Considerations before hitting the trail and hanging at the crag.
My partner and I took our recently adopted dog, Tilly, out on her first climbing outing this past weekend to see if she was as good a climbing cheerleader as she is a household cuddler. We were excited and apprehensive to see how she did at the crag — because if you’ve ever been to a crag with a misbehaved dog you know it’s a miserable experience for all, bystanders, owners, and the dog themselves — and we didn’t want to ruin the day for anyone. This got me thinking, and talking about what my community and I think makes a good crag dog, and things we should all consider before our trips out, and while at the crag.
Before heading to the crag
Is the crag (or trail or park) dog-friendly?
This is key to mention before all else, as it’s the most logical place to start. Check with the local council or state for the dog policies in the public lands you are planning to climb in. Australia and the United States alike do not allow dogs in national parks (unless they are registered guide dogs), while many state and local parks do allow companion dogs. Please note, many of these parks require your dog is leashed!
Maintain perspective that the rules and limitations on dogs in these outdoor spaces are not to trample on your fun, but to preserve the wilderness as it is. Dog are non-native species to many of our outdoor spaces and these restrictions are put in place to keep the native wildlife thriving, happy, and wild.
Take note of your pup’s behaviour before heading to the crag.
While it is normal for your dog to have “much excite” for the outdoors, it’s unlikely their behaviour will differ vastly from how they normally behave on walks and outdoors near home. If your dog is talkative to strangers and the neighborhood birds, expect your dog to chat up the crag as well. If your dog tires easily after a casual walk around the block, they’re likely to have an exhausting trip on a longer or tougher hike-in to the crag. If your dog is difficult to handle at home, they’re more than likely going to be difficult to handle outdoors — particularly with the new outdoor smells.
Make sure your pooch is well versed in basic obedience.
Climbing crags and the outdoors are full of excitement, moving parts, and safety hazards to people and pups alike. It’s important that your dog has basic obedience to help avoid any risks to other climbers, yourself, and your dog (think running under ropes and climbers). No jumping on people, responsiveness to their name, and being able to establish activities which are not allowed are a few key obedience activities which your dog should have experience with.
Dog etiquette while at the crag
Sticking to the trail (and the crag).
While briefly mentioned earlier, it’s worth taking another moment to think further on sticking to the trail, for both you and your dog. Trails exist, not as an adventure mood killer, but to prevent us (and your dog) from harming the local environment. Established trails help prevent erosion and helps mitigate the increased pressure on the environment from growing outdoor tourism. This is a conversation in itself- but, in keeping short, be kind to the outdoors and keep all paws on established paths.
Read the energy in the room
Each dog brings with them their own energy, high energy, low energy, and everything in between. Dogs, as with humans, prefer activities which match their energetic levels. Reflecting on most crags I’ve been too, the vast majority have a medium to low energy. Spikes of energy and excitement come while climbers are on the wall pushing their grade, but the energy on the ground remains mellow to allow the climber to focus on their climb and the belayer on their climber. A dog with high energy will likely not mesh well with the lower energy of the crag which will inevitably lead to frustration of both the climbers and dog- the climbers, for a dog bounding around the crag creating distractions and chaos and the dog, for the climbers who are not devoting enough attention to their needs.
A chatty dog may not mean a happy dog — or happy climbers.
Dogs bark and whine, it’s just part of their nature and one way they choose to communicate with us -some more than others. However your dog’s chattiness should be a consideration at the crag for a few key reasons:
- Safety: Dogs who bark and whine frequently at the crag provide additional unnecessary noise for climbers to compete with. The limited visibility and the distance between a climber and their belayer is enough to strain effective communication — a chatty dog only adds to the difficulty hearing and communicating with a climber.
- Noise pollution: Usually this term is associated with semis breaking or motorcycles revving, but a dog incessantly barking in the wilderness is noise pollution. Many climbers, if not most, escape the city noise to be surrounded by the sounds of nature and may not be enthralled listening to a dog chattering. Barking dogs also tend to scare off the native wildlife, which can negatively impact the surrounding ecosystem.
- An anxious dog: Barking and whining are usually signs that a dog is uncomfortable with a situation. They are most likely anxious and communicating to you that they are not a-okay with the situation. While it may be sad to leave your furry friend behind for a day’s adventure outside, they may be better off without the stress and anxiety which comes with a climbing trip.
Mind your pup’s mess.
It should be enough said at that, but for further clarification — please pick up after your dog’s poop. Both small and big poops can have large impacts on the climbing vibe and the environment. No one wants to smell that as they belay and are hanging out in nature, including the local fauna. Additionally, the environment you are climbing in may not be naturally equipped to decompose your pup’s mess (think: the dessert). Be sure you pack it out with you -meaning, take it out of the wilderness and back to an established rubbish bin.
Be prepared to abort mission.
It is possible things won’t work out for your dog on your outdoor adventure, and that is okay. But be prepared to abort mission from the moment you leave your home. Your dog could get sick in the car, be a terror on the footpath, or not enjoy hanging out at the crag all day while you “spit mad beta” to your mates. Chalk it up to a mediocre climbing day, but don’t take it out on your pup — you brought them along on your adventure.
If you or your friend has a pup who has joined you at the crag, how does the furry companion measure up?
It’s okay if your dog isn’t a crag dog — they may be a wonderful beach or running dog! Regardless of whether your pup is a crag pal or not, remember to do your part as a responsible dog owner, member of the community, and steward to the environment.
Of course, it’s important to note, outdoor dog etiquette does not end here. Continue to be mindful of local legislation and community expectations.