To Find Your Trail
I am a firm believer in getting your dogs out in the area they are “living” (or even just staying for a short while) and getting to know it well, and finding good trails to follow. When a dog is stuck inside their home (or even if they have access to a yard) and never gets to go anywhere in their neighbourhood, they don’t know where they _are_ and if they ever get loose (and the chances of a dog escaping the confines of their prison – and it is a prison to a dog, as nice as it might be – at every opportunity are very high when they don’t get out at all) they get lost all the more quickly. If a dog knows where his or her home is, what all the landmarks and smells are around it, where the dogs are, where the roads are, they tend to be less panicked and fearful (sometimes it might take a little longer for them to calm down) and can find their way home on their own.
So, now wherever we live, I always get my dogs out into the area as soon as I can. We start small: Just a walk around the block, or around 2 blocks, or in different directions up and down the road we are on until we know the area very well. We then venture a little further, going 20 minutes in one direction and then turning back. We then look for loops and roads that return to ours. Big blocks, medium blocks, lots of small blocks.
Don’t be afraid to turn around and go back the way you came – dogs don’t care. If you cross the road, it means even MORE new things to sniff!
Once you have walked completely around your neighbourhood (as far as you can go safely, of course) and you know it very well, head to Google Maps…
I have found MANY wonderful trails and greenbelts by doing this. I’ve discovered secret lakes and ponds, wide open fields in the middle of a city, forest trails that start at the end of my street! Even if you find one and walk there and then discover there’s a fence in the way that you couldn’t see on the map – it’s ok! Follow the fence, or check the map later for places you can see a path emerging from the trees.
You can also start looking further afield: I start in my ‘hood, but I always end up finding places and trails about 5 or 10 minutes drive away. I then look for places to park safely, and hopefully a shady spot if it’s spring/summer (especially here in Georgia) and the entrance to a trail. Also – find OTHER small neighbourhoods and go check those out. Park in a public area (a park, or a playground area) and head off around the ‘hood. Your dogs will LOVE the chance to sniff and piddle on these new hunting grounds. You can even take a drive around the new area first, with windows down, nice and slowly, so you can check it out before you start walking – check for loose dogs, bad fences, chained dogs, “no dogs” signs, glass on the sidewalk, thorny patches etc.
If you’re tired of the street, go check Google Maps for green areas, forests, parks. These are for daily walks, mostly.
If you have more time on a weekend, research places during the week and head off on a Saturday or Sunday morning, nice and early. We discovered a dam and a lake and a beautiful beach this way! You can also look up the local nature parks and hiking/biking trails – look at alltrails.com (you don’t have to get the pro version to find awesome places to walk, and they all come with comments and helpful information about water access, toilet access, and if dogs are allowed) or look for the State Parks website for your state.
Check out forums for local hikers/mountain bikers and you will find loads of information there too.
When I go walking anywhere new (street or forest or trail or farm) I carry a small backpack with the following necessities: Poop bags. A 2 liter water canteen and large collapsible water bowl for the dogs (winter or summer, they are thirsty fluffs). If it’s hot weather, I will bring a 500 ml bottle of water for myself. Wipes for paws/hands/etc. A small first aid kit. A toy – preferably squeaky, but that’s my dogs’ personal choice. A spare lead. Treats! Very important! I also carry my phone, a torch/headlamp, a tick twister, a whistle, and some para-cord. You never know. Might sound like a lot, but I like to be prepared, and you get used to the weight of it. We stop for a water break and a rest every 1 km when it’s hot, and maybe every 2 km when it’s nice and cold out – I go by the dogs and how they are feeling. Odin will ask for water if he wants it, and Azzie just flops down and won’t go any further if she is too tired or hot and wants water.
Do some research before you head out on a trail or forest walk: Know what snakes are in the area, and any predators you might encounter. Be aware and alert at all times, but try not to work yourself up into an anxious state, as this is a real downer to dogs because they spend the walk LOOKING for something to be scared of or react to. Simply be aware of your surroundings, learn what types of places to avoid (fallen trees – snakes love hiding under them) and never do anything too extreme if you are on your own (don’t climb down a ravine, unless you can see an appropriate exit path that you AND your dogs can get up without too much hassle). Be as quiet as you can – that way you can hear anything out of the ordinary, AND you get to enjoy the sounds of nature around you. Dogs also like silence, by the way – but the occasional recall for a treat and a “good dog” when they do, makes a world of difference to them as well. Be respectful – you are walking among living things: not just the trees, but animals call this their home. Don’t destroy things, or pick things that you shouldn’t. Leave tracks, not trash. If you can REACH the spot your dog pooped (especially on or next to the trail you are walking) please pick it up. I normally take my dogs to the dog park first, so they can poop etc, and I can pick up and throw it away and I don’t have to carry poop bags around for the entire walk. Sometimes, though, one or two of my dogs will go a second time if the walk is long enough to warrant it. If I can get to it easily, I will pick it up. If it’s in brambles, or thorn trees, or thick undergrowth (snakes!) then I tend to leave it. I do try, but I’m not getting my hand torn up by thorns, or bitten by a snake, or covered in poison ivy, just to pick up a poop that nobody is going to be going anywhere near anyway. Just being honest.
If you are someone like me who can sometimes get turned around if the trail has many offshoots or crossroads, then use your phone to take a photo at each junction, of the direction you came and the direction you are going. If you don’t want to use your phone, then find a few pieces of wood or sticks/branches, and make a double arrow – pointing the way you came, and the way you went. It’s saved me a few times when I thought I knew where I was, but ended up going in a circle… If there are no sticks around, find a pile of leaves and place those at the entrances to the path you are leaving and the path you are entering. That also works.
Main and final point: Get outside! Find adventure! Your dogs will love it – you bond so much more with your dogs if you walk together, and the longer the walk the better. Tired dogs are happy dogs. Dirty dogs are even happier 😀 Also – don’t be afraid to get dirty, wear good shoes that are appropriate to the ground you will be covering, and sunscreen if it’s hot, and lots of insect repellent. Pack a spare light jacket if you are walking in winter or if it’s undecided whether it will rain or not.