Bringing Your Best Furry Friend on the Trail
Dogs make great companions and great adventure buddies. Getting your dog out on the trail not only lets you share your adventures with them, it also gives them great exercise. We’ve gathered some tips and tricks to make sure that you, your dog, the wildlife, and other trail users can together enjoy the best experience on the trail.
Control On the Trail
It’s imperative to have your dog under control on the trail at all times. As we know, the wilderness is wild and home to wild animals. We want to respect their space and not cause them unnecessary stress. Dogs are many of those wild animal’s natural predators, having a dog approach them, even one that’s tame and well behaved, can be quite traumatic. Dogs, while domesticated and well trained, have a natural instinct to be curious, or to hunt other animals. You may not know how your dog will respond until you’re in the moment, and by then, it is too late.
If your dog is off-leash, they must be controlled by voice command. We suggest also using a shock collar. These collars can be helpful in the event your dog taps into their natural instincts and runs into the woods, on the hunt of a smell or after an animal. Shock collars that have a sound and vibrate settings are a great option to have so you don’t have to always “shock” your dog to encourage a response from them. If you do use a shock collar, make sure your dog has been trained with the collar on so they understand the prompt. You don’t want your dog to have a negative experience in the woods by only using a shock collar while on the trail. By using a collar like this every day, they’ll associate it to a command and obedience rather than a location. You should also carry a leash with you at all times to keep your dog close if it’s every needed.
It’s also important to keep an off-leash dog within eyesight at all times, and within a quick returning distance. Winding trails or open spaces leave room for unexpected encounters with wildlife or other trail users, and it’s best that your dog is able to return to your side quickly.
If your dog does not respond well to voice commands, they need to be on a leash at all times while on the trail. Hands-free dog leashes are a great accessory to have to enjoy the trail with your dog on-leash. These leashes typically have a waist belt to go around your waist and a loop that attaches to the dog’s leash. Another benefit to these types of leashes, is the leash tends to have some elasticity to it to offer an additional extension for the dog. You’re welcome to be creative and create your own hands-free dog leash system as well.
Cleaning Up After Your Dog
Please make sure to pick up after your dog on the trail. A common misconception is that if your dog goes to the bathroom (a #2) off trail, you don’t necessarily need to pick it up. However, it’s best to always pick up after your dog, whether it’s on the trail or not. We’re not only worried about stepping in dog poop on the trail, we’re also worried about what it does to the ecosystem.
Wildlife droppings consists of very natural and organic materials making it easier for our ecosystem to break it down. Dogs, however, have a much more complex diet, creating a longer decomposition process. You can either dig a hole to bury your dog’s poop, or practice Leave No Trace principles and pack it out and dispose of it in a waste bin.
Under no circumstances should you leave a filled poop bag behind. Even if the bags say they are biodegradable, they are not a natural, organic substance and do not decompose quickly in the wilderness. These bags left behind can cause more harm than good.
Respecting Other Trail Users
Never assume that who you encounter on the trail will want to interact with your dog. You love your dog, but other trail users may not have the same feelings, and that’s OK. It can be unsettling to a stranger if your dog runs at them, even in excitement to say ‘Hello’. To help encourage a positive experience for all trail users, including yourself and your dog, make sure you communicate well with who you’re passing and have your dog by your side. If your dog is off-leash, let the passing trail user know the temperament of your dog, call your dog back to your side, and step off the trail so they can pass. For an on-leash dog, communicate the temperament of your dog and step off trail to let them pass
Now that you’ve brushed up on trail etiquette with a dog, pack your backpack, grab your favorite 4-legged friend, and head into the wilderness. Don’t forget to bring your favorite wood burning camp stove to enjoy a hot meal at camp after a long day on the trail.