Hitting the trail with your best friend

Keeping dogs under control and cleaning up messes go a long way in boosting trail morale

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2001

Is your pet a superdog or canine couch potato?

Before you take your canine buddy out for a run or strenuous hike, ask yourself if he is in shape. Don't assume that his excitement is a sure sign that he is up to the task, because in many ways a dog does not do the same hike his person does.

"They're doing way more," said Dr. Chicory Eddy, a veterinarian at Southeast Alaska Veterinary Clinic. With all of the looping and dashing about that dogs enjoy, Eddy estimates that they cover the trail five times each hike. Not to mention that they do it faster.

Particularly at risk for injury are dogs whose two-footed companions are seasonal hunters or hikers. Dogs need to be exercised year-round to maintain condition just like people do. Like humans, dogs who push beyond their physical abilities are liable to suffer from pulled muscles and torn ligaments which could put a hold on their athletic careers. Unlike a human, however, a dog cannot be counted on to have the common sense to slow down.

"Dogs are so stoic, (they will) drag themselves along," Eddy said. Therefore, as the more intelligent half of the partnership you need to be aware your pet's behavior.

"If he's heeling and you didn't tell him to," Fido might be ready to turn around.

Other signs of overexertion include excessive panting even after stopping to rest and limping.

"Limping is a big sign," Eddy said, and always merits close observation.

Prevention is better then vet visits and, in this case, it is easy and enjoyable. Start with short walks and work up to more strenuous hikes. Keep an eye out for signs of overexertion.

Above all, Eddy said to remember that a reliably controllable, well-trained dog is a much safer dog in any environment.

Sandy Harris used to hike with her dogs Murray and Darcy. She loved having them along in large part because they loved being there.

"It's fun to see an animal that is at ease with its environment," she explains. "Sometimes you see things that you wouldn't otherwise see, because the dogs see them."

However, her excursions to Granite Creek are solo events now, because she was unable to convince her dogs to leave porcupine quills attached to their original owner.

While she is sure she made the responsible decision, and that the porcupines appreciate it, every hike is bittersweet.

"I wish I could have my dog with me," Harris said.

For many, the motivation to bring their dog along on the trail is a combination of the practical desire to wear their canine companions out and the emotional pleasure derived from watching their friend play. For a dog lover, Fido's joyful sniffing makes the hazards and compromises of trail hiking worth the effort.

Even most people without pets agree that dogs belong with their people enjoying the local scenery, as long as the dog is well-behaved. Owners and non-owners alike, however, feel frustrated by smelly messes, uncontrolled canines and inattentive owners on trails.

"If a dog's controlled, it's great, (but) my kids have had near misses," said James King, an avid hiker and the father of three young children. "It makes you angry."

Though King believes 80 percent of the dogs he meets are wonderful, he wishes all dog owners would "be in control and aware of how (they) might be affecting other people's experience," he said.

Maintaining control seems like common sense. In Juneau, it is also the law.

Rules of the road

Legally speaking, Juneau is a good place to have a dog that requires off-leash time. Dogs are only prohibited from cemeteries, the Salmon Creek and Gold Creek watershed areas and - during July and August - the Twin Lake Recreation Area. Unless a formal proceeding has found a dog to be dangerous, local ordinance only requires that dogs on trails be licensed, cleaned up after, monitored and controlled. In some areas, such as city parks, leashes are required, but in most places, "competent voice control" is acceptable.

Rules prohibiting dogs from certain areas were created for good reasons, said Wayne Lyons, director of animal services for the Gastineau Humane Society. Lyons makes a point of patrolling Juneau's watersheds during the summer to inform dog walkers that their friends are prohibited in those areas.

"I just wish people would be more aware ... that's our drinking water," Lyons said.

The key to avoiding trouble with the law seems to be common courtesy. After all, complaints are not lodged against unobjectionable animals or their humans.

Alice Rarig, president of Juneau's trail stewardship organization Trail Mix, stressed that dogs and their people can relax and enjoy Juneau's trails while still behaving responsibly.

"Use good judgment about where (dogs) are and their impact on other people and the environment," Rarig said.

Miss (Trail) Manners

The general consensus seems to point to a few simple guidelines to keep both human and canine hikers popular with most of their fellow trail users.

Number two is the number one issue for hikers when they talk about sharing trails with dogs.

"Pick up their stuff," said Sharon Buis, who frequently sees the end results of dog walks on the popular glacier trails. City ordinance requires that owners remove their animals' deposits, of course, but for most owners, the real motivation to pooperscoop is good will. That and a sincere desire not to run into stinky piles of poop during the return portion of their walk.

Another absolute prerequisite is to make sure that your dog is under control. It is especially important to prevent her from approaching strangers without their permission. Difficult as it is to keep a friendly dog from socializing, doing so could save your pet from being injured by a frightened child or parent. By the same token, those without dogs can promote good trail relations by remaining calm when they see a dog and its person approaching. A happy greeting assures the dog that you are not a threat and instantly creates rapport with the human.

Beyond just courtesy, keeping a dog in sight at all times can be a matter of life or death in Juneau.

"In bear country, the last thing I would want is to have my dog out of sight," said Gaile Haynes, a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and a trainer for the Capital Kennel Club. "I mean, he'd come running back saying 'Hey, mommy, there's a big brown thing chasing me!'"

Trail hazards

Juneauites are fortunate to live in an area with abundant wildlife, where close encounters of the furred and feathered kind are inevitable. But no matter how responsible and law-abiding a dog owner might be, they still face the reality that trail hiking brings with it hazards from bee stings to broken bones.

Dr. Chicory Eddy of the Southeast Alaska Veterinary Clinic has seen dogs die from injuries caused by run-ins with porcupines and bears. In her experience, "the dogs were being obnoxious and antagonizing the bear," she said. In the three years she has been in Southeast Alaska, she recalls only one instance in which the bear was the aggressor.

"I avoid areas with lots of sensitive wildlife," said Betty Seguin, a hiker who enjoys watching her Australian Shepherd bound up and down trails. For example, any encounter with a dog could injure or frighten delicate migrating birds, causing them to use up resources they need to survive their journey and reproduce, Seguin said.

And then there are the little animals: the parasites, bacteria and viruses. That pile of poop might harbor intestinal worms. That irresistible mountain stream could be contaminated by giardia, the cause of the infamous "beaver fever." A friendly exchange of sniffs can transmit kennel cough, a canine respiratory disease.

One of the more unusual injuries Eddy has seen was a dog with Devil's Club thorns in their eyes. When even the shrubbery can be dangerous, owners should leave prepared to provide their animals with basic first aid. There are no classes specifically for animal first aid in Juneau. However, as long as common sense is dispensed with the first aid, most of the same rules apply for canine injuries as for human ones: Direct pressure should be applied to cuts until the bleeding stops or the dog arrives at a clinic, for example.

"Just keep in mind a dog's reaction (to pain)," cautioned Eddy. Where a human might cry, a dog might bite.

Everyone agrees common sense and courtesy are essential parts of living with dogs in an urban environment, and both of those should be brought along on the trail by dog owners and the dogless alike.

"That's what it comes down to, respecting your fellow trail users," Lyons said.

Mary McRae Miller is a freelance writer and dog owner. She can be reached at m3@alaska.com.

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