Dog Days of Summer

Tips and trips for great hikes with your best friend

The author with her crew on Chimney Mountain. Photograph by Nancie Battaglia

Think about what you enjoy in an Adirondack hike—the sights, sounds, smells. Then multiply the olfactory load by 60 times and you begin to appreciate what a dog experiences in the woods. If the human sense of smell is represented by a postage stamp, then the working parts of a canine nose are an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper.

Confronted by all that information a dog is bound to be distracted on any trail. Scents that chronicle an animal’s passage linger for a long time on stumps and rocks. Add to this the surprise movement of chipmunks, red squirrels, fledgling songbirds, even butterflies, and you realize the need to exercise some control over your pet’s action, not just out of courtesy to other hikers but for your own and your dog’s safety. Skunk spray and porcupine quills are no fun at all, even when you’re close to home and remedies are at your fingertips.

Basic commands like come, sit, down and stay should be in every dog’s dossier. “Leave it!” and “halt!” are especially useful in the backcountry. That said, the extra layer of restraint offered by leashes, harnesses and collars are great insurance for keeping an outing fun.

Some dogs can’t help pulling, despite months of teaching them to heel. The Easy Walk harness is made of nylon webbing and adjusts to fit around the chest. A sliding ring on the front strap is where you clip your lead; this position discourages the bucking and fighting that dog halters and other harness styles may cause. Our three-year-old St. Bernard mixes—big, exuberant girls—sit expectantly the minute this gear comes out. They associate the harnesses with the long walks they love and behave angelically as they are dressed for the trail.

Another useful tool is a shock-absorbing leash. If you’ve tried a retractable only to have your shoulder nearly yanked out of its socket as your pooch hit the end of the skinny, palm-slicing line, you probably gave up on this technology long ago. A better bungee extends from more than five feet to about 10 and works beautifully for large and small dogs. When slack it’s easy to handle and when extended it has great strength.

In the eastern High Peaks, around lean-tos and at primitive campsites, dogs must be leashed according to Department of Environmental Conservation rules. Popular destinations like Algonquin Peak, Cascade and Giant Mountains are all in this region and covered by the law. Dogs are not allowed at all on Adirondack Mountain Reserve trails such as Indian Head.

Don’t be discouraged. While thousands of Adirondack Park acres are off-limits or require leashes, there remain more than 1.5 million acres of public land with hundreds of miles of trails in wilderness, wild forest and primitive areas where you and your dog are welcome. During summer’s heat, shady forest trails like the Cranberry Lake 50 or those in the St. Regis Canoe Area are easy on paws and have plenty of water in ponds and streams.

For a great roundup of 20 more hikes for pups of all ages and humans of all abilities check out Dog Hikes in the Adirondacks from Shaggy Dog Press. A portion of the proceeds benefits local shelters. See also “Bark in the Park” in Adirondack Life‘s 2005 Annual Guide to the Great Outdoors.

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