On the Trails: Dogs are a great addition to hiking when owners behave

By Randy Richardson

I owe much of my physical and mental health to my two wonderful dogs, Atlas and Kaya. I love hiking and the outdoors and I am committed to daily exercise, but my willpower and enthusiasm can admittedly wane in the face of a tough day or bad weather.

Not so for Kaya and Atlas. They never turn down a chance to hit the trails.

In fact, they seem even more excited when it is cold and snowing or raining. As soon as I sit down for my morning coffee and cereal, Atlas presses up against my legs, looking up at me in anticipation.

When I come home from work at the end of the day, Kaya greets me by wagging his tail and virtually hyperventilating with excited whining. Both dogs jump for joy as I put on my boots and grab their leashes.

Once outside, particularly in the snow, the dogs’ glee is contagious. Kaya blissfully drives his head into the powder, and Atlas invariably flips onto his back for a cold massage. I thank my boys every day for turning our necessary dog walks into daily celebrations of our shared love for nature, exercise and our local trails.

The endless benefits of these trail outings make me even more mindful of the fact that access to trails is not a right, for humans or our pets. It is a privilege. More than 70% of our Upper Valley public trails are on private lands. Our access is dependent on the generosity and good will of our landowners and communities.

The more than 50% of us who own dogs and use trails have an additional responsibility: our dogs’ behavior. We should always use common sense, be considerate of others and follow these trail etiquette/petiquette guidelines:

Choose your trail carefully. Please select one that matches the experience you hope to have, whether you are hiking with a dog or would like to avoid dogs. If you pick a busy and popular dog-walking trail, count on them being there.

Be realistic about your dog’s behavior. Always use a leash when required. Some trails allow a leash or strict voice command. However, strict voice command is very rare and requires extensive and ongoing training. It means your dog will immediately heel, stay by your side and refrain from barking — especially if there are other animals nearby, including horses.

Leave no trace — including any traces of your dog. This means that you must pick up after your dog. There is absolutely no excuse for leaving dog poop (whether in a plastic bag or not) on the trail. If you bring your dog on a trail, you are responsible for all clean-up and appropriate disposal.

Connect only with caution and permission (and avoid during a pandemic). Some dogs are calm and love to interact with strangers, and others are scared to meet anyone new. (Also true for many humans). Please encourage interaction only if everyone confidently gives permission.

Be considerate, even in the gray zones. Although some trails allow dogs off the leash, please be honest with yourself about your dog’s behavior and consider others. If your dog is a biting risk, always keep it leashed on public trails.

Thank you for taking care of your dogs and our trails. Atlas, Kaya and I hope to see you out there.

Written by Randy Richardson, UVTA Development Director, and published in the Valley News on February 5th, 2021.