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Using Trails

Trails: They’re More Fun With Fido!

By: Katie Harris
August 4, 2015

Photo courtesy Cameron Whitman:Stocksy United
Photo courtesy Cameron Whitman:Stocksy United

This blog was first published on Aug. 4, 2015, and has been updated for our 2016 Share the Trail Campaign. Be the best you can be on America’s pathways.

For many Americans, the best part of hitting the trail is sharing the experience with their four-legged friends! A well-behaved dog and a responsible owner are an integral part of nearly every trail community.

Here are six tips for how to mind your pets and share the trail—with Fido in tow.

1. Use a leash.

We know that no trail rule is universal, and while not all trails require dogs to be leashed, most do. And even if your pup is perfectly behaved, having Fido on a leash gives other trail users a sense of security. Remember, not everyone is used to (or comfortable) being around dogs. Even if it’s just a matter of courtesy, using a leash is a great idea. 

2. Keep it short.

Have you heard of a “clothesline?” We’re not talking about the one you use to dry your laundry. When a pet and owner are on opposite sides of the trail, connected by a long leash, it’s an accident waiting to happen. A short leash allows you to keep your dog close and under control.

3. Know your pet.

Knowing how your pet reacts to other people is also important. Be aware of your pet’s eccentricities before you hit the trail, and take responsibility for their actions.

Sue Bell, executive director of Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, says that if your dog is fearful of or aggressive toward other dogs or people, don’t choose a route that is known to be busy. “Having to constantly watch out for other dogs or people approaching your dog will turn what was supposed to be a day of fun into a stressful outing for both of you,” she says. Bell suggests walking during off-peak hours or seeking a less popular trail.

Photo courtesy Chris Stevens | CC by 2.0
Photo courtesy Chris Stevens | CC by 2.0

You may not know how your pet will react to certain users, like horseback riders. When approaching people on horseback, equestrian consultant and owner of Two Horse Enterprises Bonnie Davis says the first step is to strike up a conversation. Talk to the rider and let them know that you see them, and indicate that your dog is under control. “Having your dog sit and stay while you communicate with the rider is important,” says Davis. “When in doubt, the rider can talk you through how to pass the horses with your pet.”

4. Scoop the poop.

It’s important to pick up after your pet, and when you head out, be sure to grab a few disposal waste bags. But scooping the poop is only half the task; be sure that your pet’s waste makes it all the way to the trash can. A trailside bag of poo is still trash, by all definitions. Pitch in to keep the trail clean and safe for everyone. It’s simple, it’s easy, and you know it’s the right thing to do.

5. Have compassion for your companion.

If you are in an area where leashes are not required, make sure your dog has a microchip. “With the many sights, smells and sounds of the forest, your dog may become easily distracted and lost,” says Bell. “In thick brush, collars and tags may be torn off, leaving your dog with no identification. A microchip helps greatly to reunite lost pets and their owners.”  Most local animal shelters offer affordable microchip clinics for residents.

Keep in mind that hydration is important for both you and your dog. “Always, always, always have water,” says Bell. “Plan for the heat and pack accordingly. Overheating and dehydration can quickly kill a dog,” she cautions.

Bell also stresses the importance of making sure your dog is up to date on vaccines and flea/tick prevention.

6. Set a good example!

Share your experience, and encourage other pet owners to adopt stellar etiquette. When others see how much fun you—and your doggy—have on the trail by being a respectful and responsible trail user, they’ll want to follow suit.

Tell us: How do you set a good example for other pet owners on the trail?

Katie Harris

Katie Harris is a climate justice advocate, bicyclist and beekeeper who lives in Bellingham, Washington. Katie is inspired by and works on projects in the built environment that have benefits for climate + community + health, like trails, stormwater infrastructure and parks.

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