Graham Thompson, Technical Editor of Trail Magazine is also a fully-qualified expert in pet behaviour. This issue Graham considers taking dogs onto technical terrain.
Walking in the hills may follow simple paths but sometimes can involve tackling more technical terrain, and amongst the questions I’m often asked is a recurring one along the lines of, “Can I take my dog along Striding Edge on Helvellyn?”
Striding Edge is a narrow, rocky ridge on the route leading from Glenridding to the summit of Helvellyn. There is a Public Right of Way along the ridge, so you and your dog certainly have a right of access to the ridge and plenty of dogs do follow this route. However Striding Edge is exposed with big drops in places, so it is not a route to be followed without careful consideration of your own abilities or those of your dog.
The first consideration is your own ability to tackle the route, as the dog may be entirely reliant on your judgement and abilities to manage its progress along the ridge. Dogs can easily sense their owner’s stress and so if you are frightened on Striding Edge, then your dog will probably be more anxious too and this could cause you both to have difficulties. So I’d firstly recommend you tackle the route yourself before taking your dog along, unless you have done lots of similar routes of course and are well aware of your skill levels and are confident on grade one scrambles and other rocky ridges.
Your dog’s physical and psychological ability also has to be careful considered. It is generally not recommended that dogs tackle long mountain days until they are at least one year old because they may not have the physical development to prevent injuries to themselves on such challenging terrain. But even older dogs may struggle on Striding Edge if they are not fit, agile and used to scrambling over rocky ground all day and it is common for less well prepared dogs to develop sore foot pads and extreme fatigue which may mean the dog just wants to stop and lie down halfway along the route. Other dogs may be just too frightened by the exposure, or the mental demands of trying to find a route over the boulders. So I’d recommend you build the dog up to the challenge by first taking him/her on smaller rocky ridges and then gradually working up to Striding Edge.
The size and weight of the dog is particularly important to consider here. A small dog can easily be carried by its owner, but it would take a team of people to carry a 40kg dog such as a healthy male Rhodesian Ridgeback off the mountain!
To keep your dog safe, a Ruffwear Webmaster Harness is an ideal piece of kit as it allows you to assist the dog over terrain without pulling on the dog’s neck collar, which could be painful and stressful for the dog.
So only you can decide if you and your dog are ready for Striding Edge, but for those that are well prepared it is certainly a great day out.
Graham Thompson is the Technical Editor of Trail Magazine and the Vice Chair of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. For more information visit Graham’s website thompsonoutdoor.co.uk