Hitting the trail with your dog
Hiking a trail with a dog on a leash has always struck me as a little unfair.
You go, at least in part, for the feeling of freedom it gives you, yet your dog remains tethered — in the midst of a wonderful new world of sights and smells, but unable to veer off the path and explore them.
So any book that lists off-leash hiking areas for dogs — and how to safely and responsibly make the most of those rare opportunities — is a valuable tool.
Author Jenna Ringelheim’s newly-released “Best Hikes with Dogs: Boston & Beyond,” is the latest in a series published by The Mountaineers Books of Seattle. (The others are include New York City, Oregon, North Carolina, southern California, Arizona, New Jersey and more.)
A 28-year-old conservationist and dog lover, Ringelheim highlights numerous opportunities for hiking with your dog in and around Boston – all of them sanctioned leash-free areas.
Ringelheim lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she is the executive director of a nonprofit environmental organization, Wild Gift. She has two Portuguese water dogs, Tasman and Millie.
“People have strong feelings about dogs in natural areas. So one of the things that I explain in the book is that you have to be responsible,” Ringelheim said in an interview with the Boston Globe. “The entire first chapter explains how to have a responsible dog on the trail … It’s all about making the right decisions.”
Immunizations, training, and getting your dog used to the woods are among the areas covered by the book– as well as more common sense reminders, such as always having a leash, water, and waste disposal bags, in reserve.
Ringelheim spent a year researching dog behavior as well as area trails after completing her master’s degree in urban and environmental policy at Tufts University.
“Dogs these days often find themselves pent up inside all day waiting for their owners to get home, so having a place where your dog can actually get out and be a dog is important,” she said. “But when dogs are on a leash, they pick up a lot of their owner’s fears. Often, you’ll see fights between dogs on leashes because they have a higher level of anxiety than when they are off leash. . . . Off-leash, in the woods, they relax. After all, that’s where they used to live.”
Ringelheim got the go-ahead from her publisher to write the book the same day her first hiking companion, a Portugese water dog named Cobi, died.
“I was hiking with him. He had cancer, and he had a major heart attack basically in the middle of the woods. I had to carry him out . . . and when I got home there was the e-mail from the Mountaineers saying they wanted to talk to me.”
Ringelheim puts a strong emphasis on dog care, and the importance of dog owners checking ahead to take stock of hunting seasons, dog drinking-water sources, “paw-friendliness,” and suitability of the terrain.
“We have weekend warriors that work all week and then play hard on weekends, and their dogs may not appreciate that,” said Ringelheim. “Like people, they need to get in shape first before they take that 10-mile hike on Saturday, especially because dogs are really eager to please their owners. They’ll just keep going until they die. That’s partly why heatstroke is so common for dogs on the trail.”