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Eight good dog walking habits to get into

Updated 24 septembre 2021

Getting ready to conquer a trail with your dog? Do you dream of hiking in harmony with nature and other hikers? Did you know that you can combine hiking and cohabitation with wildlife and humans perfectly, along with your four-legged best friend, even in an environment that might first appear to be foreign to Rover?

Here are a few tips that will make you the best dog owner on your block.

Develop a bond with your dog.

The Parc régional de la rivière Gentilly, the Parc régional des Grandes-Coulées and the Sentiers de L’escapade are among the few natural spaces in the province that welcome dogs on leashes. According to the officials who run these parks, up to 30% or 40% of visitors come with their dogs. For Marie-Claude Poirier, the Town of Rigaud’s coordinator of tourism and outdoor activities, and who oversees the Sentiers de L'escapade, one thing is clear: these dog owners know how to walk their dogs and they know how their pets behave in familiar environments.

“However, they don't always realize that they have an animal on their hands and that it loses its bearings in unfamiliar territory, even if it is trained,” she says. Your dog may still react in unexpected ways to distractions it will encounter on a trail (other dogs, large groups, runners, cyclists, wildlife).

Sébastien Jubinville, communications officer for the Parc régional de la rivière Gentilly, insists on the need for dog owners to understand what their pets are trying to tell them. This is what prompted the park to organize a workshop on hiking in the forest with a dog educator. “A dog is a natural hunter. The sudden sight of a chipmunk will immediately stimulate its instinct. The more the dog feels connected to its owner, the more it will understand that it is a win-win situation for it to stay by its side and respect the leash,” says Lucie Robertson.

Find out what dog training services are available in your area. With specialized guidance, you can improve your dog’s obedience and correct certain shortcomings (aggression, excessive barking, etc.). Regularly practicing commands at home and on the trails will help your dog become even more confident in situations they may be exposed to in a natural environment.

We like to share the experiences we have with our dogs. When you untie your dog, it's because you think the dog will be happier if it’s set free. But what makes a dog happy is being with their master,” says Steve Garneau, coordinator of Parc régional des Grandes-Coulées.

Providing the essentials to keep your dog comfortable and healthy

“I wanted my dog to enjoy the benefits of walking in the forest as much as I did,” says Marie-Claude Poirier, coordinator of outdoor activities and tourism with the Town of Rigaud.

The backpack is specially designed for dogs to carry their own necessities. Dogs usually love their backpacks and associate them with the pleasure of hiking with their owners. However, not all dogs are of the same stature or physical ability, and carrying a pack may not be appropriate for them. Your veterinarian can help you assess your pet's ability and choose the right pack. Once you've been given the green light, get your dog used to carrying its empty bag around the house. Eventually, you can train your dog to carry more and more weight, but not more than 25% of the dog’s body weight.

Here are some essentials to put in your dog’s backpack

  • Snack + water to drink in sufficient quantity.
    Generally speaking, your dog can safely drink from streams and rivers. However, holes and puddles contain stagnant water that is not good for your dog’s health. Since it's recommended that you give your pet a drink every 15 to 30 minutes, it's best to get a reusable bowl. A collapsible one will fit even more easily in your bag. Plan to drink at least one liter of water every 5 km, and more if it's hot.
     
  • First-aid kit
    A good kit should contain the basic supplies you'll need if your dog gets hurt or sick. Don't forget a pair of crowbar pliers to remove ticks, which are responsible for transmitting Lyme disease. If bitten, remove the tick as soon as possible to avoid complications. Ticks live in forests, woodlands and tall grass. Staying on the trail with your dog on a leash is a good way to prevent a tick from attaching itself to your dog.
     
  • Pick-up bags
    Your dog's poop should be bagged and disposed of in the trash, not in the wild. You can easily control odors by throwing a handful of clumping litter into the bag. It is becoming easier to find environmentally friendly litter made from plant or wood waste in stores these days. If burying your dog's waste is allowed, make sure you have mastered the sanitary hole technique and bring a trowel. A garden trowel will do. Outdoor equipment stores carry lighter models.

For greater peace of mind, make sure to get all the information you need before going on your walk

“We provide access to natural environments, and hikers need to understand the need to preserve them,” says Steve Garneau

As Sébastien Jubinville explains, there are rules that can limit access to our parks to “give nature a break.” This is the case in the Grande tourbière de Villeroy sector (Parc régional des Grandes-Coulées), where the exceptional ecosystem must be closed to dogs for protection purposes. Elsewhere, an area may be closed to allow the flora to regenerate, or to avoid disturbing a breeding area or the vital habitat of an animal species.

Knowing the restrictions ahead of time will prevent you from bumping into a “no trespassing” sign. You'll eliminate the inconvenience of turning back or increasing the distance of your hike beyond your dog's physical ability to detour. You also won't be leading your dog on a risky adventure if you ask about periodic trail closures due to winter and spring thaws, high water or hunting season.

A park's website and social media pages remain your most reliable sources of information. However, visitors don’t seem to consult them much, despite all the efforts of managers to keep them well informed. “It forces us to continually repeat the same information at the reception desk,” laments Sébastien Jubinville. The Les animaux! video on YouTube is a very good example of quality information that visitors should get into the habit of consulting.

Respecting wildlife

Dogs often snoop in the grass, scratch the ground and dig holes. Keeping your dog on a leash at all times will allow you to better control your dog from disturbing wildlife, destroying habitat or crushing vegetation.

Learn how to behave around wildlife to avoid potential conflicts. If bears are present in the area, make sure you know exactly what to do so that you and your dog are not put at risk.

Have a plan B ready when things get busy

It’s a good habit to choose less crowded times. You can help reduce pressure on trails, picnic areas, peaks and other lookout points by avoiding the busiest times. If you find that there are too many hikers and dogs at a site, move to your alternate destination.

Choose your route to be able to keep your dog on a leash

Be sure to use trails that do not include steep or rugged sections. On muddy trails, stay in the middle of the path to avoid widening it. Shorten your dog's leash to make maneuvering easier.

Return or bury your dog’s waste

Don’t feel like bringing your dog's waste home? Leaving poop bags abandoned in the wild is totally unacceptable. Whether they are left on the side of a trail or hidden in the woods, their contents are just as harmful to the environment. Bury your dog's poop in a sanitary hole to activate the biodegradation power of the microorganisms that are at work in the organic soil of the forest. This will protect other humans, dogs and wildlife from exposure to viruses and bacteria. You will be protecting water sources from contamination by pathogens that would otherwise be spread by rain, snowmelt or high water.

But be careful, the sanitary hole must be dug properly. Move 60 meters away from any natural water source and the trail to find a suitable location. Dig a hole 15 to 20 centimetres deep. After depositing the droppings, backfill the hole with the excavated soil and camouflage it with organic debris (wood chips, dead leaves, pine needles, etc.). Check out our seven Leave no Trace principles of outdoor ethics for more information.

In case of doubt, read the rules

Throughout Quebec, dog owners are required by law to keep their pets on a leash in public places. At all times, the dog must be under the watchful eye of a person capable of controlling it. The leash must be 1.85 meters or less. If your dog weighs 20 kilograms or more, it must also wear a halter or harness. A municipality may decide to impose even stricter standards on its territory. Fines are provided for in case of non-compliance. It is therefore essential to be informed before setting out on a trail with your dog.

Let’s close off with the words of Marie-Claude Poirier, who perfectly sums up the attitude that is expected of any good outdoor dog owner: “Walkers are not alone in the woods with their dogs. We hope they remember that they are a community.” Happy hiking!

 

Danielle Landry sees the popularity of nature and outdoor adventures as an opportunity to take care of Quebec's growing network of regional parks. Danielle founded De ville en forêt with the goal of enhancing Quebecers’ know-how and pride in the practice of responsible and sustainable outdoor activities. De ville en forêt is a partner of Leave No Trace Canada and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and a member of Tourisme durable Québec.