Hiking fosters some of the most profound social interactions whether for four miles or four weeks. The disconnect from technology, work and school facilitates honest conversation free of the social insecurities and inhibitions every day life imposes. There’s something special and underrated, though, about the silent dialogue between the lone hiker and his or her dog.
My dog somehow knows instinctively when I am planning to take him on a hike with me. He seems to connect the dots when I pull out my hiking boots or the orange Nalgene plastered in stickers from Colorado microbreweries. When I finally ask if he wants to go for a car ride, there’s no turning back.
As soon as we step on the trail, we are transported, hand in paw, to that world of disconnect. We chase each other through winding switchbacks, stand tall at summits and splatter our legs with mud. The silence is by no means discomforting, but rather a refreshing treat. How often is life simple enough that your thoughts are only interrupted by the curling moss on a rock your dog just needs to stop, smell and eventually pee on.
All this sounds wonderful to someone who has never hiked with his or her own dog before, and it is. But when hiking with your dog, backpackers must adhere to an unwritten set of rules to ensure the safety of other hikers and dogs as well as the condition of the trail.
These rules, I believe, are moldable to individual dogs as long as the owner has a clear understanding of his or her dog’s personality and social tendencies.
1) Trails aren’t just for humans
Dogs are animals, so they can roam around wherever they want like other animals, right? Actually no. When dogs go off trail, their effect is the same as when humans do. They can harm protected areas, create ‘shortcut paths’ that lead to accelerated erosion and disturb wildlife habitats.
2) …Neither is water!
Many people forget that dogs need to hydrate just as much as humans do. A small and necessary investment for any owner looking to take their dogs hiking is a portable water bowl. Most of these bowls are collapsible and lightweight, so they are perfect for hiking.
3) Tell others about your dog before they pass by
A dog’s appearance and breed are not a prescription for their personality, but many people will change the way they approach a passing dog based on such stereotypes. For example, people hesitate to greet my German Sheppard until I tell them he’s very friendly with both people and other dogs. On the other hand, a small dog, which by appearance would seem to do no harm, could be the one that ends up biting someone who approaches too quickly. The risk of a less than ideal interaction with other people and dogs can be greatly reduced by just a few, quick words.
4) The leash is your friend
Most parks require dogs to be leashed at all times for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, park rangers and owners want to avoid any injury caused by a dog, whether a bite or scratch. This also ensures that dogs stay on the trail, which, as aforementioned, is just as important as humans staying on the trail. If your dog is a seasoned enough hiker that he or she sticks to the trail and is safe to interact with adults, children and other dogs without a leash, just carry one in your hand at all times for a quick clip on when necessary.
5. It’s the woods, but you still have to pick it up
Unless your dog ventures off trail to go number 2, you still have to pick up his poop. Don’t forget a bag!