Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Barking up the wrong tree: Irish mountaineering club's dog advice.

It was a posting on the Irish Mountaineering Club’s Facebook page which prompted raised eyebrows and ruffled a few feathers amongst the wider mountaineering community. After posting a You-Tube video of a dog running free and chasing a sheep onto cliffs in Devon, the clip was accompanied by a stern recommendation from the club..’ if you are going into the mountains then leave your dog at home’.

Even for non dog owners the advice came across as a rather OTT knee-jerk reaction to an incident that didn’t even happen in Ireland. Of course dogs do worry sheep; a particular problem right now in the lambing season when terrified ewes can abort, and in the worst case scenario an out of control dog can kill or injure lambs, rams and ewes.

Thankfully, given the tens of thousands of dogs who go into the hills, these incidents are rare. 99% of dog owners in my experience are in the control of their dogs and will keep them on a lead amongst livestock and will have them trained to remain within the owner’s orbit.

My own interest in this is as a dog owner who wouldn’t dream of doing a mountain walk without taking Fergus, my six year old Springer Spaniel. For a start, as a breed Springers need the exercise and stimulation which is part and parcel of their high octane working pedigree. Of course, like most active dogs he enjoys being out and about in the great outdoors and he is in fact great company. Apart from the fact that he gets impatient if I stop for a rest and often barks until I get going again!

He’s not a dog I’d take to a crag though if I’m climbing. He’s too keen to follow and in general is just a pain. I’ve seen lots of dogs at the crag though. Relaxed and content to just chill next to the owners rucksack while the owner sports themselves above. The majority of climbers in my experience, like seeing dogs at the crag and will happily ruffle their ears and feed them bits of sandwich when they stop for lunch. There’s no denying though, that a small majority of mountain walkers and climbers hate dogs with a passion and will jump on any negative anti dog bandwagon they can. In this instance the Irish Mountaineering Clubs’ ill considered edict.

The author on the first ascent of 'Twa Dogs' VS-5a on Clogwyn Gigfran,N Wales.Named in tribute to a friends'two dogs who usually accompanied these new routing jaunts.
Dog threads on forums such as UKC will always generate heated debate and stimulate trolling from the haters. Let these bilious little people spill poison from their keyboards. Personally, as someone increasingly moulded in the Wainwright outdoor template, I’d rather see dogs in the mountains or at the crag than people! Certainly their impact on the mountain environment is hardly in the same league as the assembled hoards who descend on the national parks and uplands at the weekends.

As Pascal is quoted as saying...’the more I see of humanity, the more I love my dog’ .

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