American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Hiking Safely with Your Pet
Recently, I encouraged travelers to explore three of America's outdoor wonders: Dinosaur National Monument, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Big Bend National Park. If you enjoy traveling with your pet (or pets), you'll be happy to know that, in all three cases, pets are welcome inside the park boundaries, though their activities – and, by extension, yours – will be severely limited by a number of safety regulations.
As with other units of the National Park Service, for instance, all three parks require pets to be leashed (or caged) and accompanied by their owners at all times – for the pets' safety as well as the safety of wildlife and other visitors. Generally speaking, pets must not be left unattended at campsites or in vehicles, especially when the weather is hot; besides the possibility of suffering from exposure or, at the very least, becoming a public nuisance, they're also more vulnerable to predators if left alone. Also, no matter the situation, pet owners must immediately remove and properly dispose of any fecal matter deposited by their pets (and, by “properly dispose of,” I mean “dump said poop into the nearest trash receptacle”).
In addition, it's important to remember that pets are usually only allowed in developed areas, such as roadways, parking lots, and campgrounds. Except for perhaps service dogs, pets are never permitted inside park buildings, and save for two short trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, all three of these parks forbid visitors from bringing their pets onto hiking trails, near waterways, and into the backcountry, where they could disturb native wildlife (as well as their dens or burrows) or be harmed by poisonous desert plants, rattlesnakes, owls, coyotes, mountain lions, and other harmful creatures, including those carrying rabies or other diseases. As the website for Big Bend National Park phrases it, “Basically, your pet can only go where your car can go.” Of course, when in doubt, you can always ask a ranger about the official pet policies for the park in question.
In general, though, if you plan to do any serious hiking in these three parks, you'll have three basic choices: designate someone in the campground or parking lot to watch your pet, make arrangements with a nearby kennel service, or leave your pet at home – not an easy decision for people who enjoy traveling with their pets. Full-time RVers, for instance, may have no choice but to bring their pets with them when visiting a national park. Luckily, though, you'll find plenty of wilderness areas in the United States where you and your pet are allowed to hike together. In such cases, it's helpful to remember that, as the ASPCA cautions, “a hiking trail isn't your average walk around the block.” To keep you and your pet safe on your next hiking adventure, be sure to adhere to the following guidelines, courtesy of the ASPCA:
Extending leashes are great for wide open spaces, but if your romp is taking you through wooded areas, it's best to leave the flexi-leads at home. Otherwise, you'll probably spend more time untangling your dog's leash from trees and brush than you will enjoying your walk!
If your pup is the trustworthy sort and you want to give him or her the opportunity to enjoy some untethered time on your hike, first make sure that dogs are allowed to be off-leash in the area you're exploring. Second, be sure that he or she responds reliably to your recall command – even the most obedient dog might bolt after some fascinating new critter (such as the cute little prairie dog pictured above).
Hard to believe, but not everyone is as enamored with dogs as we are! Some people get very nervous around unleashed dogs. As a courtesy, have a leash on standby to clip to your dog when encountering other hikers.
Whether you're using a leash or not, don't forget IDs, please! Always make sure that your current contact information, including your cell phone number, is attached to your dog's collar or body harness. If, for any reason, your pet gets lost, a collar and tags and a microchip will increase the likelihood that he or she will be returned to you.
You never know what you may encounter on a hike – so before setting out into the wilderness, check your pet's veterinary records and make sure his or her vaccinations are up-to-date.
Teach your dog to come to you for treats whenever you pass by other hikers, especially if they have dogs, too. Your dog will learn to not interfere with passersby, and at the same time, you're ensuring he or she associates new people and dogs with good things, like tasty treats from you.
If a poop falls in the woods and no one else sees it, do you get a free pass? NO! There's no such thing as a victimless poop. Please have respect for your surroundings, native wildlife, and fellow hikers by scooping up after your dog and toting the baggie back to civilization if there are no trash cans around.
Both of you need to stay hydrated, so bring enough water for two. Don't allow your pup to drink from puddles, ponds, lakes, or streams – in other words, “nature's dog bowls” – as they may contain nasty parasites or toxins that could cause him or her harm.
When your hike is finished, give your pooch a thorough once-over for ticks and other creepy-crawlies. Pay special attention to her belly, ears, and any skin folds and crevices. If you do spot a tick, treat the area with rubbing alcohol and remove the parasite immediately by slowly pulling it off with tweezers. Be careful when removing a tick, as any contact with its blood can potentially transmit infection to your dog or even to you. Wash the bite area and keep an eye on it for the next few days – if irritation persists, contact your vet.
For the record, I normally would've used my own words to express these helpful tips, but I'm sure that I couldn't have said them any better (especially the one about “a victimless poop”), so, thanks, ASPCA, for making it a little easier for my fellow travelers and pet lovers to hike with their furry friends. Hopefully, you'll find such advice useful on your next wilderness hike. In the meantime, I hope you're having a wonderful Veterans Day, wherever you might be spending it.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of a prairie dog courtesy of Carl & Peggy Backes / Text © 2011 Laura Martone