I enjoy the ongoing debate over leashed v. nonleashed dogs on Adirondack trails, not because I have a strong opinion one way or another, but because I am in the process of teaching a young pup to learn to love the mountain trails as much as I do.
Her name, reflective of the Peaks, is Addie, and her breed is a Bouvier de Flandres. This in itself is slightly problematic, in that when you are trying to pass yourself off as a rugged outdoorsman walking in the footsteps of Old Mountain Phelps, you lose a little face when someone asks the breed of your companion and you are forced to respond that it’s a “BOO-vee-yea d’ FLAWND-rah.”
So to save both of us a little face, I now tell everyone she’s a Belgian War Dog.
The Belgian part is true enough, but although the breed was instrumental in World War I, she was really bred to herd cattle. We did not pick her specifically for her hiking attributes, but as it’s turned out she’s very much at home with steep slopes, rock ledges and, her favorite, black Adirondack mud.
By the grace of God, she is the color of Adirondack mud, so you don’t notice so much until you put her into the shower, at which point it looks as if you are wringing out coal tipple.
Also by the grace of God, Addie is not so much of a hunting/chasing breed. I’ve seen people on the trails with coonhounds and beagles and honestly, I don’t know how they do it. I had an Australian shepherd once that, if she saw a fox, would yank the leash (and a few ounces of flesh) from your hand and be out of the county in three jumps exactly.
Addie is more into analytics. She has a weakness for deer, it is true, but she’s good at calculating the speed of her quarry, and figures there’s no sense killing a whole afternoon on a race she won’t win.
So in January we took her for her first Adirondack hike, on a nice little trail to the Cobble near Whiteface recently featured in the Adirondack Explorer. It was perfect for a roly-poly little puppy with limited endurance and no clear idea of whether it was acceptable to poo on snow.
My wife Beth, brother Bruce and I were the only ones on the trail, so until we got close to the bluffs, we allowed her to run at her own pace. While she did not run off, as would a hound, her herding instincts led to other issues.
The investigative type, Beth likes to take her time, inspecting various flora, animal tracks, scat and what have you and at times she would drop perhaps 25 yards behind the advance team. This clearly didn’t suit the young Addie, who would sprint back to snarl at her mother—a husky woowoowoo that sounded intimidating, but emanating from such a small creature was difficult to take seriously.
No matter, the point was made, and for the past six months Addie has been training the rest of us how to hike the trails of the Adirondacks. For those who like to lecture how we must walk through the mud instead of around it—don’t bother, she’s got that down. She makes a Tough Mudder competition look like a high tea. She’s been patient teaching us how to scamper up ledges, and although we’re still much slower than her, she’s optimistic that we can eventually catch on.
She still doesn’t like to see the group get spread too far apart, and still heads to the rear to round up stragglers. And as for the leash debate, her opinion is that, while it’s somewhat regrettable, all people need to be on one.
Photo: View from the Cobble courtesy DEC.