PET TIPS How to hike with a dog

This Saturday, June 1, is National Trails Day, when Americans are encouraged to support and appreciate the thousands of hiking trails that are available to us on local, state, and federal public lands.

This would be a good time to revisit the issue of bringing dogs on trails, which is more contentious than you might think. Here’s the honest truth: Not everybody enjoys being around dogs. And even those who are “dog people,” like me, aren’t always thrilled about encountering dogs while hiking.

This can be a particular problem in areas where a trail becomes narrow, with barely enough room for two hikers to pass each other going in opposite directions. In that situation, often you can’t avoid coming into contact with the other hiker’s dog. This can create conflict if you are also hiking with a dog and one of them reacts aggressively to the other.

It also means your “personal space” might be invaded by the other person’s dog. Perhaps he is intrusively friendly and wants to jump up on you with his muddy paws and give you slobbery kisses. Or, in a more common scenario, the dog has just taken a dip in the creek and suddenly decides to shake himself dry when he is about 2 feet away from you.

Though such incidents may be annoying, I’m not suggesting that dogs should be banned from all trails. It is up to the managing agency (such as the U.S. Forest Service or Georgia State Parks) to decide whether dogs should be allowed on a particular trail and to enforce the rules. There are good reasons, in some cases, for banning dogs in certain areas – for example, to protect habitat for endangered species.

So, the first principle of “trail etiquette” is to always ascertain, before you hike, whether the trail you’ve chosen is one that allows dogs. (And if you decide to flout the rules and bring your dog anyway, be prepared to encounter dirty looks and disapproving remarks from people like me.)

On trails that do welcome dogs, remember to always show courtesy. Move aside and give the right-of-way to other hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders. Be especially mindful of “blind curves,” where someone might come around the corner suddenly and startle your dog.

More importantly, if there are horses, put as much space as possible between them and your dog. This is serious: If frightened by a dog, a horse could rear up and throw its rider.

Before your hike, find out if the trail has a requirement that dogs must be on a leash. If you prefer not to leash the dog – if you feel that the joy of hiking is seeing your pet run free in the woods – choose a different trail.

Also, if there’s a trail you really want to do, but you know it’s very popular and will likely be crowded, try going early in the morning, before most people get there. Alternatively, go in the off-season when there are fewer visitors.

Regardless of where you hike, it’s essential that your dog is well-trained, so that he knows the appropriate manners when encountering people and their pets, both on and off the trail. Taking a class to earn your dog’s AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate is an excellent idea, if you can find one offered in your area.

And when you do decide to hit the trail with your dog, remember to bring the essentials: water, treats, plastic bags, wet wipes, leash, first-aid supplies, and a contact number for the nearest emergency vet.

Happy hiking!

Debbie Gilbert has been handling dogs for 50 years and won numerous AKC obedience competitions with her late Sheltie, Sunny. She lives with her current Sheltie, Daisy. E-mail your Pet Tips questions to press@whitecountynews.

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