Where to Unclip the Leash?

This post is a continuation from last week's discussion on off-leash dogs. Today, we explore factors to consider when you are looking for the right places to unclip the leash for an adventure with your dog.

Welcome back, Adventurers!

               Today’s post is a continuation of last week’s theme regarding off leash dogs.  If you missed that one, you can check it out here.  This week’s post, revolves around finding the right places to let your dog off leash and tools for researching locations to set you and your dog up for success.  Read on for help deciding where you should unclip the leash!

Situational Awareness

To ensure fun and safe off leash outings, you need to be considerate when choosing to let your dog off their leash.  It should not be an ‘anywhere, anytime goes’ activity; regardless of how well trained or friendly your dog is.  You should research and evaluate each potential location thoroughly, to ensure the setting is appropriate for (and permits) off leash dogs. What follows are some considerations regarding locations for letting your dog off leash, to take into account BEFORE you unclip the leash!

Local Rules

First things first, we need to determine whether the particular location you have in mind for an outing is dog-friendly and further, that it permits off leash dogs.  Now, clearly this will be a moot point if using privately owned property.  If you are considering public locales for your dog’s off leash adventures though, you need to be sure that you are welcome.  OutHounds always strive to be ambassadors and good role models for respecting our wild places and we hope you will, too.  That starts with following the posted rules for properties where you adventure.

Now, you can rely on the signage at trail heads to determine dog-friendliness, but we would advise researching in advance.  You want to be sure before you head all the way out somewhere to not end up disappointed.  Rules can change and may vary from season to season.  Typically, the stewards of the particular land in question have websites detailing the properties under their control.  These sites address their rules regarding dogs, both on and off leash, and which properties allow such uses.   Below are links to the property catalogues for a few of the land stewards for our most commonly visited hike locations:

Piping Plover

Rules can vary widely from location to location; some don’t permit dogs at all, some allow dogs only on leash, and others allow them off leash, but under verbal control.  It’s important to be respectful of each steward’s rules, as these are for important purposes, like protecting nesting birds, water for public consumption, or particularly vulnerable terrains.  These links are a great place to start, however, for scouting a location for a successful off leash adventure!

Note: Keep in mind, land stewards don’t restrict dogs to tick you off or because they hate dogs.  There are very tangible reasons to limit dog access on wild properties.  A couple of examples, include Horseneck Beach, which serves as a nesting location from late March through early June for piping plovers. These tiny shorebirds are a near threatened species.  Whole sections of the beach are cordoned off to provide the birds with the peace and quiet they need to nest and raise their chicks.  Dogs would very much be the turd in the pool of that event!  Another consideration would be on multi-use trails, where you may be sharing the space with people on horseback or even motorized vehicles.  In instances like these, it’s in everybody’s best interest for your dog to be safely on leash.

Hunting & Trapping

Next, we have to determine whether our location permits hunting.  Most MassWildlife Lands allow hunting; this includes the sites of many of Outhounds Adventure Club treks like:

  • Haskell Swamp in Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester
  • Southeast MA Bioreserve in Freetown and Fall River (which includes Copicut Woods)
  • Southeast Pine Barrens in Plymouth (part of Myles Standish State Forest). 

You can review details on their properties using the MassWildlife Lands Viewer.

Likewise, most state parks and forests permit hunting in season.  This includes our favorites like:

  • Freetown-Fall River State Forest
  • Massasoit State Park in Taunton
  • Myles Standish State Forest in Carver 

The state maintains an extensive list of state stewarded properties that allow hunting. 

Private, non-profit stewards tend to be a bit more restrictive in their allowances for hunting activities.  Some of the Buzzard’s Bay Coalition properties that permit hunting include New Boston Trail and The Bogs (The Bogs is my boys’ favorite!).  DNRT does not permit hunting AT ALL, so if the risk of encountering hunters doesn’t jive with you, their properties are a safe bet to avoid the activity altogether.  Again, knowledge is power – so do your research in advance!

As previously mentioned, hunting is a seasonal activity regulated by the state of Massachusetts.  They divide the state up into Wildlife Management Zones based on location. Most of the properties Outhounds Adventure Club frequents are in Zones 11 and 12.  Hunting and trapping seasons are divided up by species of interest:

  • Big game (like deer and bear)
  • Upland game birds
  • Rabbit/hare/squirrels
  • Furbearers (like fox and coyote) 

These activities are then further divided up by the method of hunting (archery vs. shotgun vs. primitive firearms vs. trapping). 

There are specific dates for when each zone and type of hunting is permitted in Massachusetts.  Yearly, the state puts out a hunting season summary, detailing all of the various categories and timeframes of allowance.  For various quarry, hunting can begin as early as July and run as late as May of the following year. The summer months of June, July, and August are typically when there are the LEAST hunting activities permitted.  Hunting is generally permitted from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset, and hunters tend to be most active at dawn and dusk. Massachusetts does NOT allow hunting at all on Sundays, so that is always a good bet if you are concerned about safety during hunting season.

There are some precautions you need to follow whenever you decide to take your dog hiking at a time and to a place where there is the potential for hunting.  The key is to be seen and stay safe. For that reason, we do NOT recommend letting your dog off leash when there is the potential to cross paths with hunters.  The only exception would be if you were hunting yourself and your dog is trained to hunt with you.

Labrador sporting blaze orange

All non-hunters should be wearing blaze orange in hunting areas and seasons. Yes, it is an obnoxious shade (that we have adventurously claimed as part of our logo!), but that makes it highly visible in a wooded landscape.   Hunters are legally required to wear at least 500 square inches of blaze material on their back, chest, and head during deer hunting season, so when in Rome…do as the Romans do. Dogs should likewise be outfitted with a blaze vest or bandana, to ensure their visibility to hunters. Personally, to simplify my gear, I purchased a blaze orange winter coat that I wear when hiking.  Likewise, I keep my dog’s blaze vests (available on Amazon) in my car at all times, so I have them at the ready.  

The similarities between a coyote above and a Tamaskan Dog below

Responsible hunters will ensure they ID prey before taking a shot.  Not everyone with a hunting license is responsible (like those nincompoops out there without a license at all).  It breaks my heart reading the stories of people who have lost a dog to a hunter who misidentified their dog as quarry.  This is a frequent occurrence with wolf-a-like breeds, like huskies and Tamaskan Dogs that have a more primitive, wild look to them.  In the vast majority of these cases, the dog was off leash and was not in blaze orange.  It’s not worth the risk of being caught unprepared, just wear blaze!

Other Environmental Considerations

Black Bear

Before letting your dog off the leash, it’s important to know if your location frequently plays host to other animals that pose a danger to you and/or your dog. We don’t have a lot of large predators in Massachusetts, but black bear, bobcats, and coyotes have the potential to be in the cards.  It can be reassuring to confirm whether there have been any sightings of predators in the area in question. Likewise, if an area is inundated with prey, like deer, that has the potential to attract predators.  One of the ways you’ll know if this phenomenon is occurring is if targeted hunts are being organized to control animal populations. Keeping tabs on the MassWildlife Facebook page, is a good way to keep a pulse on any sightings or changes in animal populations. 

Blue green Algae Bloom<br >What you might see if an algae bloom is present

If you will be adventuring anywhere with water access, another risk to account for is harmful algae blooms.  These blooms are the result of excess nutrients (like nitrogen and phosphorus) from runoff ending up in bodies of water and growing out of control.  They can occur in both salt water (red tide) and fresh water (blue-green algae/cyanobacteria).  The toxins produced by these blooms can make both people and dogs extremely sick and even result in death.  For this reason, it is important to not allow your dog to wade in, swim in, or drink water from sources that you have not investigated thoroughly first. 

Become familiar with how to identify algae blooms. The water hosting a bloom will often look scummy, discolored (a bright green-blue or red color is common), or with mats of what appears to be vegetation on the surface of the water.  There is also often a distinctive “off” smell that can be grassy or septic in nature.

The Massachusetts state catch phrase is “When in Doubt, STAY OUT!”.  Local boards of health will be the point person for posting public advisories, if a bloom is identified.  They are required to post signage at the body of water, and will also often post in other public places, like town and city websites.  Keep your ear to the local wire – people will often share posts on Facebook when such blooms are discovered, as well.   To help people recognize the risks and identify blooms, the state has put out the following educational safety poster, that is worth a look.

Density Conflicts

Our last consideration for deciding whether to unleash your beast is to evaluate how busy the adventure location is upon arrival.  This can generally be gauged by the number of cars or people in the parking area.  Hint: you can often tell the other dog owners by the hammocks in their backseats or their dog-loving bumper stickers.  A crowded trail can make for a stressful off leash outing.

Depending upon your dog’s temperament and your ability to properly supervise him when encountering other people and dogs will dictate whether letting your dog off leash is wise.  The busier it is, the more interactions your dog has the potential of having with others, if not managed properly.  Some dogs may find this stressful. It also may ruin your hike to have to frequently be managing Fido to ensure his and other people’s safety.  We aim to go off leash only in low density adventure situations, where interactions with other people and dogs will be limited in nature.

Final Thoughts

Our buddy Brodie hitting the trails on an OutHounds hike

So the key take away here is to do your research and BE PREPARED (the boy scouts got that one right)!  A positive off leash outing sometimes depends on factors that out of your control.  You, however, can set you and your pup up for success by evaluating each location, each time you visit an adventure locale.  As we discussed in our last post, there are many risks and benefits to being off leash – we hope this post has given you tools to decide whether the time and place are right.

Now that you know WHERE and WHEN to adventure, we’ll be exploring WHO is a good candidate for being off leash.  Next week, we’ll review how both you and your dog’s temperament, training, and other factors can play into whether an off leash event is safe and fun. 

See you on the trails!

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Where to Unclip the Leash?

This post is a continuation from last week’s discussion on off-leash dogs. Today, we explore factors to consider when you are looking for the right places to unclip the leash for an adventure with your dog.

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