I’ve decided on a new feature type of article that I shall endevour to keep up on. I only got my driver’s license this year (despite being 28 years old), which is largely irrelevant since I am far to poor to own a vehicle. So, if I get board going to the same park every day, I basically have to walk there. And since my last dog was a bit reactive to dogs she didn’t know (compulsive ball guarding issues matched with being a typical controlling female type dog) I generally opted to try and find out of the way paths that I can hike on. It was pretty typical for us to be gone for three hours or more, especially on a weekend, since it was entertaining, free, and kept me out of the mall. By now I’ve amassed a pretty extensive knowledge of the various parks and trails located within the HRM, which if you live there you don’t even need a car to get to.
However, before I start talking about the trails and parks themselves, lets set down some good rules of etiquette and smart tips to follow (if you have more, leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list)
- Stay to the right of the trail, pass to the left (as you would if driving).
This is to make it easier on the people going faster than you (like a bike verses someone walking, etc). Also, if you are walking towards someone and you know your dog won’t react well to them (either because they have a reactive dog, your dog is weary of strangers, kids, etc), being as far right as possible gives you ample room to get your dog out of the way. Last time I went for a hike everyone abided by that rule and it worked pretty well.
- Ring a bell on your bike or shout “heads up” before you pass someone from behind
I really, really wish more people would abide by this one. I was out for four hours on my last hike, probably saw about fifteen different people on a bike, and only ONE person had a bell. Seriously, I can’t hear your fucking bike on asphalt or even crusher dust. I don’t want you to run over me or my dog, and probably you don’t want to hit us either. If I hear you coming, I’ll move as far right as possible and make sure my dog is out of the way. Otherwise my dog wanders in front of me, even while on a leash, and might accidentally wander into your path. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been clipped or nearly clipped because of this. I would even suggest runners and joggers do this. Hell, if I’m coming up behind someone with another dog and they haven’t noticed us, I’ll at least try and make some noise so I don’t startle their animal and start a fight.
- Take your headphones off.
It doesn’t do any good for people to shout “heads up” if you can’t hear them. Un-plug for a bit, listen to the world around you. I promise it won’t be horrible. You can live without your iPod.
- Always bring water and a cell phone with you.
The water bit should be pretty self explanatory. Bring enough for you and your dog and you’ll find it much more enjoyable, and in the summer it would be downright inhumane not to. You can get colapsable travel bowls for your dog at just about any pet store (or even Walmart). I have something like this, which is great ’cause you can shove it in just about any part of your bag or pocket. While it’s hard enough to pry people away from their cell phones, it really is safer to have it on you, especially if you’re going to be far enough down a trail that getting to a pay phone will be difficult. I remember going on one ill-fated hike with my last dog and her pads blistered (something that hadn’t happened in the four years of endless hiking before or any time after before she passed) and I had forgotten my cell. I wound up carrying her for an hour and a half (all 50lbs of her) until I ran into two wonderful girls who helped me carry her the last twenty minutes and then lent me their phone so I could call for a ride home. Imagine if my dog had been too heavy for me to carry, or I’d been the one injured instead of her? Seriously, just bring your phone.
I was very sad to see so much poop on the side of the trail on my last trip. And this was a path with actual garbage cans and free poop bags available, so there was absolutely no excuse for it. You own your dog, which means you own anything that comes out of your dog. If your dog runs into the bushes where no one is likely to walk, that’s one thing, but if your dog shits right by the path, don’t be a douche—pick up that shit. This is how dogs get banned from certain areas, and I’m tired of having my life restricted because other people are lazy. Also, putting it in one of those biodegradable bags and leaving it on the ground is not ok. Those bags take about three months to break down, and only if they’re in a compost. Otherwise, they’ll be there for the better part of a year. If I’m not likely to see a garbage on the trail I’ll sometimes leave the bag on the ground where I can see it on my way out, and then throw it out after I leave the park, but that’s only ok if you go back for the bag. Another thing you can do is just bring an extra grocery bag and use that to carry the poop bags, then you can tie it close and not have to smell your dog’s business for the next hour.
- Be respectful of the other people using the trail.
Believe it or not, not everyone wants to pet your dog. Isn’t that weird? I think it’s weird, but I respect their right to not want to be close to a furry animal they may be allergic too or have a pathological fear of. Teaching your dog not to jump on every random stranger you meet is a post for another day (actually, that’s on my list), but you should at least be able to move your dog to the side of the path. In fact, if your dog is jumping on everyone he meets on the street than I’d say he’s lost visiting privileges altogether and should be put into a sit stay while people are passing until you’ve worked on that behavour.
- Respect the on/off leash area signs
This works both ways, though I will admit to two exceptions. If there are signs saying your dog should be on leash, keep it on leash (inspired advice I know, but sadly it needs to be said). I hate walking down a trail and running into a dog as it comes around the corner, its owners no wheres in sight and I have no idea how it’s going to react to me or my dog. Conversely, even if you’re in an off-leash area, your dog should have reasonably good manners (see last point about being respectful to other people), be well socialized, and have a decent recall (having a favourite toy that will tempt your dog away from others is fine if your recall isn’t solid yet, which is why my ball and chuck-it often accompany me even when I don’t intend to use them). And if you’re jogging or riding a bike in an off-leash area, accept that a dog may go barreling after you, not because they’re being bad but because you’re acting like you’re “it” in a game of tag (a game every dog in the world knows how to play at birth). Freaking out because they let their dogs play off-leash in an area they’re legally allowed to doesn’t do any good. If you don’t want to ride your bike or jog around loose dogs, there are a billion other places in Halifax where you can do that just fine. However, there are a very limited number of legal off-leash areas, which is why they’re usually crowded. Now, I do sometimes let Mufaasa off on a trail even when he’s supposed to stay on his leash, but I do it when I’m not near a road or someone’s private property, on a section of path where I can see sufficiently ahead and behind and can put him back on leash if I see anyone coming (especially someone on a bike, since the temptation to chase is to great for most dogs), and because my dog has a good recall so I know I can get him back in most situations. I’ve also seen people walk their dogs off-leash in just about any situation, but these are usually older dogs that are well beyond the point of romping and are content to follow their owner at the pace of a snail.
- Be aware of the weather and time of day
Don’t hike at high noon in August on a sunny day and not expect to scorch your dog’s feet off or kill them due to dehydration or heat stroke. Don’t take them out without proper protection if it’s extremely cold. After Naala blistered her paws I got her a set of these boots
, which have really good grip and don’t twist around so she could still run around as usual. I will likely get Mufaasa a set for next summer so we can go on more extensive hikes. They are also good if you bike with your dog, though I never got a chance to test them in winter conditions. Pavement gets really hot in the summer, and the winter brings salt and ice. Another problem with the winter is when the top layer of snow freezes, it can actually cut your dog’s legs, so you’re better off investing in a good pair of boots that go partly up the dog’s leg, like Mutlucks
(Canadian made!) or these
from Ruff Wear (note about the Ruff Wear boots, as those are the only one’s I’ve used. They sometimes don’t fit so well with dogs who haven’t had their dew claws removed, which I solved by wearing them a bit low and using baby socks as a liner. I don’t know if they’ll work for the winter boots, but they look like the straps would avoid the dew claw. Either way, whatever boots you get, try them on in the store, and then let your dog wear them around the house a bit to get used to them and break them in before going on a hike). Also, don’t forget your own comfort. Wear a pair of comfortable shoes (no, flip flops don’t count, you will hate yourself after fifteen minutes. Put some damn sneakers or hiking boots on, or at least a pair of sandals with good traction and a strap that goes around your ankle). If you’re starting out early in the morning or later in the afternoon and into the evening, bring some extra layers. Better to have them and not need them than the other way around.
- Ask people before you let your dog approach their dog, and let people know if it is unsafe to approach your own dog with enough advanced warning that they can do something about it.
There’s an unfortunate amount of shame directed at people with reactive dogs, which is stupid because these people are the ones who need to be the most outspoken. There are tons of reasons why your dog might be reactive: it’s under socialized, it’s had bad experience, it’s in heat, it’s in pain, it’s old, etc. None of that necessarily means you’re a horrible owner. Maybe you adopted the dog with these problems, maybe they developed and you don’t know how to fix them. While you should be working with a trainer to address any sort of dog reactivity (whether it’s directed at other dogs, strangers, etc), the reality is you still need to exercise your dog. Most people will be greatful for the warning and keep their dog away from yours, which will make your life a great deal easier. Sometimes you might have to be firm; there are a lot of people out there who think they have “the magic touch” which allows them to be instant friends with every creature on the planet, which is absolute junk. Be polite but firm, body block your dog if need be, and you can avoid an incident before it happens. On the other side of the coin, respect other people’s requests to stay clear of their animal, or better yet, ask as you approach if it’s ok for your dog to say hi (some people have an unfortunate, “maybe this time will be different” policy when it comes to their fear/aggressive dog, which they usually own up to if you ask them directly). Even if you have a dog like Mufaasa, who I often refer to as the Ghandi of dog-kind, it’s really not worth the risk.