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Feature Article: September 2002

In Search of the Best National Parks for Dogs

(continued)

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Myths and Misunderstandings about Dogs on the Trail

If you are wondering why dogs are not allowed more freely in our national parks, here is an excerpt from the National Park Service. "(These rules) are intended to protect wildlife, wildlife patterns, your pet and to avoid disturbing other visitors."

With this in mind, I have included the following excerpt from the Best Hikes with Dogs in Western Washington book by Dan A. Nelson.

Myth: The presence of dogs will discourage wildlife from using the area.
Hikers with dogs generally find that if they are quiet and attentive to their dog's behavior, they frequently will see more wildlife, including deer, small mammals, and birds. Dogs will often "point" toward wildlife, or otherwise give you a heads-up to the existence of a nearby critter. As long as the dog is trained not to bark, or to chase or harass wildlife, they can alert you to more wildlife sightings.

Myth: Dogs chase and injure wildlife.
This is largely a training issue, although even a domestic dog that hasn't had lessons in leaving wildlife alone will generally be extremely cautious and hesitant to chase a wild animal about which it knows nothing. Still, any dog that does chase wildlife will be an unleashed dog that fails the "good trail dog" basic skill requirements. These animals don't deserve to be on trails, but good dogs don't deserve to be lumped together with the ill-mannered beasts, either.

Myth: Dog feces spread disease to wildlife.
Wildlife biologists in the western United States polled by Dan Nelson, author of Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington, couldn't identify a single case of a dog transmitting a disease to a wildlife population. There is a very slight risk that wildlife may transmit disease to dogs, however, especially tick-borne diseases, so all trail dogs should be on a tick-control system and undergo tick-checks after each outing.

Myth: Dogs spread giardia and other waterborne illnesses.
Dogs, like all mammals--including humans--can spread giardia. But this is a resource issue. People are the biggest spreaders of giardia and other waterborne illnesses. If you're concerned about the water, worry less about the dogs and more about the people that have contaminated the water--then filter or chemically treat every bit of water you drink in the backcountry.

Myth: Dogs damage sensitive or fragile environments.
Dogs who are kept under control (on leash or under strict voice command) do less damage than the humans with whom they hike (soft pads versus heavy hiking boots). When venturing off-trail the same holds true--humans have more impact on fragile settings than dogs have, and in some areas, neither should be leaving the trail.

Myth: Trails are too crowded, trailhead parking too limited, and campsite space too much in demand to let dog hikers share those resources.
This is a resource issue, not a user issue. If specific subsets of a hiking community can be banned because of limited resources, then who's next: Hikers with kids? Hikers wearing heavy lug soles?

Myth: Trail width and visibility are too restricted for safe dog use.
If two hikers can pass on the trail, then a dog and a hiker should be able to pass another hiker, too. In any case, good trail etiquette for dog hikers requires that they and their dogs step off the trail to let other users pass first.

--Adapted from Best Hikes with Dogs in Western Washington by Dan A. Nelson,
published by The Mountaineers Books. All rights reserved and copyrighted by The Mountaineers Books.

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