Hill-walkies: Mountain Dogs and Their Owners

Dogs can be a great ​source of companionship on the hills, and bring all sorts of fun to a trip, from jumping in bogs to rolling through sheep poo. But how does walking with a dog affect what you might achieve in a day, and how can you keep them safe, happy and well behaved? Hillwalking dog owners share their thoughts here.


Fiona Russell and Wispa the whippet, just turned five

Fiona and Wispa the Wonder Whippet  © Fiona Russell
Fiona and Wispa the Wonder Whippet
© Fiona Russell

"I never actually wanted a dog and it was my daughter who persuaded me. Now I much prefer walking and running hills and mountains with her"

How often do you and Wispa get out together on the hills?

I run and walk with her as often as I can; a hill or trail run at least twice a week and bigger walks on hills, mountains or Munros every week or so. She was injured a year ago when a piece of glass severed a tendon in her leg and this has never repaired. She can't go as far as she once could and will never be able to do epic hill walks again because of the injury. But she is happy to do a two Munro day. She also gets too cold in the winter for long days so summer hills and mountains are best for her.

Do you have a rough idea how may hills she's climbed?

No. Dozens and dozens!

Is hillwalking with a dog significantly different to walking without, and what do you most enjoy about it?

I love walking and running with Wispa. She is such fun to watch because she loves racing about. She is very loyal and once she has tired a bit she trots behind me. If there are two of us she like to be in the middle, looking after both of us. She loves running about mad in long grass and rolling in yuk. She hates water so she never goes near lochs, rivers, deep mud etc. When she is not with me it feels quite lonely. I never actually wanted a dog and it was my daughter who persuaded me. Now I much prefer walking and running hills and mountains with her. It feels strange when she is not with me, quite lonely, and she brings a huge smile to my face when we go out together in the hills.

What does she seem to get out of it?

Companionship, fresh air, fitness, chasing small animals and birds, fun. She loves it and even when she is tired she'll keep going without complaining because she is loyal to me. Equally, however, whippets are very lazy and she will happily lie for days on the sofa doing no exercise!

Wispa in the Campsies  © Fiona Russell
Wispa in the Campsies
© Fiona Russell
Trying to steal lunch fom a friend!  © Fiona Russell
Trying to steal lunch fom a friend!
© Fiona Russell

"She can go for about five or six hours maximum and copes with most terrain"

When it's particularly wet or cold, are you still happy to go out with her, and how does she generally cope?

I leave Wispa at home if it will be a very cold or long day. I have a lovely jumper fleece that keeps her cosy in most situations but whippets are skinny and she doesn't enjoy being out in very cold conditions. She does love running and jumping about in the snow, however, so I take her out for walks of maximum two hours when it's wintry.

Are there limits to the sort of mileage and ascent you find you can do when you have a dog in tow, or if anything is it the other way round and you are arguably holding her back?

She can go for about five or six hours maximum and copes with most terrain. She never veers off ridges etc but sometimes she needs to be lifted up very tricky scrambles. She will cope with most walking but if it's too cold or the day will be more than eight or so miles I will leave her at home.

Are there any special welfare concerns when you take a dog to the hills?

I always check her for ticks. I always take a fleecy jumper. I take extra food and water. I keep an eye on her feet and prefer that the walking routes have softer ground than hard and rocky terrain. But she is a dog and she is pretty hardy despite being skinny.

Does going out with Wispa affect your route planning in any way? For instance are there types of terrain you find you need to avoid?

I avoid taking her on narrow ridges and majorly scrambly routes. Then again, I'd avoid these myself where possible as I don't like heights. I prefer softer terrain to hard rocks and stones because this stops her paws from being sore or cut.

How do you stop her bothering wildlife, livestock or other hill-goers?

I put her on a lead near sheep and cows. She can't be trusted and we've never been able to train this out of her. It feels cruel to have her on a lead on a big hiking day so I avoid routes that I know are overly sheepy. She is very friendly with other walkers and loves to say hello. She has to be kept on a lead at lunch stops to prevent her stealing other people's food. Whippets are super cheeky. She does chase rabbits, birds etc but she never catches anything and I don't/can't stop her from running after small furry things. I hope that doesn't make me a bad dog owner? The smaller animals usually hide pretty quickly and birds fly off so it's not a long chase.

What do you think makes for a good hill dog?

There are few dogs that do not enjoy the country and hills. Train them to love this type of walking early and you'll have a walking pal for many years to come. Make sure you pick a route to suit their fitness and size.

Can you offer any words of advice or encouragement for first time would-be dog-hill-walkers?

Love your dog by taking them into the hills. There's nothing to beat a country walk especially if your dog has only been on pavements and town parks so far.


Graham Uney and Jack Russell Bertie

Graham and Bertie on Nine Standards Rigg  © Olivia Abbott
Graham and Bertie on Nine Standards Rigg
© Olivia Abbott

"Dogs are a good ice-breaker, and people will often stop for a chat about him, which is nice. I also have people recognise me, via Bertie!"

Where has he been walking with you?

He comes out in the hills with me quite a bit and has been up a lot of the hills of Snowdonia, as well as some in Scotland, the Lakes, and the Pennines.

Does Bertie ever join you for days at work, either when you're out leading groups, or doing the felltop conditions report on Helvellyn?

He's out with me on some days when I'm instructing navigation and mountain skills courses, and running rock climbing sessions, but sometimes he just decides to stay at home in bed. He's also been out a few times on Helvellyn when I'm Fell Top Assessing, but not if the weather is particularly nasty.

What are the good things about hillwalking with a dog that you'd miss out on if you went alone?

He's great company, always up for a challenge and happy to go that bit further. Dogs are also a good ice-breaker, and people will often stop for a chat about the dog, which is nice. I also often have people recognise me, via the dog. They stop me and say, "you must be Graham. I recognise Bertie!"

Does Bertie appear to enjoy the hills as much as you do?

Definitely. Bertie does at least three times the mileage that I walk, and he always seems convinced that a mountain top is likely to be the best place to find squirrels. Obviously he's not found one on the hill yet, but you never know!

With a dog in tow (or is that towing you?), do you ever feel limited in terms of your choice of terrain or the weather that you are happy to be out in?

I tend to avoid scrambling terrain when he's with me, as he's not great on steep rocky ground. He also generally chooses not to go out in really wet weather.

If someone was unsure whether or not to take their dog out up hills, what would you say to encourage them?

Just do it! Your dog will have a great time, will become a fitter, healthier, happier dog as a consequence, and you'll meet lots of other hillwalkers too. You do need to be responsible for your dog though. Even your pooch may chase sheep and deer, and it will inevitably bother other walkers who are sitting quietly having their lunch - not everyone will be delighted at the sight of your hairy mutt drooling over their sandwiches. Keep your dog under very strict, close control, preferably on a lead. I always take extra dog snacks for Bertie, and make sure I have plenty of water for him too.


Bobby Motherwell and Dennis the three-legged cross breed collie

photo
Bobby with Dennis
© Bobby Motherwell

"Dennis just loves being outdoors. He will walk till he drops – so long as he can get a swim at some point!"

Do you have a rough idea how may hills he's climbed?

Dennis has three legs - apparently dogs are born with three legs and a spare! As a result he's only done about 10 Munros with me as he has difficulty on long days, so I have to pick a relatively short and easy walk for him. We walk every day though and he will happily cope with a decent ascent. I try to get out on a hill at least once a week.

How is hillwalking with a dog different to walking dog-free, and what do you most enjoy about it?

There are times when my mate Pete can't get out and I have to walk on my own, and wherever I can I will take Dennis. He is great company on the hills, never strays far from me and helps me to eat my sandwiches and energy bars. It also helps to have a companion when the slog of putting one foot in front of the other becomes monotonous. I just love his company at all times, whether we are on the hills or relaxing at home after a great day out.

Does Dennis seem to like hill days as much as you?

Dennis just loves being outdoors. He will walk till he drops – so long as he can get a swim at some point! He takes every opportunity to find even the smallest of ponds to dip in. I think it takes the pressure off his back leg. And he gets on well with other people and (most) other dogs.

How about in winter conditions, or very wet weather – are you still happy to take him out, and does he generally cope OK?

I've had him out in most conditions, and he copes well, sometimes better than I do. We did get caught up in some driving snow conditions on Meall nan Tarmachan a year ago and I decided to turn back as he had turned white from the snow. A quick shake and he managed to shift most of it and move on back down the hill.

Dennis not letting three legs stop him  © Bobby Motherwell
Dennis not letting three legs stop him
© Bobby Motherwell

"Hillwalking with a dog affects your route planning and you have to be prepared to take a detour should circumstances require"

Are there limits to the scale of routes you can sensibly attempt with a three-legged dog in tow?

I always have to take into account the size of the walk due to his disability. Five hours or more is pushing it for him, and obviously the nature of ascent has to be considered. There have been some times I've had to lift him up over some rocky outcrops as he can have difficulty pushing off his single back leg. I find guiebooks helpful in assessing ascent/time/distance details of each hill.

Are there any special welfare concerns when you take a dog to the hills?

I tend to risk assess in the same way I would for myself. I prefer to take him on hills which have a mixture of terrain and the softer the surface – without being too boggy – the better for him. I always take food and water in the car for him, feed him before we leave and take a snack for him on the hill in the same way I would for myself. He loves Stoats porridge bars, which is handy as I do too! I always check him when we get home in case he picks up ticks and I do try to carry a tick remover.

"That dog's amazing, has he been up to the top and back? He should be on the telly!"

[Being out with a dog] always affects your route planning and you have to be prepared to take a detour should circumstances require. I am always concerned if he is on a rough path for any great period of time, however it is generally easy enough to find easier walking for him just off the path if needed. I would never take him on a scree slope unless there was a stable path crossing it. Fortunately we have not met one yet, but it would be a dog stopper for me definitely.

How do you stop Dennis bothering wildlife, livestock or other hill-goers?

I carry a sling and carabiner on my rucksack which I can attach him to if I feel that it is required or signposts dictate that dogs are to be on a lead. When off the sling he walks very close to me and won't leave the path unless I do. He is very well behaved and I have had no trouble with wildlife or other people to date. His appearance on the hill has a very positive effect. When people see him, they want to know the story of how he lost his leg and are amazed at how well he copes. We met a family of three generations on Ben Chonzie a couple of weeks back and he was about 50 feet in front of me on the way down when he trotted past them. The old boy stopped in his tracks amazed as Dennis plodded past. He turned to me and said "That dog's amazing, has he been up to the top and back? He should be on the telly!"

What would you say to encourage would-be dog-hill-walkers?

Just get your dog out on the hill, he'll love it more than you will!

What makes a good hill dog?

I think Dennis has the perfect temperament for hillwalking, but certainly any obedient, fit dog, has a head start on any specific breed.


Chloe Rafferty and cockapoos Murphy and Holly

"They can walk and run as far as me, in fact they probably go much further as they run back and forth all the time"

Do you manage to get out up hills with them often?

Yes they always come out walking, running, swimming in lakes and tarns (I do a lot of that) and mountain biking.

What are the advantages of hillwalking with the dogs, compared to going without?

Holly and Murphy are great company and they do make me smile a lot. People often stop to ask about them so it's much more sociable than being out alone. They pull you up hills when you get tired! And you've always going someone to be in your photos.

Any downsides?

As we live in Snowdonia, sheep would be the main one. They can be a bit naughty with them. Sometimes they completely ignore sheep, others they want to go and play. I have to shout a lot they have to go on the lead of they can't behave. I have a lead I wear around my waist so it's hands free. I once had a rude telling off by a farmer, even though the dogs were right by my side and doing nothing wrong! Occasionally they eat sheep poo which gets in their beards. My car and house are a right mess.

"They are great company and make me smile a lot"

Do they seem to enjoy your hill trips as much as you do?

More! And when I'm swimming Holly in particular likes to come for a dip. Murphy only when bribed with a stick.

Are they still happy to be out even in rough weather?

Yes it doesn't seem to bother them. They have coats and harnesses if it's bad. Holly has a waterproof onesie which helps keep her clean as well!

When you are out with dogs are you more limited in terms of the distances you can cover, and the type of terrain you can safely tackle?

They can walk and run as far as me, in fact they probably go much further as they run back and forth all the time!

What dog-specific extras do you tend to carry with you on the hill?

Snacks for them, water and bowl, coats and sometimes harnesses. Also a tick remover.

If someone was unsure whether to take their dog out up hills, what would you say to encourage them?

Do it! It's great for you and for them. Try easy walks to start with and build up. Put them on a lead when you are near sheep and steep drops. Make sure they have good recall (use a treat bag to tempt them back!) and keep and eye on them all the time to save them getting lost.

  • Chloe Rafferty runs Fairy Glen holiday aprartments near conwy in Snowdonia fairyglen.co.uk

Fiona Berry and chocolate lab Rannoch, 13

Fiona and Rannoch in a wintry Lochaber  © Fiona Berry
Fiona and Rannoch in a wintry Lochaber
© Fiona Berry

"Bogs which would be avoided at all costs by humans are his very favourite!"

How often do you and Rannoch get out on the hills these days?​

Sadly he's now an arthritic thirteen year old who doesn't stray too far from the back door. Until the past couple of years however he was out in the hills most weekends tagging along wherever I was going, whether it be up Munros or lower level walks, along coastal paths, forest walks, bothy trips or whatever. He's been up 40-50 Munros, some more than once, a score of Lakeland peaks and a few Corbetts as well. As I have a hard enough time keeping track of how many I've been up myself the tally is less than scientific.

What's it like hillwalking with a dog, compared to walking without?​

It's very different - especially on more solitary ventures. Dogs are great company and can be very reassuring when the weather closes in or there is doubt about the best way to go. Although not exactly the best for giving advice the fact that you're not alone is always a psychological comfort. Walking without the dog is a very strange thing nowadays. I am always looking to see where he is and what he's up to, which is usually mischief. A dog is always a good conversation piece when out on the hill and new friendships and acquaintances can begin with a hello to the dug. Walking with a group of people and a variety of dogs is a special experience. The dogs seem to communicate what they see and hear as much as the humans and territorial issues are forgotten at least until the sandwiches come out.

What do you think he gets out of the experience?​

Apart from the good exercise Rannoch for one appears to enjoy his hill ventures. Whenever the rucksack is getting packed he adopts his vigil at the door and makes sure he's first out so as not to be left behind. As soon as the car door opens he's in. A clear indication it's a preferred activity. Running freely about the hills exploring and experiencing the fresh air has to be a natural joy for any animal and Rannoch is no exception. His favourite day out is following a river, preferably in it rather than beside it. A high lochan is always too much of a temptation, no matter how boggy.

"Whenever the rucksack is getting packed he adopts his vigil at the door and makes sure he's first out so as not to be left behind"

How does Rannoch feel about rain or snow?

Rannoch has never been one to decline a hill walk no matter the weather. Snow is just an added game and very wet doesn't seem to merit noticing. He has been known to struggle in very hot weather seeking out the slightest hint of shade and taking longer rests. The cold has never been a concern and even when his whiskers have been frozen he seems unperturbed. There was one time in Gorton Bothy when it was minus fifteen he refused to get out from under his down cover to look at the solar eclipse but that was an exception.

Are there any particular welfare issues that have concerned you on the hill?​

There is usually a solution to any risk. We humans are not prone to hanging about in extreme cold and wet and neither is a dog. As long as there's a warm place to finish and an old towel to dry off after the rain there's no problem. Ticks can be treated and protected against by Front-line or similar. Worthwhile checking a day or two after a trip out just in case. They don't cause any harm to the dog but if they fall off undetected they can multiply and hibernate and cause an infestation in your house/car. As for nutrition the dog will need to have his energy stocks replaced the same as you, so dog treats and extra water need to be carried. In hot weather natural water sources dry up and in cold weather they freeze over so carry plenty for the dog as well as yourself. Fortunately Rannoch has never sustained an injury on the hill. He'd be a bit of a lump to carry. He did start the walk up Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn) wearing one of those lamp shade collar things to protect his ear after an operation. It lasted to the first stile where Rannoch chose the under the fence alternative and the collar was shredded. Luckily we all saw the funny side.

Have you ever felt limited in terms of mileage, or tougher terrain?​

Distance has never been an issue. Rannoch has often appeared to have more energy than his human counterparts covering twice the distance running on and back and a bit further to catch a boggy lochan. He's also generally been good at finding himself an alternative route round a scrambly rock section. There have been occasions when a considerable detour has been required but that has usually been for a high fence or a tricky stile. I've found the Lake District to be far more dog friendly when it comes to dog accessible gates and fences than our native Scotland. On rocky ground Rannoch usually stays really close following every step which can be somewhat off putting. For a big dog however he is surprisingly nimble and brainless enough not to be phased. I have often been surprised when people ask 'How did you get him up that steep rock?' when I have not even considered it an issue. Having said that I would not venture out with him for a traverse of the Cuillin, the Anoach Eagach or the like. He did manage the slabby slopes of Blaven without a problem though. Bogs which would be avoided at all costs by humans are his very favourite.

Do you ever have problems with wildlife, livestock or other walkers?

Rannoch is a bit of a wuss so livestock and wildlife have always been disregarded as uninteresting or treated with respect if not fear. Rannoch is however partial to any human company and has had to be retrieved from joining other walking groups who are either travelling at a faster pace and/or carrying more appealing treats in their lunch boxes. Communal lunch spots often require tethering procedures to be adopted. It's not everyone wants to give up their apple core before they're half way finished. Friends and family have become wise to Rannoch's 'grubber' tendencies and accept responsibility for any purloined purvey. This resignation cannot be relied upon from strangers.

What would you say to anyone unsure about taking their dog up hills?​

Just do it! Your dog will love you. You will become even better than best friends and will make lots more on theay. If you love the hills then share them with your dog. It's only natural.


Tom Hutton and eight-year-old labrador Du (dee - Welsh for black)

Tom and Du  © Tom Hutton
Tom and Du
© Tom Hutton
What's she thinking about? Her next meal probably  © Tom Hutton
What's she thinking about? Her next meal probably
© Tom Hutton

"It kind of feels like you have company, but you don't have to talk to them"

How often do you and Du get out on the hills?

Daily, in a small way – we live in Snowdonia. Weekly in a more formal sense. I've lost count how many hills she's climbed.

How is hillwalking with a dog different to walking without, and what do you most enjoy about it?

Yes – it kind of feels like you have company, but you don't have to talk to them.

What does Du seem to get out of it?

Biscuits? New sniffs, new people to meet and say hello to – she's a lab.

How about in winter conditions, or very wet weather – are you still happy to take her out with you, and does she generally cope OK?

Totally – bought her a soft shell coat in case she really started to feel it, but it's not been used in anger yet. She copes well with winter conditions, though chooses her own lines on steeper ground, and isn't very savvy around crampons.

Are there limits to the sort of mileage and ascent you find you can do when you have a dog in tow, or if anything is it the other way round and you are arguably holding her back?

When she was younger, it was definitely the other way around. Now I have to think about it – especially if the day involves bike speeds and high mileage. That said, she was in better shape than me this summer after walking 30km from Corrour to Spean Bridge.

Are there any special welfare concerns when you take a dog to the hills?

Ticks are a huge issue – she doesn't react very well to most of the treatments either. Hot weather and lack of water are more an issue than cold or wet – we've baled a few walks over the years. Granite paths can be a bit too much for her feet and her food is heavy if you want to do a multi-day walk/backpack.

Does it affect your route planning in any way? For instance are there types of terrain you find you need to avoid?

Yes – steep scrambly ground can be a problem, so we take care to avoid it when she's with us.

How do you stop a dog bothering wildlife, livestock or other hill-goers?

A playful dog like a lab needs a lot of training to get her to understand that sheep just don't play. For years we used to keep a very close eye on her, keep her close if livestock was about and put a lot of work in on retraining her if she wasn't doing so well. Now she doesn't really notice them. Nothing has stopped her chasing squirrels though. Generally we get her close around other hill-goers and then depending on their reaction/demeanour, let her go and say hello. Worse thing is that she believes all food on the floor or on a rock or similar is fair game – try training that out of a lab.

Can you offer any words of advice or encouragement for first time would-be dog-hill-walkers?

Increase mileage, difficulty etc in small stages to let him/her get used to it. Make sure they can walk downhill on steep ground on the lead without pulling – just in case you need to do that. But more than anything, put the hours in when they are young to get them hill savvy and livestock friendly and then you shouldn't need to put them on the lead very much.

  • Snowdonia-based outdoor writer and mountain bike guide Tom Hutton runs MTB Guiding, putting on mountain bike holidays, weekend breaks and day rides all across the UK


Steve Franklin and Skip

photo
Skip in the Peak
© Steve Franklin

"I don't think I've seen a dog scramble and climb like him, he's pretty comfortable on grade 2/3 scrambles!"

So what is his age and breed, exactly?​

I've had Skip for just over a year. He was a rescue dog from Rain Rescue in Bawtry near Sheffield. I'm no closer to finding out what breed/s he is. We know he has Staffy in him and maybe some Lurcher but it remains a mystery. We are also none the wiser as to his age - he's around two-ish!

Where do you do most of your walking (or in your case running) with him, and how often do you get out on the hills?

The majority of our running together is done in the Peak District and predominantly on Blacka Moor as we live close by. We're really fortunate to live here and I'd guess head out on the moors most days. Skip probably averages around 25-35 miles a week. He was a little tubby when I first got him but is a lean machine now!

What's the difference between hill running with a dog, and without?

Personally I find it really different. I have to keep Skip on the lead a fair amount as he has a penchant for sheep and squirrels. We're still working on training him and he has got a lot better. The main difference is the running doesn't feel as natural, I use a waist belt and elasticated lead which certainly helps but I often find the lead gets in the way of my arms swinging or worse gets caught around my legs. I have eaten dirt on a few a occasions! The most important thing I've learnt here is to not take Skip on any runs where I want to go fast or have a specific training session in mind.

When they said take the dog for a run, this wasn't what I had in mind  © Steve Franklin
When they said take the dog for a run, this wasn't what I had in mind
© Steve Franklin

Are you happy to have him out in all weathers?

Skip's a pretty tough dog, he's got a good thick coat on him. I don't think I've ever seen him look cold but if we were heading off on a big day in the mountains such as Snowdonia or the Lakes I'd be sure to take a coat for him and some supplies. The main difficulty he has in winter is on snow after it's thawed and frozen again. The top layer becomes very sharp and I know he's not too fond of it.

Are there limits to the sort of mileage and ascent you find you can do when you have Skip along with you?

I have been careful with Skip after I learnt it's not great to run young dogs too much as they can suffer later in life. I treat Skip's running a bit like mine, if we do a big run (15-20 miles) then we'll take it easy the few days before and after. It's also important to gauge his energy levels; there are days when he'll just sleep and I often take that to mean I'm knackered, leave me be. The trouble is if I put on my running shoes no matter how tired he is he will always want to come along!

When we first starting running more I noticed his weight was decreasing so he now has two full meals a day whereas I think most dogs only have one.

What about terrain - do his abilities affect the places you can go on a trip?

Running with Skip definitely affects my route planning. I do my utmost to avoid areas with livestock and will only let him off the lead on runs where I have been very recently and know there's no risk of there being sheep or cows. I'm always a little hesitant of edges and him running off one in an effort to chase a bird, but he's not done this yet. He comes climbing with me a fair bit too and is gifted, I don't think I've seen a dog scramble and climb like him, he's pretty comfortable on grade 2/3 scrambles! We also try to avoid broken rocky ground, I've visions of him slipping and putting his leg though a small gap.

I do love running with Skip, he's good company and he recognises the days when I'm tired and will keep looking back to check I'm okay. It's much easier to take care of him on the hills you know. Knowing where walls, boundaries, stiles, roads and edges are helps me to keep him under control and look after him. He also learns the routes we do and will know where to go without me having to direct him. His look of bemusement when we don't take the correct turning on our regular morning run is priceless!

  • Steve Franklin is co-owner of Front Runner, a specialist running store located on Sharrow Vale Road in Sheffield. "If you're ever in the area and would like some advice on kit or local areas to run then please feel free to pop in!" he says.


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21 Nov, 2015
As the companion of a miniature schnauzer, I'm slightly biased, but can recommend reading "Following Atticus" by Tom Ryan if this has whetted your appetite.