Whenever I pull out any of my hiking gear, my dogs Murray and Munson both go nuts with excitement. I have no doubt they believe their sole purpose in this life is to keep me company whenever I’m out on the trail.
If I have a trip planned where dogs are not welcome, I have to be super sneaky about packing and getting out of the house with my gear. Otherwise, they’ll both give me sad puppy dog eyes for what seems like days if they have to stay home.
Most times though, I hike on trails where my furry friends are welcome. I have learned over the years that my canine companions look forward to getting out on the trail as much as I do.
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Dog Friendly or Not?
Before heading out to your trail of choice, check the rules and regulations of the area where you will be hiking to ensure dogs are permitted on the trail. Bringing your dog on trails where he or she isn’t allowed can result in a hefty fine, or worse, being asked by the ranger to leave the trail altogether.
Murray, and more recently Munson as well, usually accompany me on hikes but there are locations where they are not welcome. Normally, I have found the following to be the general rule of thumb regarding dogs on trails:
U.S. Forest Service Land and Trails
Trails on U.S. forest service lands are typically dog friendly and trails here are my optimal choice for my hiking needs. In western North Carolina, my go-to hiking area, dog friendly hikes are located in Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, DuPont State Forest and even the Asheville area in general. Links are included so you can choose your own dog friendly trail in each area.
National Parks have differing regulations depending on which park you are visiting. In general, pets are allowed in all of the national parks to some degree or another, but there are usually strict regulations on where you can go with your four-legged friend.
By necessity, the rules are in place to ensure the safety of the park’s natural resources, wildlife, other visitors and park employees, and even your own pet. National parks are home to natural predators, hazardous plant life, and rough, uneven terrain – all of which can prove dangerous to dogs.
However, there are a few specific national parks that roll out the red carpet in welcome for Fido. Follow the link to 21 of our country’s best dog friendly national parks.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Land
These lands are typically pet friendly areas. Most BLM public lands are located in these 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. In some cases, especially in the back country, off-leash pet policies can be found in some cases on BLM and DNR land.
With any of these jurisdictions it is always wise to check ahead for current rules and regulations, even if the location has been pet friendly in the past. Regulations may change and since trails can be far from home, you don’t want to arrive at the trailhead and discover you cannot hike much beyond your car in the parking lot with your furry friend beside you.
Murray and Munson on the Trail
When my dog Murray was 5 months old, I sent him off to a professional program where he participated in a two-week long on-site doggy boot camp. I missed him terribly during the two weeks he was gone, but if I had it to do over again, I would send him off to this same program without hesitation. Asheville Dog Rehabilitation specializes in correcting problem dog behaviors but also trains to specific needs of the dog owner.
While at boot camp, Murray was trained for general obedience like the usual sit, stay, come, and heel commands. Murray was a rambunctious pup, so he definitely needed to learn these commands, but my primary focus was for him to receive specific training for off-leash hiking.
Murray’s trainer worked with him one-on-one on trails around Asheville and Hendersonville, North Carolina. Murray was exposed to everything he might experience on trail: mountain bikers, horses, adults, children, other dogs, strollers, even a wheelchair. He graduated from the program with flying colors!
Since completing boot camp four years ago, Murray and I have been able to tweak his training to my specific needs while we are out hiking. He responds 100% to all voice commands and hand signals I give him, and he is never a bother to others out enjoying their day. I cannot recall a single day on the trail where other hikers have not noticed how well-behaved Murray is and always thank me as they pass.
Munson never participated in any specialized training similar to what Murray received. Because of this, Munson is less reliable for consistent voice command behavior. He hikes off leash only on trails that historically are very lightly trafficked, permit voice control vs a leash, yet his leash is always at the ready if we encounter other hikers.
Tips for Hiking with Your Dog
If you plan to bring your dog hiking with you, first familiarize yourself with trail situations that can be hazardous for the dog, for the hiker, or for other trail users. Be sensitive to others on the trail who are uncomfortable around a dog they do not know, especially if your dog is large.
If you are in an area where off-leash hiking is a possibility, be sure your dog responds 100% to voice commands and is comfortable around people and other dogs. If not, keep Fido leashed especially while in parking lots and at busy trailheads.
For your dog’s safety, vaccinations should always be up to date and make sure your dog is on a flea and tick preventative. Also important is to make sure your dog is microchipped, wears a collar with identification information, or other identifying tags in case you are separated while on your hike.
Get Out There
I’ve always loved hiking with my dogs and their trail love is obvious; whenever I touch my backpack they are headed toward the door, ready for whatever adventure awaits them. So grab a leash and your favorite canine hiking buddy and head out for some dog friendly adventures of your own!
Murray and Munson’s Gear
These are the items that we use all the time when hiking. All items are trail tested and Murray and Munson approved.
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