As rain steadily fell on the hood of my rain jacket, my feet trudged along on a slushy, muddy trail on the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains. The roar of the river provided a meditative soundtrack to the hike as I was slipping through the woods. Quietly and quickly, the miles piled up like logs on the forest floor.
I was nearly back to the trailhead after a long day trip up the Duckabush River. A few miles upriver and up in elevation, the mud in the trails showed only my footprints and elk prints. Down here, closer to the parking area, the trail was full of boot prints and dog prints, all shapes and sizes. My heart always skips a beat when I see a canine print in the mud, as I first learned animal prints while looking for wolf in the backcountry of Yellowstone. Common sense returned quickly and I remembered that there are not only zero wolves in the Olympics, but I had seen people with dogs here earlier in the day.
As I walked further down the trail, more footprints and more dog prints appeared and soon the trail was a muddy mess that heavily used trails get. The temperature in the low lands was much warmer than where I had been and I was getting hot. Setting my bag down on the trail, I took of my upper layer of thermals. This awkwardly happens, as I had to take off all my shirts to take off the bottom one. As I was standing there, topless and untangling my base layer from my lighter shirt and jacket, I heard a rustling in the bushes. A brown shape caught my eye to the left and I quickly turned my head to see what it was. Expecting an elk or a deer, I turned to see a full grown German Shepard running full speed at me, ears and tails down, teeth showing.
Reacting and not thinking, I grabbed my trekking pole (#teamtrekkingpole), prepared to swing it at the charging, and now growling, dog. Seeing me grab for a stick, the dog slowed down to a stop; it was now standing and staring at me from five feet away. I start talking to it calmly, like I have with every dog I have been around, and soon it just wanders off cautiously, still quietly growling. I put back on my shirt, set my pack back on my shoulders and trudge down the trail, irritated and confused as to who would just let a dog run around in the woods. I have dogs at home and we love hiking together, but I would never just put them off leash like that and just let them run.
5 minutes later, I ran into the dogs owners, slowly sauntering down the trail. They paused when I got near and asked if I had seen their puppy. We exchanged words, some kind, some not, about our feelings on the rules for dogs while hiking the trails of the Olympic National Forest.
I left, frustrated with yet another negative incident involving dogs in the National Forest. Between National Forest reports about dogs digging after marmots on Marmot Pass, to a dog chasing a mountain goat, falling off a cliff and then needing a rescue on Mount Ellinor. Dog owners are great people, and I love seeing people hiking with dogs on trails. Sadly, each year, the dogs become rowdier, the humans become more careless and both hikers and nature are losing. Before you dismiss yourself as a great dog owner, take a second to read this list and share it with people who may need a not so gentle reminder.
HELP US BE ABLE TO CONTINUE TO DO THIS
5 SIMPLE RULES FOR DOGS AND OWNERS
1) Dogs should be kept on Harnesses or Leashes
While the National Forest Services acknowledges that there is no leash law in the forests, they strongly stress that every dog should be leashed up. With animals to chase, delicate growing areas to dig in and other dogs to smell, the trails of the Olympic National Forest can be quite distracting. I uses harnesses on my dogs while hiking with them, as I have heard too many stories from friends and hiking partners about dogs, normally well behaved, running off forever at the sight of a new animal.
2) Bring Water
Do not regulate your dog’s thirst because you don’t feel like bringing water for them. Bring a dish, bring extra water and let your dog drink when they are thirsty. Too often, while hiking in the Buckhorn Wilderness, I come across hikers and dogs that have run out of water, miles from the trailhead. I carry extra for this scenario, and so should you. There really is no excuse for this one.
3) Pick up waste
You know what is the opposite of awesome? Hiking the last bit of trail before your destination and stepping in a giant pile of poop. While occasionally it might be elk or beer poop, more often than not, it is dog poop. I get that some feel that nature is nature and things poop in nature. You are correct, a bear does indeed shit in the woods, but your dog shouldn’t. Not only is common courtesy to clean up after your animal, it is also good for the region. Bring a blue bag, pick up your dog’s solid waste and keep the trail as clean as you found it. It is “Leave Only Footprints, Take Only Pictures”, and not “Leave Poop, Take Craps.”
4) Know your dog’s limits
Just because a dog can reach a destination doesn’t mean that they should. Case and point: Mount Ellinor.
I know plenty of dogs that have summited Mount Ellinor, but it isn’t for everyone’s dog. In the summer, the terrain can be brutal on a dog’s feet and rough on their hips and legs. I have lost count at the number of bloody paw prints I have seen on the rocks below the summit.
In the winter, I witnessed a man trying to convince his dog to chase after him as he glissaded down the avalanche chute. The dog, whimpering and crying, tried to work up the courage to do so, but didn’t. The man then climbed back up grabbed his dog by the scruff of the neck violently and held on to it tightly as he rocketed down the snow chute. As they went out of site, we could hear the dog howling the entire slide down.
I get he needed to take the dog to the bottom, but it had all of us at the summit question whether or not he should have brought it up in the first place. I’m not saying to baby your dogs and protect them from everything.
I am just asking, as a dog owner, to show your dog respect.
5) Envision the Worst Case Scenario
Yes, you might have the best behaved dog on the planet, but even the best of us have bad days. While the odds of your dog attacking someone, getting attacked by something or falling and possibly dying are extremely low, the odds are still there. Remember, it isn’t just you and your dog on the mountain. It is nature, other hikers, other dogs and ever-changing conditions. Your dog might be great, but how is it around a dog that isn’t? Be smart, follow rules and let everyone and every dog have their day on the trails of the Olympic National Forest.
What other rules would you add?