By Kayla Bott
May is a wonderful month to follow the blooming wildflowers and soaring raptors up to our specialized mountaintop habitats. As elevation increases, temperatures drop, offering a unique sanctuary of cool air. For some of us, there’s no better way to enjoy this quietly teeming oasis than by sharing it with our canine companions.
Western North Carolina offers a plenitude of places to explore with dogs. Wagging tails and lolling tongues can be seen from restaurant patios to the top of Mount Mitchell. The best places to hike with dogs have plenty of shade and water. My personal favorite stomping grounds are the Blue Ridge Parkway, Panthertown Valley, DuPont Waterfall Trails, Sandy Mush Game Lands and Richmond Hill Park, where you can also play disc golf and hike to the French Broad River. (Remember to pack water for you and your companion on every outing.)
“Hiking is better with dogs, but it’s important to be aware of other people and pets,” says Erica Kilgo, manager of Patton Avenue Pet Company (PAPC). “Having easy control over your dog is vital in the great outdoors and a good no-pull harness or head halter can be very helpful with puppies and tenacious dogs.”
Many people are unaware that choke collars and similar devices are mostly ineffective and can unintentionally injure dogs. PAPC offers discounts on alternatives if you bring these in for trade. Having awareness of your dog’s comfort and obedience levels is crucial for making progress and finding peace in your outdoor adventures together.
Leash requirements are in place for sound reasons. Some habitats are quite fragile and the impacts of curious canine explorers can be detrimental to local wildlife. When dogs encounter each other in public, it’s usually best if they’re either all on leashes or all off-leash together with the permission of their handlers. Kilgo recommends keeping a flat six-foot leash in these situations and having a close disciplinary relationship with your dog.
“Having a perfect recall command for your companion is a must,” says Kilgo. “Check in with a local APDT [Association of Professional Dog Trainers] certified trainer if you need help working on the efficiency of your recall and keep treats handy at all times, as they can be very helpful in sticky situations.” Leash training comes first, but for you and your canine to be well at ease, you should be prepared for off-leash hikes and play. Kilgo also recommends protective footwear or balms in rough terrains and visibility tags or vests, especially during hunting season.
“I love dogs and having a big one run at us is still a little alarming, especially if the owner isn’t in sight,” says Scott Dean, local naturalist and canine enthusiast. “Dogs love to run, but well-trained ones stay on the trail, take commands and return immediately when encountered by strangers.” Let’s face it—even with the best intentions, at some point every dog gets loose. Instead of dreading this moment, build trust with your best friend by regularly practicing exercises without a leash.
“Many of the spring ephemeral plants are delicate and some folks are dog-phobic, which, with untrained animals, is often justified,” says Dean. “Solid training protects everyone involved.”
Wildflowers can be found at high elevations throughout May including painted and purple trillium (Trillium undulatum and erectum), rose twisted stalk (Streptopus roseus), Carolina springbeauty (Claytonia caroliniana) and false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum). For the happiness and safety of all creatures, it’s best to always behave in accordance with area rules.
Traveling and hiking with my friend Midna was easy fun. Naturally loyal and gently protective, she never wanted to leave my side from the moment she adopted me. We spent many hours climbing mountains in mud-soaked wordless bliss. Dogs teach us that patience and practice have real rewards. Above all things, they show us how to relish every moment together.
For experienced advice, ethical equipment and nutritionally appropriate pet food, visit one of the three Patton Avenue Pet Company locations around Asheville (located at 109 Patton Avenue, 1388 Patton Avenue and 582 Hendersonville Road). For more information visit pattonavenuepet.com.