I have had the pleasure of hiking and trekking with Australian Shepherds in Colorado’s wilderness areas for nearly 30 years. During this time, my dogs and I met elk, deer, elk, porcupine, pica, bobcat, coyote and many other creatures. While these encounters were interesting, it’s far more difficult to share the forest with them homo sapiens, a strange and unpredictable species.
The US Forest Service regards the public land they manage as “land of many uses”. This is especially true in the area of recovery. Every summer weekend, hikers and their dogs can encounter a group of mountain bikers running down steep switchbacks and around blind corners. Riders trudge on paths with steep slopes on either side. Your mounts are often ready to race or jump at unexpected noises or sudden appearances from our canine friends. Trail runners are “in the zone” and often do not notice that someone is sharing their route.
After years of experience in the backcountry with all types of recreational athletes, I have come to an absolutely amazing result. A conclusion I can’t quite believe even now. Get ready.
Not everyone likes dogs.
This is true.
I do not pretend to understand these people. But because we all share the trails, campsites, parks, and national forests, it is definitely in the dog owner’s best interest to learn to live with everyone. Here in Larimer County, some of our newer “open space” bans dogs. If we want to continue enjoying the outdoors with our pups, we need to work together and learn to be good citizens together.
Where to start Easy. You need to train your dog. As Dr. Seuss could say: exercise them gently along the way. / Train them in the wind and hail. / Train them to stop on a dime. / Train them to come every time. / Train them by sitting by your side. / Train them even three dogs wide.
Some people just don’t want to be approached by a dog. Period. What’s more, they have the right. Keep your dog under control and never assume that people will be tickled to see your handsome boy frolicking in the woods.
Here are more suggestions to help you get along with your outdoor adventurers.
1. Look for walkers, cyclists, and horses. Be proactive: get off the path, sit / stay your dog and let others pass. Don’t worry about who has right of way. Take the main drag and move your pup off the path no matter who is coming.
2. Occasionally check your rear view. Riders and cyclists can come across you and your dog quickly, surprisingly and amazingly. Be proactive again; Get out of the lane and let it pass.
3. Watch out for blind turns. Listen to people talking, horse’s hooves or the fat tires of mountain bikes walking towards you.
4th If you encounter horses, go to the downhill side of the trail, move at least 10 meters away if possible, and stay calm and still. Horses are prey and being frightened can cause serious problems for everyone.
5. Get rid of your dog’s leftovers. On popular trails, the six-foot section quickly gets ugly on either side of the trail. It’s no genius to know that most landmines will be dropped from the parking lot on the first quarter mile. Do your part and take it off.
I have never had a negative encounter with other users since following these guidelines. Most people smile, compliment the well behaved dog and say “thank you”. All in all, it makes my day a lot better too; Nothing ruins a big trip faster than a bad exchange.
Now for the controversial topic of off-leash hiking. Read the regulations for the area you want to explore. Dogs must be kept on a leash in populated areas, but off-leash hiking is permitted in many wilderness areas, and in USFS and BLM areas, dogs can be kept on a leash if they are under voice control.
This also comes back to personal responsibility. Training your dog to have a highly reliable recall – including abandoning wildlife hunts – takes a lot of hard work and continuous practice.
If you’re not ready to do this job, keep your dog on a leash. If off-leash hiking is a passion and regulations allow, here are some suggestions to find a little solitude for you and your dog.
1. Go very early in the morning when the places are not that crowded. You will go back to the ice cream when the parking lot is full!
2. Choose areas that are little used. Usually this means that the routes into town are not as convenient. If the parking lot is crowded, look for another route.
3. Out of season hike. Many very popular summer trails are completely deserted in late fall, winter, or early spring.
4th Understand the tradeoffs for responsible off-leash hiking. You can give up the beautiful alpine lake hike for a lesser known easy canyon hike without the whole babbling brook thingy. For my Aussie and me, this is an easy phone call!
5. Finally, consider hiking off-road. Learn how to use a map, compass and GPS. Practice in areas that you are familiar with before setting off. Take a backcountry navigation course and read and navigate easily from topographic maps.
Oh the places you are going to go!
Anyone who enjoys being in the backcountry with their dog knows that there is beauty, food and a sense of connection with our dog friends that goes deep and moves the soul. I feel his exhilaration to be who he should be. Its nose is pointed against the wind and picks up information I can only imagine. I give him these opportunities because his joy brings me great happiness, but I never forget my obligation to protect him and other users in the hinterland. Whether you like it or not what every dog owner does is reflected in all dog owners. As the world becomes denser, responsible dog owners help ensure that we continue to have access to public land. Make your adventure days fun, easy, and friendly.
See you on the way!