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Henningsen: Dogs On The Trail

Ah, hiking with my dog – just the two of us rambling through the woods to a peak with lovely views. Talk about living the dream! Unfortunately, all too often it is a dream – at least that part about “just the two of us.” Lots of dog owners out there have the same idea. Some popular trails and peaks get so jammed with people intent on living the fantasy with their pets that mutual resentment poisons what should be a great day. Dogs sense an owner’s distress, become stressed themselves, and a negative feedback loop can develop, threatening to make things ugly for everyone. No one wants to spend summit time protecting lunch from inquisitive canines or listening to territorial disputes or, worse, having to referee them.

Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs and I like to hike with them, especially with Nelly, a friends’ border collie. I don’t have a dog at the moment, because I haven’t gotten over the loss of our wonderful golden retriever, Clem, who didn’t like hiking. An eager “Hey, Clem, let’s climb Mansfield.” would be greeted with a yawn, an arched eyebrow, and an expression that could be loosely translated as, “Surely you jest, my young ward.” On the rare occasions when he deigned to accompany me, Clem held himself aloof from the crowd, viewing the summit scene with barely concealed disdain.

But with Clem I learned to be realistic. If you haven’t done the route before, read guidebooks and check websites like New England Trail Conditions that note dog-related issues. Some trails are too much for older dogs, or puppies, and you probably don’t want to carry Rover up or down. Always assume you’ll have company, both human and canine, so be alert to how your dog behaves in crowds, especially when tired, excited, or stressed – or all three. And remember, some people are afraid of dogs – and they have as much right to be there as you do.

Bring water. Bring food. Take frequent breaks. Clean up after your dog. And pack a leash. Better to have one and not need it than need one and not have it.

This isn’t hard – it’s common sense courtesy. Observing it means that your fellow hikers will indeed love you and your dog.