How to Enjoy the Wilderness with Your Dog

Charlie and Sopris Flat tops

As springtime comes and our favorite trails and parks begin to emerge from snow, we anticipate more new adventures with our pups in the outdoors. Here in Colorado we have had a milder than normal winter and soon we will be in the high country exploring trails with our clan of border collies.


We live in Summit County near Breckenridge and Frisco and we also are fortunate to have 35 acres of land in western Colorado to enjoy with our dogs. Both in Summit County and on our land to the west we always need to be aware and respectful of the wild life around us. We share our land and trails with moose, elk, deer, bear, mountain lions, turkeys, porcupines, snowshoe hares, foxes, turkeys and a variety of other rodents and birds. They were here first. We are guests in their land.


There are a variety of leash and animal control ordinances we need to know and respect. In Wilderness areas dogs must be on leash. We use our skijoring belts, lines and dog harnesses when we hike in the Wilderness areas. Our dogs get exercise, stay attached to us by lead and we have our hands free. In dog sport terms we are essentially doing what is called “Cani-Cross”. It’s a great solution to respecting leash laws but getting out with our dogs and having a great day. In National Forests there can either be leash laws or a requirement to have a dog on a good recall (“come”). This is where taking the time to teach dogs a solid recall even in the face of distractions pays off.


Regardless of whether or not we are in National Forest trails, or on our own land, having a reliable recall on a dog is essential while living and hiking in country that has significant wildlife, both out of respect for the wildlife and safety for our dogs. Other essential skills for the dogs to master are a solid stop and “stay” and “leave it”.


It is important that when our dogs are out in this country, we are directly supervising them at all times. I keep them in sight on walks and hikes, calling them back to me if they wander too far, then letting them out again to explore. I also watch my dogs’ body language and note if they perk up and stand tall in interest of something they either see or smell. This is a great time for me to call them back to me or have them stop and stay until I can get them, or see what they are interested in.


I hope that you and your dogs will also be enjoying getting out in the country as spring arrives. Please do remember to respect the leash laws, take the time to teach your dog a reliable recall, stop, stay and leave it even with distractions and supervise your dog at all times. Remember, we are guests. The wildlife was there first.


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Positively Expert: Louisa Morrissey

Louisa is a member of Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Dog Training Team, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), a member of the Pet Professional Guild of Non-Force Trainers and a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. She is the founder of High Country Dogs in Colorado.


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