Hiking With Dogs

Six Good Dogs

A few years ago, on a road trip from Montana to Oregon via the Olympic Peninsula, I hiked to Cape Flattery, a wave-crashed cliff on the very northwest tip of the continental US. Cape Flattery lies on the edge of the Makah Reservation, a tribe famous for hunting humpback and gray whales from wooden canoes.

Cape Flattery Dogs

Before heading to the trail, I stopped at the Makah Cultural Museum to see some relics from the tribe’s whaling hey days and buy a $10 Recreational Permit to hike the Cape Trail. The woman working at the museum that day was also named Mary and we talked at length about the ocean, the land and her people. She was proud and open and meeting her was one of the highlights of that road trip.

As I was leaving, I asked her if there were any rules for dogs on the trail, whether they needed to be leashed. Mary smiled and said, “No, we don’t have any rules for dogs. Dogs are better behaved when they live by their own rules.”

Desert Dog Meets the Pacific

Wiser words have never been spoken. Here in New Mexico, I hike every day with four dogs: my two, Bobo the cattle dog and Freckles the Blonde Coyote. Occasionally my neighbors’ dogs join us on our walks as well, giving me six or seven large canine hiking companions.

These dogs and I have hiked hundreds of miles in this desert. We’ve crossed paths with cattle, horses, coyotes, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, jackrabbits and a whole herd of goats and never once have I had cause to put any of them on a leash.

Freckles & Bowie being beastly, Bobo refereeing

Dogs like these are rare in the world. They’re not so much pets as my partners. You can’t train dogs like these. You have to travel with them. Dogs evolved to travel alongside people; walking over the Earth with a dog brings out something instinctive in both of you. You become a leader, clear, calm and capable and they become your allies, obedient, loyal and willing to follow you to the ends of the Earth, no matter what you might encounter on the way.

Bowie, Dio & Trinity overlooking the Garden of the Gods

I don’t tell these dogs what to do. They know what to do. We’ll hike for hours and never once will I give any of them a command. My dogs have all learned their large animal lessons and know better than to chase anything big enough to turn the tables and chase them back. Occasinally, Dio and Freckles will chase a rabbit, but if I spot the animal first, it’s mine and if I show them my open palm, they won’t go after it. It’s amazing how a few extra vertical feet helps me spot things before the dogs. Watch for movement; theres a lot of life in the world.

I Spy a Coyote!

Coyotes are the diciest encounters out here. If I see the ‘yote first, it’s mine, but every now and then, Freckles and Dio get a good chase. I’ve seen my dogs make physical contact with coyotes and maybe it’s because my dogs are all large and athletic or maybe it’s because Freckles is a hybrid, but nobody has ever gotten hurt. Usually they circle each other and at most, bump shoulders, sizing each other up, but then they each go their own way. I do know people out here who have lost small dogs and cats to coyotes, but so far, mine seem to have some kind of canine truce with our wild neighbors.

It’s too quiet out here to yell and I rarely whistle. If all four of my dogs are off running around, out of sight, all I need to do to get them back is stop walking. If I stand still for more than a minute or two, all four will come running, even the deaf coyote. If I sit down to rest, they’ll all go lay in the closest shade, waiting patiently to see where we’ll go next.

Four Good Dogs

New dogs joining our pack catch on almost immediately. Lately, I’ve been dog sitting a Bernese mountain dog named Trinity who was badly abused and has a tendency to cower at people, other dogs and anything that moves or makes noise. After a few hikes with the pack, however, she’s a different dog. Her head and tail are up, she runs off on her own, exploring the world and comes right back with the other dogs when I stop to rest. Hiking in all this open space frees her from her anxieties. Out here, the world is a good place to be a dog.

Happy Trinity!

Freckles, my Blonde Coyote hybrid is the wildest of them all. On our walks, she’ll often disappear for an hour at a time. I usually have no idea where she is, but she’s always aware of me and will come back if I stop to rest. In all our wanderings, I’ve only lost her once. I found her, ecstatic, waiting for me at home.

Freckles & her Big Backyard. You could drop this dog off anywhere out here and she'd find her way home, no problem.

This desert is an ideal place for dogs like these. They are a product of this environment and I can’t imagine Freckles living anywhere else. But dogs can learn to live by their own rules – the rules of the pack, the rules of the trail – anywhere. My dogs and I have been hiking in 48 states. If they’re required to be on a leash, I will leash them, but I have every confidence that I could walk from one coast to the other with them running free.

Recently, I spent all day walking around the Stanford campus, home to a zillion dumb, fat squirrels, with both my dogs off leash. Not once did they go after one of those chubby morsels. We’ve faced far bigger game than squirrels: In Montana, for a few unforgettable moments, Bowie and I shared a trail with a Grizzly bear. Bowie was a rock by my side and we all went our separate ways, peacefully.

Europe is a great place to be a dog. In Germany, we saw dozens of dogs off leash, perfectly behaved, crossing streets, walking through stores, sleeping under restaurant tables, running through fields. Never once did we see a bad dog, an aggressive dog, or an obnoxious dog. Even those on leash walked calmly, never pulling.

If more dogs lived by their own rules, this world would be a better place.

My Good Dogs, Watching a Raven

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping! and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Hiking With Dogs

  1. Dounia says:

    Wonderful post with gorgeous photos; the dogs all look like fantastic companions, as dogs usually are. Thanks for sharing!

  2. seekraz says:

    Another beautiful story with equally beautiful photos…and how fortunate you are to have your constant and well-behaved companions with you, living by their own rules. Thank you.

  3. TBM says:

    I wish I could run with my dog off leash since he would trip me a lot less! However living in London makes that difficult. The dogs looks so happy!

  4. Love this:) I really enjoy your blog especially the pics around NM. I really need to get out more, we live in a beautiful state!

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  10. Evadne says:

    Hey Mary –
    A lovely post! Say hi to the mountains and windy days for me.

  11. Rachael says:

    A lovely article with beautiful images. I especially like that last one. Sadly, not all dogs are as well-behaved. My friend recently was walking her small dog in the local woods when seven black Labradors badly mauled her (the dog). The owner was completely unable to stop them. Fortunately, my friend’s dog is recovering physically but is still clearly traumatised, no longer the laid back, sensible pooch she used to be.

    • For every good story, there is a bad story. Sorry to hear about the pup!

      • Rachael says:

        Very true. Yes, it is a shame. I think there is a difference between hiking with a pack in the wonderful wide open spaces over there and doing it in a small wood over here in a place where dogs do not get to run free so very often. I should imagine, though I am no expert, that cooped up dogs might go a bit bonkers on the occasions when they are given their freedom?

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  13. kotascatch says:

    I’m 56 years old and have been hiking and travelling in the States for many years with my dogs. I only had one at a time, though my last dog was especially sad about being an “only”. They were great dogs, good reliable companions. Now I have a rescue dog and I havr to train her. If only I had her when my last dog was still alive! He would have taught her everything! But she’s learning and coming along nicely. One of the things Ihad to teach her was how to be a dog!

  14. Jimmy says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this blog post! I have 2 small Italian Greyhounds named Pink & Bleu and they travel everywhere with me. Most of the time off leash except in required public places. I have registered them as service animals to free them from some of the everyday restrictions placed on pets. They travel well. On airplanes they are off leash and no matter how bumpy the flight or how crowded the TSA line my pups stay calm by my side. Over the years they have seen more of this country than most humans do. We have shared some of our worst moments and a lot of our best moments together. People always ask me “How did you get your dogs to be so well behaved”, I tell them to ask the dogs. They do it on their own. I think with any animal if you show it the respect it deserves it will return the favor.

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  20. Mavis says:

    What a lovely read! Your dogs are a lucky bunch.

  21. rachelljz says:

    I agree with Mavis, this was a very lovely piece. Mavis kindly linked me your page and I enjoyed reading it very much! Your dogs are gorgeous :)

    Will go read the other articles now! I really liked the horse piece too. My two favourite types of animals: http://theblondecoyote.com/2011/07/08/wilding-horses/

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  26. shazzarob says:

    I love reading about your dogs and what great companions they all are. I have been feeling a little sad today as I have just returned from a walk without our black lab Jake.He is 13 now and as is common in labradors his hind legs are slowly giving way.We used to go on all sorts of walks together but now he can’t really accompany me to far.Its quite heartbreaking.We do go for short potters round the park together….so its not all bad.Love your blog.x

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