CANINE CONNECTION: The trials of trail etiquette

Hiking the trails with your dog is an excellent way to provide them with both physical and mental exercise.

By exposing them to different environments they become engrossed in new smells, sights and sounds, which satisfies their carnal canine needs. Being out in nature is good for their souls as well as ours.

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However, that does not mean we allow our dogs to run through the forests willy-nilly to find their Zen. As dog owners we have a responsibility to prevent our dogs from interfering with other trail users’ enjoyment of a hike, to be respectful of the wilderness we trek though and to manage our dogs accordingly. Also, adhering to canine trail etiquette will allow our dogs to remain welcomed in trails and parks in the future.

Almost all trails in B.C. parks require that dogs remain on leash unless stated otherwise.

The main reason for this is for safety; safety for the dog, the owner, other trail users and of course habitat and ground dwelling critters such as nesting birds and venomous snakes – yes, there are rattle snakes in the southern Interior of B.C.

Having a good grip on the leash also keeps your dog from getting lost while chasing wild animals. Dorothy would have had a much easier time if she just kept Toto on leash.

It also prevents a dog owner from a $1,000 fine and six months in jail for allowing a dog to chase wildlife. It also prevents a conservation officer from having to kill your dog – which they have the right to do under the B.C’s Wildlife Act – for allowing them at large in a wildlife management area and/or harassing wildlife. Use your leash or lose your dog, your choice.

I hike with my dogs wearing bear bells. The obvious reason for this is to let a bear in the area know they are not alone and to give them ample time to retreat from the area. The bells also let other trail users know someone is approaching and if they have a dog it gives them ample time to get them under control.

With everyone’s dogs on leash we can pass by each other amicably. Please don’t be the person who allows their dog off leash while yelling: “Oh he’s friendly,” as it rushes up to another dog. It’s rude, irresponsible and it creates conflict when there is no need for it.

Be a good leader and teach your dog restraint. Train your dog to walk on leash politely. Leash your dog and be a responsible dog owner along a trail.

If you listen to music while hiking, leash your dog. With your earbuds in, not only can you not hear another person (or bear) approaching but you cannot hear what kind of trouble your off leash dog is causing. Again be responsible and leash your dog while on trails!

This leads to the next overlooked bit of etiquette, which is yielding the right of way. This can be a contentious issue for the self righteous but for those who’ve learned that being gracious and respectful is a sign of a healthy self-esteem, the rule of thumb is to move out of the way of a larger animal such as a horse, someone who is going faster than you and anyone who is going up or down a steep portion of the trail where it is difficult to stop. Ideally, you would move your dogs off the trail and have them sit calmly while the other person passes. Then you all smile, exchange pleasant gestures of gratitude and move on.

Cleaning up after your dog falls into the leave no trace rule. If you prepare yourself ahead of time with a proper receptacle to hold your dog’s poop, you won’t find it yucky to carry it along a hike. Leave no trace also means to stay on the designated, marked trails. Trying to relive history by pretending to be John Muir will certainly damage sensitive habitat and possibly introduce invasive species to the area.

Practicing canine etiquette along the trails ensures happy tails for everyone.

Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 20 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at k9kinship@gmail.com.

 

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