Oregon Coast dogs are the most spoiled in America. And why wouldn’t they be? Look at the variety of places they get to choose from on any given day, rain or shine.
Dogs can be found at beaches, parks and riding in every kind of car. Judging by the wagging tails and lolling tongues, you don’t need Ceaser Millan to tell you the Oregon Coast makes dogs happy.
For my enthusiastic black Labrador, Lilo, a hiking trail is the best place to spend any Oregon Coast day.
Tuesday marks the start of my “weekend,” and for Lilo, Tuesdays have become a sacred day. Tuesdays are trail days.
After introducing her to my love affair with the trails at Oswald West State Park, seeing her anticipate Tuesdays is a joy to behold.
Trail day is an all-day event, and Lilo and I prepare accordingly.
Leashes and collars
A sturdy leash and collar is a must year-round — maybe not so much during very early mornings on the beach or down a back road, but definitely at state parks like Oswald West.
The Oregon State Parks website displays the rules regarding pets and leashes: “Pets must be on a leash not more than six feet long, and kept under physical control at all times.”
I’ll admit I have had Lilo off-leash while hiking at state parks and have been kindly but firmly reminded by park rangers to keep her on leash.
I enjoy letting Lilo roam free, but I understand the reasoning. Dog owners, myself included, fervently believe that their dog is the best, most well-behaved dog in the solar system.
That is not always the case, and dogs can get excited or agitated around other dogs and people. Also, believe or not, not every hiker likes dogs or appreciates being sniffed indelicately. Leashes provide a gesture of courtesy and goodwill to other hikers. At the very least, dogs should always be under voice command.
Size can be intimidating, and Lilo is a big dog, tipping the scales at just over 100 pounds. Despite her bright pink collar, she has been mistaken for a small black bear from a distance.
It also provides a measure of safety for dogs who tend to follow their noses up to steep drop-offs, feel the need to chase a rogue squirrel, or want to eat something that couldn’t be identified by a state-of-the-art crime lab.
Remember some sort of identification for your dog like a tag attached to the collar. Lilo’s includes my name, address, and phone number and is reflective.
I’ve come across too many frantic dog owners on a trail whose dog bolted and wasn’t wearing any ID. A state park you are visiting for the first time on vacation is an intimidating place to search for your dog.
I’ve read you need to carry a quart of water for your dog for every 3 miles you plan to hike. I paid more attention to that detail after several hikes with my previous dog, Kirby, who preferred to lap run-off water or out of creeks.
Nothing teaches you to appreciate clean, drinkable water more than cleaning up after a dog who’s become sick drinking from a trail side stream.
Now, I bring plenty of clean water. State parks usually have facilities where you can fill up on water. Oswald West, for example, has water in the main parking lot. If you hike to a more remote location like Cape Falcon — Lilo’s favorite — there are no facilities.
A container for your dog to drink from is essential. I bought a bottle that has a fold out “trough” for water, but it was likely made for gerbils, not dogs. Lilo laps at it so enthusiastically, she resembles a lawn sprinkler. Nothing gets in her mouth, just mainly her face and my boots.
I also tried getting her to drink from a Frisbee, but she was confused by my attempts to make it something other than a toy.
I settled on a collapsible dish that I got as part of a dog “welcome package” when we stayed at a coastal hotel (did I mention Oregon dogs are spoiled?) It’s ultra light and folds flat in a backpack.
There’s no way to put this gently: You need to pick up after your dog does his or her business. I am a late convert to this campaign, but am now fully on board.
As with using a leash, cleaning up after your dog is a courtesy to other trail users. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a good day on a trail marred by climbing into my truck and finding something other than mud stuck to my soles.
State parks often provide sturdy bags for hikers to use to pick up after their dogs. The task definitely takes some getting used to, but if I can leap that hurdle, anyone can. Trust me, park rangers will love you for it.
Take a couple of extra bags and stuff them in your pack for trail emergencies. If nothing else, you’ll have them ready to go for your next hike.
One more thing: Picking it up is only half the battle. Bagging the waste and leaving it by the side of the trail is not “mission complete.” As with anything when it comes to the rules of the trail, if you pack it in, pack it out.
Since my Boy Scout days, my pack has included a tiny first aid kit with things like gauze, scissors, tweezers and tape. It now doubles for dog-duty.
The most serious dog injury I’ve ever faced on a trail was scraped foot pads or noses, but I err on the side of caution.
Something to snack on for Lilo is always in the bag, maybe a scoop of dog food or a couple of biscuits. This is partially because we often are out until after her dinner time, but mostly because she likes a reward for getting where we’re going. And who doesn’t?
Don’t forget a camera just in case some spontaneous doggie cuteness ensues.
Sharing the trail
Many people just want a quiet, leisurely hike where they can take pictures, watch birds, or soak in the sun. Some of them just don’t like dogs.
For me, Lilo is a part of my leisurely hike. I couldn’t imagine taking a trail without her. But I try to be sensitive enough not to impose her on everyone I meet.
When I see people coming along the trail, I can usually tell by their body language if they enjoy dogs. If they break out in smiles and continue briskly towards us, Lilo’s ears are probably in for a good scratching. Many a pleasant trail conversation has ensued thanks to Lilo.
If hikers slow or stop, they usually want no part of a dog.
Regardless, I stop and pull to the side of the trail, making Lilo sit. The other hikers can then come to me or pass on by. I like to think the gesture comes off as polite and non-threatening and lets people not used to dogs see them in a new light. It also allows Lilo a chance to loudly snuffle ferns and moss.
The healing hike
I adopted Lilo when she was 5, and hiking saved her life.
She had been loved but was dangerously overweight. Her early years were spent indoors with an elderly, mostly sedentary couple. She had never run on a beach or up and down a switch back.
She needed an exercise regimen, and her prescription was a life at the coast, with nearby miles of forested trails for her to explore and sniff with devout abandon.
Hiking has kept Lilo fit and trim and fixed her face with a permanent doggie grin and for that, we both owe our trails a debt of gratitude.
Tuesday can’t come fast enough.