Hiking with your dog is a privilege, not a right. There are often rules and restrictions regarding pets wherever you hike. Dogs are very easily banned from great hiking trails due to misbehavior and irresponsible owners. Having your dog under your control, and safe, responsible hiking will ensure our dogs are welcome on local trails.
These are some of the ways you can ensure you don't give canine hikers a bad name:
1. Follow the local trail rules. Find out about the trail before you go, and if it says "No Dogs Allowed," leave your dog at home or don’t go. Rules vary from place to place. For example, dog’s aren’t allowed in national parks but are allowed in most but not all national forests. In the Coronado National Forest, pets must be restrained or on a leash at all times while in developed recreation areas. Even in areas where dogs are allowed off leash, your dog should always be under control--this means that your dog will come when called. If your dog does not come when called, you should keep your dog on a leash. We ask all members of the Gila Valley Hiking Club bring their dogs on hikes to also bring a leash and use it if necessary. (So far, T-Bone, Emma, and Tippy have been perfect companions on hikes. We love having them along.)
2. Yield to other trail users. When dog owners meet other hikers, the dog and owner must yield the right-of-way to allow other users to pass. If you encounter a horse and rider, hikers should always yield the right-of-way to horses. Make sure your dog stays calm, refrains from barking, and doesn’t move toward the horse. If possible, move to the downhill side of the trail (so you don’t look big) and hold your dog close until the horse is well past.
3. Do not let your dog bark or lunge at other dogs and hikers. You may have the nicest dog in the whole world, but other people don't know that. All they see is a dog, sometimes a big dog careening up a hill or around a curve. They think: Is it friendly? How is it going to react to meeting my dog? My kids? Where are the owners? Just because you have a small dog does not mean others find bad behavior “cute”. It’s just poor manners. Along those same lines – don’t let your dog repetitively bark and interrupt other trails user’s peaceful experience.
4. No one wants to step in poo left on the trail either. (That’s all we’re saying on that topic.)
5. Protect the environment. Hikers and dogs should stick to the trails. It’s hard for dogs to control their natural instinct to strike out on their own. But owners have a responsibility to see their pets practice minimum impact.
6. Protect wildlife. Whether your dog is on a leash or under strict voice control, do not let them wander off the trail to sniff or chase wildlife. Don’t let them bark at wildlife either. If your dog is barking, it can traumatize critters. In the case of large animals, they may think your doggie is asking to be eaten.
So, how can you help your dog enjoy and be a successful hiker? Here’s some tips.
1. Hydration is also critical for dogs, so give your dog plenty of water before, during, and after the hike. Don't count on finding water along the trail. Pack enough for the entire day. A good rule of thumb is three liters of water for your dog's day hike. And bring along a bowl for your dog.
2. Keep your dog well fed on the trail, because she will burn more calories than usual. Bring extra snacks in case you get lost and need to spend the night in the woods.
3. Make sure your dog is properly identified with tags should he become separated from you. Put a photo of your dog in your pack.
4. Take a look at your dog's feet before, during, and after hikes to check the condition of the pads. A solid callous is what you want. If the pads are pink or worn in any way, stop and let them heal. It can take up to a couple of weeks. Be patient, it takes time to toughen the pads. Imagine how your feet would feel and look if you had to walk 5 miles barefoot.
5. After a hike, check for and remove ticks, look for wear on the pads of paws, make sure your dog has plenty of water, and feed extra food as needed.
Great trail etiquette ensures your four-legged buddy stays safe and you both have an enjoyable experience. And by respecting nature, the environment, and other trail users, we can ensure that dogs will remain welcome on trails for years to come.