Into the forest: Tips for keeping dogs safe

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Because of the number of questions regarding leash laws in our forests, here is some information sourced from U.S. Forest Service guidelines and regulations.

Should I bring my dog? If you plan to bring your dog with you to the national forest, first familiarize yourself with trail situations that can be hazardous for a dog, for the hiker or for other trail users. Be sensitive to other visitors who are uncomfortable around a dog they do not know - especially large dogs. Unless your dog responds well to voice commands and is comfortable around people, keep it leashed while in parking lots and at busy trailheads.

Do I have to keep my dog leashed? Many hikers enjoy taking their dogs along on the trail, whether for a day hike or backpacking. National forest guidelines require that dogs be on a 6-foot leash at all times when in developed recreation areas and on interpretive trails. There are no leash requirements in the general forest areas.

Even though you're far away from sidewalks and city streets, there will still be times when you need to keep your dog on a leash. This is especially important when you're close to other campers who may not be dog lovers or when you're in an area where your dog could wander off a path and encounter wildlife. Update all vaccinations and provide flea and tick control for your pet. Also, make sure your dog has his identification tags on or is microchipped in case he gets lost. You should also bring along a recent photo should you need to show other campers or a ranger if your dog goes missing. Be very cautious in areas with cliffs, gulches, canyons, caves and big rocks. Many dogs have no concept of heights, and they can slip under railings.

Keep your dog close to you. Bring a short, sturdy leash for hiking. If you're hiking in terrain with cliffs, canyons, big rocks or other challenging conditions, it may be safest to attach the leash to a sturdy harness instead of a neck collar.

Do I have to pick up dog waste? Yes. Most federal, state and county litter laws require it. Dog waste can spread disease to wild animals and it can contaminate water. Picking up dog waste is also just common courtesy to the campers, picnickers or other hikers.

Caring for dogs

We expect our dogs to naturally stay fit, even though they may get only a short walk once or twice a day. Dogs, like people, need to build up their endurance before they join you on a lengthy trail. You might want to take several short hikes to slowly build up your dog's endurance, especially if you want the dog to carry a pack. A dog that does not get much exercise on a regular basis will tire quickly and be susceptible to dehydration. Also, all trails have rocky surfaces, so a dog that is used to walking on rugs at home and on grassy surfaces when outside may soon be limping from damaged paws. There are booties available to protect your dog's feet from injury.

Dogs can easily become dehydrated, so offer water to your dog before you start. Many trails have no water sources, so bring water with you and frequently offer it to your dog. A panting dog is rapidly losing water. Never rely on finding a spring or a stream as a water source for your dog. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms and treatment of dog heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Take plenty of clean water for your dog so it won't have to drink from streams. A leash comes in handy to keep dogs from drinking from streams that can be infested with parasites or even chemicals.

Other helpful tips

• Make sure you pack plenty of water.

• You may be on a vacation, but don't take a break from grooming your dog. Bring along your dog's brush or comb.

• Pack plenty of plastic bags so you can clean up after your dog.

• Never leave your dog outside alone.

• Don't leave your dog's food out when he's not eating. It could attract unwanted insects or wildlife.

• Keep your dog quiet. Frequent and continued barking disturbs the wildlife and other campers.

• Try to get a site with some shade for your dog.

• Make your hike a joyous bonding time for you and your best buddy.

For more information, email taosbark@gmail.com or call (575) 613-3448.

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