Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
With more warm, dry days in the forecast, summer is the perfect time to get outside with your best adventure companion: your dog. With an increase in pet adoptions in Oregon and across the country, more pups are basking in the love of their newfound families. Oregonians enjoy taking our four-legged family members on all types of adventures, especially hiking. But before you hit the trail, there are some things you should know — especially if this is your first time owning a little fur ball of your own.
Jen Sotolongo, a Portland writer and seasoned dog mom, has written a new book, The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs, published in May 2021, filled with expert tips and advice about exploring the natural world with your loyal canine friend. Sotolongo spent two years traveling Europe and South America by bicycle with her then partner and their dog, which she documented on her blog, Long Haul Trekkers. Now back in Oregon, Sotolongo has taken a deep dive into the world of dog training and jumps at the chance to hit the trails with her dog, Sitka.
Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor adventurer and new dog owner or have had a pup in your life for years but are new to hiking, here are some of Sotolongo’s tips for getting you both trail-ready.
Know When Your Pup Is Ready
While you may be a good judge of your own hiking abilities, you’ll want to apply the same logic to your dog. “One of the hardest parts, when you get a dog to take on adventures, is waiting while you train them until they’re ready for the trail,” Sotolongo says.
Training, she says, starts at home: learning to go on loose-leash walks on your street and training your dog on how to sit, stay and heel. All of these things your dog learns from daily training sessions.
“Dog training is pretty boring, and it should be because it’s all about repetition,” Sotolongo says. “It’s these small, very boring things that really help prepare your dog for being that kind of dream adventure dog that I think a lot of people envision.”
Part of this preparedness is also less about your dog and more about you. Sotolongo says that you should learn to read your dog so that you can know what they’re feeling and then advocate for them. “Dogs don’t understand English, we have to teach them that. It’s only fair that we also learn their language,” she says.
Research Where Your Pup Is Allowed
Once your dog has shown that they’ll listen to your commands, the next step is learning where pets are allowed. While it’s best to research rules surrounding the specific hike you’re eyeing, there are some tricks to knowing where you can bring Fido.
The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service generally allow dogs on their trails. Oregon State Parks, too, tend to allow dogs, though often have more restrictions on where they’re allowed and where they must be leashed. U.S. National Parks are the most restrictive on where dogs are allowed to go. Unleashed dogs can negatively impact the environment by disturbing wildlife and inadvertently spreading disease and violating leash laws can also come with a fine.
While doing this research, read the trail description with an eye for potential dangers your pup might encounter: steep cliffs; animals such as rattlesnakes; and plants and animals that are toxic to dogs, such as foxglove and dead salmon. If you’re having trouble finding the information online, learn which government agency owns the land and give the local ranger district a call.
Learn Trail Etiquette
Many trail-etiquette rules for humans also apply to dogs. The same goes for Take Care Out There practices: Be sure to bring your dog a water bottle (Bend-based Ruffwear has many good options), and keep their exercise limits in mind. You also shouldn’t leave waste bags on the side of the trail.
“It’s not cool. No one likes to see that,” Sotolongo says. “While it’s not fun to carry a poop bag for an extended period of time, dog owners regularly forget them and they make the experience less fun for other hikers.”
There are also a whole set of social rules specific to hiking with your dog too. Your dog should be able to follow your commands, and you should pay attention to what they’re doing so as not to disrupt other recreationalists. If you want to allow your dog to be off leash, then Sotolongo says your dog better have good recall, which means they come when called the first time.
When in Doubt, Give Distance
Every dog has a trigger, Sotolongo says, so one of the best pieces of hiking advice for dog owners is to give your dog distance — from people and other dogs. The same principle goes for when you’re without your dog and you encounter other dogs on the trail. Give distance by stepping to the side on a single-track trail to try to offer everyone as much space as safely as possible.
“Hiking has taught me a lot about what dogs really need, which is space and time,” Sotolongo says. “Social distancing has been so wonderful as a dog owner. I don’t have to worry about people coming up to us and having their dog come up to my dog, and people are pulling over more often. It’s been really great. I would really like to see that trend continue.”
Be Courteous and Flexible
Part of being a dog owner taking to the trails means being courteous to other trail users and flexible if things don’t go the way you planned. It can be hard to ask for what you and your dog need, Sotolongo says, but she encourages you to be an advocate for your dog and to be courteous of other hikers doing the same for their pack.
“People are almost insulted if you ask them to leash their dog or recall their dog,” she says. “No one is judging your training or your dog, it’s just a management request.” Taking a dog on a trail also means having a plan B should you encounter something that your dog reacts to.
Dog Friendly Trails Around Oregon
Undoubtedly one of the most dog-friendly states, Oregon boasts some of the best hikes for you and your four-legged trail companion to enjoy together. Some of Sotolongo and Sitka’s favorite Oregon treks include the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail near Eugene, the Wilson River Trail near Tillamook and the Angel’s Rest Trail in the Columbia River Gorge.
The Lower Macleay Trail in Portland has a wide and slow grade dirt path, making it great for bringing leashed dogs of all ages and abilities. Take the 5-mile out-and-back hike to Pittock Mansion for a panoramic view of the city.
Deschutes River Trail in Bend is an intermediate 11-mile trail that hugs the west side of the Deschutes River. While it gets crowded in summer months, the trail passes by numerous parks, so you and your pup can go at your own pace.
Todd Lake Loop outside of Bend is a relatively flat and easy 1.7-mile trail that encircles a small but beautiful alpine lake. Pups will enjoy the serene stroll while you revel in the stellar views of Mount Bachelor and Broken Top. Dogs are required to be on leash when the trail is at its busiest from July 15 to September 15. Motorboats are prohibited on the 45-acre lake, so your dog can safely jump in to cool down. Note: A Central Cascades Wilderness Permit is required the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington or Three Sisters wilderness areas in the summer.
Wahkeena Falls Loop Trail in the Columbia River Gorge packs in a number of breath-taking views over 5 miles. Located near Bridal Veil, the trail has some strenuous uphill portions as well as some paved switchbacks, making it a moderate hike for fur friends. Dogs are required to be leashed. Note that the unmaintained trail extension to Necktie Falls is not suitable for dogs.
Saint Perpetua Trail near Yachats, this easy 2.8-mile out-and-back through old growth spruce trees ends at a panoramic peninsular overlook, which on a clear day is regarded as the best view of the Oregon Coast.