Why I leash my dog
Why I leash my dog while hiking.
OK, I admit it. I'm an unabashed dog lover. I've lived with a dog pretty much my entire life, and I can't imagine not having the jangle of a collar wake me up in the morning or the clip-clop of doggy toenails on my kitchen floor. Nothing gives me more joy than being able to take my pooch on a long hike to tucker the both of us out.
The question always seems to be: to leash or not to leash?
I'm a big fan of leashes. I share my household with a very large Alaskan malamute named Tatoosh- a big, fuzzy, lovable oaf with a highly-attuned prey instinct. He heals on trail much better than I ever thought he would, but I have to admit that I don't have absolute voice control should the inevitable horse/dog/squirrel/little boy catch his attention. As a result, I err on the side of caution and keep my dog leashed.
Even though Tatoosh is a sweetheart, other people don't know that. I especially worry about little kids on the trail. A bounding/smelling/licking/jumping dog can be incredibly intimidating to a small child, and I don't want to be responsible for instilling a fear of dogs or a dislike of hiking.
But we want our dogs to have a good time, right? And running along the trail in total freedom has got to be the best, right? Not necessarily. It's a lot easier for a dog to get hurt out there than we think. I've come to my opinions through a lot of trial and error. One New Year's Eve, with not one vet to be found, I got to pin my dog down on the arm of the sofa to remove two dozen porcupine quills from of his muzzle. Ouch.
So how do we make sure our dogs get enough exercise? Fun exercise? Well, Tatoosh wears a pack to carry his own drinking water and snacks, and this adds to his workout. I also give him a job to do. I usually use a hands-free leash system, with the leash attached to my hip belt, and my pooch wearing a harness (all the rage these days!). He gets to tug some; I get to resist some; we all get some benefit out of the deal. And uphill is much easier this way, I have to admit.
My final trick of the trade is that I find some spot away from others (if leash-free is an option) and let him off leash for five to ten minutes. He romps through the brush and runs circles around me or back and forth between me and my hiking partner, and then he goes back on leash. It's been a fun game, his tongue is hanging out, a smile is on his face, and I still get to be a responsible dog owner.
WTA has put together a compendium on resources for hiking with dogs. Where you can go, what to bring and more. Read more about it here.