Are They Even Allowed?
Dogs can be excellent companions for outdoor adventure, but there a number of things you ought to consider before deciding to bring your dog with you on your climbing trip. First and foremost, you need to find out if dogs are allowed in the area where you’ll be climbing. National Parks only allow dogs on paved paths and roads, so if you’re planning to climb in Yosemite, Joshua Tree, or any other national park you’ll probably want to leave your dog at home. Access issues also threaten many popular climbing areas, some of which are on private land that landowners generously allow us to use, and breaking the rules of a climbing area is one way that climbers could lose access to that area, so make sure you never bring your dog to a climbing area where dogs are not allowed. If you’re going on a multi-day climbing trip and planning to stay at a campground, make sure you also check the campground rules and ensure that your dog is allowed there too.
Okay, Dogs Are Allowed, Now What?
If you’re climbing in an area where dogs are welcome, then you’ll still want to take into account a number of considerations before deciding to bring your faithful pup along.
Is Your Dog Friendly?
You should only bring your dog to the crag if it gets along well with other people and other dogs. Since you’re going to be climbing and you won’t be able to watch your dog constantly, you should only bring your dog if you know that he or she will not growl at other hikers or climbers or get in fights with other dogs. Remember, even if you’re not there to comfort the dog or introduce it to other dogs or people, your dog will likely look for his/her own adventures and you want those adventures to be non-offensive to other climbers, equipment and other animals. It’s also important to remember that even if you keep your dog on a leash at all times, you can’t be sure that other climbers and hikers will do the same. If your dog doesn’t like it when unleashed dogs approach him while he’s on a leash, or if he’s prone to get aggressive with other dogs, then you should probably leave him at home. Common sense right?
Is your dog well-behaved?
In addition to being friendly, you’ll also want to know that your dog is well-behaved before bringing him to the crag. This means that your dog will not disturb other climbers by barking or whining all day, he won’t dig through people’s backpacks or steal their lunches, and he won’t terrorize the wildlife. If you’re not sure how your dog will handle the climbing scene, you should do a test run by taking him to an obscure crag with your friends. This way you can gauge your dog’s reaction to your climbing. Sometimes even the best-trained dogs will panic when they see their owner high up on the wall, and their behavior can be disruptive to other climbers. You might have to spend a few days climbing in an area without other climbers to get your dog used to this new activity, but if he continues to whine and bark whenever you leave the ground then you probably shouldn’t bring him with you to more popular crags.
Can you get your dog to the crag safely?
If the climbing area you’re going to is just a quick walk from the parking area then you won’t have to worry about this one, but if you’re going to a more remote climbing area, you’ll want to really think about whether or not your dog will be able to get there. If there is any boulder scrambling you may have to carry your dog, which may or may not be safe for you or your dog depending on your respective sizes and the amount of exposure on the approach. You’ll also want to find out if there’s any vegetation you need to worry about, like poison oak or poison ivy that your dog could roll around in and then spread to all of your friends, or lots of cacti that your dog would have to avoid. If you’ve never been to the climbing area before it might be wise to leave your dog behind the first time you go so that you can scout out the approach and see if it’s safe to bring him next time.
Do you have all the gear you need to keep your dog comfortable?
Bringing your dog to the crag will require you to carry a lot of extra stuff, from extra food and water to poop bags to extra layers for your pup if it’s going to be cold. So not only do you have to have all this stuff on hand, but you also have to carry it all with you to the crag. If you plan on taking your dog on a lot of adventures with you, then it might be a good idea to get a K9 dogpack or other dog-specific backpack for your dog so that he can carry his own food, water, toys, etc.
Will you be able to watch your dog at the crag?
If you’re going bouldering or going sport climbing with a group of friends, then it will probably be pretty easy to watch your dog while you climb. If, however, you’re planning to climb a lot of multipitch routes on your trip, or if you’re planning to hang on a fixed line snapping photos all day or something, then it’s probably not a good idea to bring your dog. I’ve encountered a number of dogs tied up at the base of long, multipitch routes and it’s always a sad sight to see. If they’re not crying out for their owner they’re probably really bored and lonely, and they’d be better off staying home rather than being left tied up alone for hours. You should only bring your dog to the crag if you can check up on them somewhat frequently to make sure that your dog doesn’t become anyone else’s responsibility.
Okay, Fido’s Coming with me – How to Prepare!
If you’ve decided that your dog passes all of these criteria and he’s ready to come to the crag with you, here are a few more considerations to help you prepare for a climbing trip with your dog, as well as things to keep in mind once you’ve arrived at the climbing area:
Make a list of everything your dog needs so you won’t forget anything. I like to keep this in the pocket of my dog’s backpack because every time I don’t check it I seem to forget something.
- Water and water bowl
- poop bags
- extra layers or blanket
Find your dog the perfect spot to hang out for the day
- An ideal spot would have some shade.
- It should be far enough off the trail that people can walk by without having to get too close to the dog, since some people are afraid of dogs.
- Don’t leave your dog right underneath a climb, since people might drop things or knock down rocks.
Check in on your dog often
- Once you’ve found a good spot for your dog, don’t just leave him there all day while you climb! Check on him between climbs, refill his water if necessary, pick up his poop before someone steps in it, and take him for a little walkabout if he’s getting restless.
Clean up after your dog
- Dog poop can be harmful to wild animals if they eat it, so it’s really important to clean up after your dog.
Be considerate of other climbers and of the climbing area
- If your dog does have an incident and growl at someone or bark a lot or make another group uncomfortable, you might have to take responsibility for your dog and offer to move to a different area or even leave for the day if he’s really disturbing others.
- Even if your dog is the friendliest, most well-trained dog in the world and you’ve prepared as much as possible before bringing him to the crag, you might still encounter some people who don’t like him, or who give you a hard time for bringing your dog to the crag. Assuming your dog is on a leash and dogs are allowed at that climbing area, there’s really not much more you can do in a situation like this other than climb somewhere else. People who don’t like dogs probably aren’t that fun to climb with anyways, so hopefully, you won’t be missing out on too much if you have to leave.
Remember that everyone is going to want to pet your dog because he’s just so cute.
- If you’re bringing your dog to the crag, you’re pretty much accepting that ten times as many people as usual are going to stop and talk to you because they want to pet your dog. This can be a great way to make friends. It can also be somewhat frustrating if you’re feeling antisocial or trying to focus on climbing a hard route or just want to enjoy the solitude of a day in the outdoors. As long as you know going into it that people will probably want to pet your dog, then you’ll probably be okay. But it’s good not to forget that this comes with the territory, and hopefully you can embrace the fact that everybody loves your dog.
Thanks for taking the time to read about the best practices for taking your dog climbing. Have you had lots of experience with this? Do you disagree with our conclusions? Do you have something super important to add that we’ve missed? Please let us know in the comment section below and we’ll do our best to address your issue or question as soon as we can. Happy climbing!