Dogs in the Backcountry

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He was wrapping up a backcountry patrol weekend, coming down the last leg of the trail when a bear cub came racing around the corner. He scrambled for the bear spray before momma joined her offspring – and then saw the collar and dog tags. Unleashed Newfoundland dogs bear a remarkable similarity to bear cubs in the backcountry.

When the owners appeared a few minutes later, my husband, a.k.a. a park ranger at the time, said he just about pepper sprayed their dog because it looked so much like a bear cub. They laughed and said, “yeah, a lot of people have said that!”  They weren’t laughing a few minutes later, when they got the ticket for dog off-leash.

Now don’t take this the wrong way. We have a dog – in fact, we’ve had several over the years – and they come into the backcountry with us all the time. Our current canine companion lies by the back door the minute the packs come off the wall. But if she comes, she’s always in control.

Unfortunately there are dog-owners that believe dogs need to run. That can be a problem – not only with authorities, but with wildlife.

Depending on where you are in the country, there are cougars and bears and porcupines and poisonous snakes – all of which can inflict injury on your pet. If you’ve ever seen a dog frothing at the mouth with a tongue and muzzle full of porcupine quills – not my dog, honest! – then you’ll know what I mean.

It’s a two-way trail as well. Unleashed or out-of-control dogs can harass and harm wildlife as well.

National parks have gone to the point where dogs are no longer allowed in the backcountry. Many state parks still allow dogs on leash. There are other public lands – my personal favorite – that allow dogs that are leashed or “in voice command.”

We all love the avalanche rescue dogs that work in the backcountry, but not everyone loves pets in the same places. What’s your take on dogs in the backcountry? Do you think they should be allowed? Why or why not?


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