The importance of running trails and hiking in Santa Fe while being on leash from a dog's point of view
In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I am a dog. I am a working dog, my ancestors pulled sleds across the snowy tundra. Lots of dogs have important jobs, helping blind people find their way, sniffing out drugs or bombs, comforting sick people or herding sheep. I run trails with my human buddy. Together we have run hundreds of miles of trails all over the Southwest and in and around Santa Fe where we live. I love to run trails and am happy to share them with others. I have a few pointers that might make all of our experiences a bit better with less stress on the trail side.
My job is to run with my human. When we are running along he expects me to keep moving and I expect the same from him. Anything that interrupts this causes tension for everybody. I want to chase squirrels or rabbits but he keeps me on track when I’m tempted. He often needs to stop and gasp for breath, especially on the uphills but I keep him moving. We are a team this way. When a dog off leash runs at us I need to stop running to assess the danger to my runner. I really can’t tolerate poorly trained dogs that don’t know to stay with their people. Sometimes I have to bark or growl or keep that other dog away with a display of my higher ranking in the dog pecking order. This causes lots of anxiety especially for the people who don’t have control of their dog.
Which brings me to one of the best things people can do for their dog friends: use a leash. My running buddy tells me that it is the law to have dogs on a leash on all city and county trails, including the Dale Ball system. We use a leash for show, to show other trail users that they can feel safe as we pass. We dogs are very good at detecting nonverbal cues and clues. When we see a hiker or runner get nervous or frightened we get anxious too. The other day we were cruising down the paved River Trail when a lady with a giant Malamute mix started to yell that her dog was a biter. She was franticly trying to clip her leash to the dog’s neck. They both were quivering with anxiety. I was connected to my buddy with a leash so I only had to keep one eye on the anxious duo until we passed safely and quickly without incident. But it could have been worse. And just a few minutes later it was.
We were near Frenchy’s Field on the paved trail when another dog came charging out of the Santa Fe River bed. This time the dog was loose and heading right for us. I had to react because this dog showed me he had malicious intent. There was a lot of snarling and barking and teeth. The dog’s human came running to grab her loose dog. She was frightened and apologetic because of her dog’s behavior. My buddy and I knew that it wouldn’t have happened if she had her dog on a leash.
I really don’t like the leash myself but my buddy uses a spring loaded retractable leash that feeds in and out smoothly keeping the tether tight but not restricting. If I see a squirrel and instinct urges me to chase it (SQUIRREL!) he just pushes the lock keeping me close. I have been trying to give up my obsession with those fuzzy tailed rodents but it is so hard, thankfully my running buddy cares enough about me to keep me on the leash on city trails. I think lots of other dogs would be happier if their people kept them close. The humans won’t have to deal with animal control officers or go to court and the dogs won’t have to go to the pound. And dog non-lovers (can there be such a thing?) will have a happier hike also. When we get far into the mountains away from all the other people he takes the leash off my collar but I stay close. I like to keep an eye on him.
I like that my buddy talks to me. He says short words, gently, to remind me to stay on task. “Leave it.” He says if we spy a cat in the neighborhood or a chipmunk on a trail. He tells me that I’m a good dog (I just can’t hear that enough) when we pass without incident. We practice every day, running and riding and walking out in the world. I can’t wait for him to roll out of bed in the morning for our walk or to reach for his running shoes later in the day. My happiest times are running shoulder to knee with my buddy on the trails. I hope you will smile back at me as we run past next time but don’t feel bad if I don’t stop, I’m working.
Author - Peter Olson