Taking Your Dog for a Mountain Walk
Can I take my dog up a mountain?
The three most popular mountain walks in mainland Britain are the highest peaks in each of the three countries – Ben Nevis in Scotland, Snowdon in Wales and Scafell Pike in England. Each year thousands of visitors make it to the summit. For many this is an achievement of a lifetime as they are not regular hikers, but see these mountains as a personal challenge, and perhaps the highlight of their holiday.
If you are moderately fit you can make it to the top although many walkers will suffer the after effects in terms of aching leg muscles and stiffness for a couple of days. But the reward of having climbed a country’s highest mountain is more than enough to counteract the physical discomfort afterwards.
If you are a dog owner you will probably have considered taking your dog with you on your mountain walk and there are many queries on dog and walking related forums about whether this is a good idea – and a mixed bag of answers. I thought it might be useful to examine some of the issues.
Before considering the terrain or rules on dogs in the countryside, let’s look at the distance and type of walk. These walks will take at least six hours or more depending on your level of fitness. It is not unusual for the Ben Nevis walk to take over ten hours. You must therefore expect to spend all day on the mountain so the first question to ask is can your dog cope with walking over those distances for that amount of time? Secondly, these are not flat walks – the same strain placed on your legs as you climb up and then descend the mountain will be put on your dog’s muscles. If you and he are only used to the gentle undulations of the local countryside he may end up in as much discomfort as you – and not have the same sense of personal achievement to make up for it! The physical strain is a good reason why you should never take a young dog on this type of walk – they must be fully grown and fully developed to avoid lasting damage.
Now onto the type of path you will be walking on. The paths are hard and stony, and many people report that their dogs have ended up with split pads. Advice is often given to take bandages with you in case. The scree at the top of Snowdon and Ben Nevis can be difficult for dogs to get a grip on and I would advise against taking a dog to the top of – as you get higher you will be walking across boulder fields which are particularly difficult for a dog to walk on, and just right for a leg to slip down in between the boulders. The Wasdale Mountain Rescue team have had to rescue a number of dogs from Scafell Pike as they have been unable to proceed (or go back) across the boulders.
Let’s now consider the rules about dogs in the countryside. Dogs have to be kept on leads whilst ground nesting birds are nesting between the 1st March and the 31st July. Although it’s not obligatory to keep your dog on the lead at other times, unless it has 100% recall and can be trusted in all situations it is advisable as sheep roam freely across the mountains. If a farmer thinks a dog is worrying his sheep he can shoot first, and ask questions afterwards, and the law will be 100% on his side.
The paths up these three mountains are very popular and therefore very busy, often with family groups, and amongst these will be a number of people who are not dog lovers, and who will not appreciate your dog bounding up to say ‘hello’ – especially those with children who might be scared. Keeping your dog under control at all times is a must, and obviously being on a lead is the best way of doing this. There are also parts of the walks where there are steep drop offs not far from the path – some dogs have gone over the edge because they are just not used to this type of terrain, so keeping them close to you is also keeping them safe. Some dogs have come to grief as they’ve tried to chase mountain goats who can nimbly jump from crag to crag – and a dog’s paws are not as well suited to this!
To let your dog get the best from his walk and run around as much as he can, a flexi lead sounds an ideal option (I advise getting the rope, rather than the tape ones as they tangle less). However, there are some parts of some walks which are quite a scramble, and you may want to have both hands free. If you are using walking poles, holding a flexi lead as well is nigh on impossible. You may wish to consider the type of lead that clips to your belt instead. Of course, you do need to trust your dog not to suddenly shoot off chasing a rabbit!
This article is not necessarily aimed towards discouraging you from taking your four legged best friend on such an adventure, but just to give you the facts so you can consider carefully, and if you decide to proceed, make the right preparations and understand what the day will hold. Many, many people take their dogs up the mountains without any problems at all! Preparations will include taking water (there are streams, but best to carry extra as well), having a comfortable lead and carrying a first aid kit and bandages. Make sure your dog wears a tag with your mobile phone number on it in case it goes astray.
If you take your dog with you, remember to pick up any mess and take it home with you. Other people do not want to have to pick their way through dog faeces as they climb the mountain and pathogens in their faeces can also adversely affect the native wildlife and fauna.
Would I take my dog up to the mountain summit? Not up Scafell Pike as she would not be able to cope with the boulder field. Ben Nevis I think is too long for her – but I would consider the Llanberis Path up Snowdon. Whilst this is the longest walk it is not the most arduous. The Rangers Path is another option. I definitely would avoid the Watkins Path as the scree is steep at the top. Dogs, however, are not allowed in the café at the top of Snowdon, nor allowed on the train. So if you walk up, you have to walk down again!