I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago that I had taken a hike on a local public land where dogs were supposed to be on leash, and had hiked with one of my dogs – off-leash. A scofflaw!
Like all scofflaws, I have rationalizations: My dogs have good impulse control. My dogs are under reliable voice control. My dogs are friendly. My dogs are not predatory. My dogs have never started or even participated in an altercation with another dog.
That said, unless I am in an area that is posted as a legal off-leash area, where anyone present could fully expect to see off-leash dogs, I always leash my dogs if I’m near any other humans, or especially any other humans with dogs.While I am confident my dogs are both trained enough and have good enough impulse control to not approach anyone without permission, the people we see don’t know that! Putting on the leash is just good manners.
But when my husband and I took a four-hour hike in this area three weeks ago, we saw maybe 10 other people – and all of them at a great distance. I leashed my dog only at the beginning and end of the hike, as we left and then re-approached the parking area. The area was nearly devoid of visitors, because the spring flowers had barely begun to bud, and the only real draw to walking in that area are the seasonal waterfalls, and the wildflowers a few weeks later. The rest of the year, the area most resembles Mars: hot, rocky and barren.
Yesterday, I went for another hike the same area – and didn’t even bring a dog! Now the area is lit up with wildflowers. We’ve had an extraordinarily wet winter, and the earth is responding with a superbloom – drawing crowds from far and wide.
I knew that with so many people coming to see the flowers, bringing a dog would be no fun for the dog nor me. First and most of all, because at this time there are so many other people out there, it would have only been appropriate to keep my dog on leash the entire time, and this would have seriously diminished the enjoyment for me and my dog.
I was right. We passed dozens and dozens of people, and a number of not-very-happy looking dogs. Even though they were getting taken out to experience a beautiful day with their people, I don’t think any of them were having much fun.
The best part of being out in a gorgeous natural setting for most dogs is the opportunity to smell whatever they want, more or less at their own pace. And to have to stay on a leash and go at the human’s nonsensical (to dogs) pace, I think, would just be maddening. At least it would be for my dogs.
Dogs who are content to stroll slowly and simply be with their owners might have enjoyed it just fine. Since I usually hike in other local areas where it is legal for dogs to be off-leash, my dogs are used to running ahead, pausing to smell stuff whenever they want, falling behind, running to catch up again.
It was also really nice to go on a walk and not have to pick up or carry poop!
Most of us dog lovers have the impulse to bring our dogs when we are going to do any sort of outdoor activity, but there are times when bringing them will cause them to have more stress than fun – when it’s very hot, when there are unexpected and loud noises (street fairs!), and anywhere there are crowds. (There probably are dogs that don’t mind crowds, but I don’t know them.)
I would just like to encourage you to really think through your decision to bring your dog to the next outdoor activities you partake: Will it really be fun for your dog? Can he deal with crowds easily, especially a crowd where there are likely to be lots of other stressed dogs? Will it be safe and comfortable for him? Is he fit enough to participate without getting hurt or exhausted? Are you prepared to bring water and poop bags, and turn back early if he’s looking stressed or overheated?
I made up for excluding my dogs from the hike by playing a ton of fetch with them before we left, and handed out Kongs that were stuffed with canned foodand frozen as I left. I think it was a win/win situation.