has always wanted to meet goats, and then the dog took off, and the person far behind caught up and kept walking past us.
What happened as this dog crashed into us?
When a predator runs head-on with intention into prey animals, prey animals either scatter, and in no particular direction, especially if they are youngish, or they defend themselves, which is why packgoats almost always have their horns intact.
My goats scattered and as the dog barked they tried to get back to me, and then they slammed sideways into my knees, pushing my knees backwards. It all happened so quickly, yet in slo-mo, and truly in a blink the damage was done. I didn’t have time to use my walking sticks. I didn’t have my hunting rifle and even if I did I wouldn’t have had time to get it and use it, and I didn’t have a guardian dog or any of my dogs with me. Blink.
As with all big events, adrenalin carries you for a while. I made it home, the goats went back to eating their hay, I did some chores, sat down for dinner, and then realized I couldn’t stand up. And then the swelling and pain set in, big time.
Just to make it easy to understand, if you take a soda can, twist it and then stomp on it for recycling, that was my left knee, the right knee was half of that. A laundry list of injuries, that also caused other injuries through compensating.
It has been a year of working with professionals, weekly and monthly appointments, to get me to where I am today. Walking squarely on two legs. I have been told that the host of injuries is about a two year process to fully recover.
Each day, and I am told not super uncommon, each step I take is intentional and I have to think about it, and think about walking with balance in mind. I have become so present with my motion.
I can just now, this past month, for the most part, walk without a limp, walk down stairs without pain, I can stand up in the morning and move without pain, and get up from the ground without an 18 point turn around.
I am super dedicated to walking fully again, hiking again, and living pain free and healthy. So onwards with healing. This isn’t about seeking out sympathy, that ship sailed a long time ago, just acknowledging the damage one irresponsible dog team can cause.
This was all because of an irresponsible hiker that had no control over their dog while on a trail.
My goats are older now, and while they still greet our puppy clients at the fence, I have seen their behavior change with older dogs, where they will stand their ground and level their head/horns at the dog.
My pack goat mentors mentioned that when goats have encounters like this with dogs they can become very aggressive to dogs from then on. I can say confidently that I would not want to be on the receiving end of a goat slamming their head/horns into any body part.
But that is their defense, and if they ever needed to do that on a trail, they will now do that.
As I have said a bazillion times, trails are for everyone, and everyone is a guest whether in the front or back country. You DO have an obligation to be responsible and respectful of those you are sharing the trail with, whether domestic or wildlife, and even more so if you are hiking with a dog.
There is so much work to do with you and your dog before hitting the trails. While hiking is just one foot in front of the other, hiking with your dog is teaching two species how to connect with understanding and skill.
Mother Nature has given us this beautiful world to interact with, to exchange energy with. Use it with care.