5 Tips for Crag Dogs

Written by Ruffwear Pack Member Riggins

I’m Riggins, a Ruffwear office dog, trail runner, skier, and crag dog based in Bend, Oregon. When I’m not hanging out at the Ruffwear office, playing in the snow, or chasing pine cones down the trail, you’re likely to find me at Smith Rock State Park. Both of my humans love to climb at Smith, and I love going with them and practicing my crag dog skills. I’ve learned some things over the seasons spent at Smith, and below, you’ll find five of my best tips for anyone aspiring to be a good crag dog.

1. Stay on the Trail

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I love to run through the forest with reckless abandon, leaping over brush and downed trees, hurling myself at chipmunks, and hunting for the best stick to bring back to my human. However, there are certain times when it’s important to stay on the trail and keep my human on leash. Going to the crag is one of those times.

Sometimes, we boulder down by the river and I can run free. Most of the time, however, we climb at Smith Rock or some other area with rules about keeping humans on leash. Those popular climbing areas are often busy with many other climbers, hikers, and dogs. With all these dogs and humans milling about, I prefer to remain attached to my human so we don’t get separated. That way, I can let her know if I need to stop to sniff something fascinating, take a bathroom break, or drink some water. Also, with so many people and dogs in one area, we make less of an impact to the other wildlife and their habitat when we stay on the trail.  This keeps our favorite parks and climbing areas beautiful for other visitors.

2. Pack Plenty of Water, Treats, and Entertainment

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When we’re going climbing, my human and her climbing partner carry big packs filled with hardware, rope, rubber shoes (that smell like toys, but are definitely not toys), water, snacks, and other gear. I want everyone to know that I’m a seasoned crag dog, so I like to carry my own pack for the day. I always bring my own water, with a bowl to drink from, treats so that I can be rewarded for my good behavior, a nice meaty bone so that I don’t get bored, and a comfy bed or mat (more on that below). I also pack myself a first aid kit – just in case – and if we’re climbing in cold temps, I bring a cozy jacket. Carrying my own gear makes me feel like an important part of the climbing team, and it gives me a job to do.

3. Make Yourself Comfortable

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All good crag dogs know that it’s important to be calm and patient at the climbing area. I know – it’s not always easy to sit quietly and wait while my humans are climbing. There are so many things to smell, people and dogs to greet, and attention to be had! But, here’s a pro tip: if you remain quiet and relaxed, you’ll get way more attention from your humans and other climbers than if you bark or cause disruptions.

To make good behavior easier, I recommend making your own space where you can relax and be comfortable. I usually bring my Highlands Bed, because it’s lightweight, comfy, and it stuffs easily into my Approach Pack. It’s also machine-washable, so it’s no big deal if it gets dirty. With my bed and a good bone to work on, I am less tempted to drop sticks at the feet of whoever’s belaying or bark greetings at other climbers. And that means I get more treats and scratches behind my ears. It’s a win-win!

4. Watch Out for the Rope

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The climbing rope looks like the perfect spot to curl up and relax. Those soft, supple coils on the ground beckon, like a nest just begging to hold a warm, furry body, and it’s always placed in a prime location, right at the feet of a human.

Don’t be tempted by the rope! As soon as you turn a few circles and curl up in its folds, content to stay in place and snooze for hours, a human will inevitably say, “Off the rope!” and you’ll have to get up and find a new spot to relax. Also, you wouldn’t think it, but that rope moves fast. One minute, you’re sitting on the rope, maybe without even realizing it, and the next it’s tugging out from under you, whipping through the air, or crashing down on your head. The best way to handle the rope is to give it a wide berth. And always, when you hear a human yell “ROPE!”, duck your head and steer clear of both the humans and the rock wall or you might find it landing on your head – and then it does not feel so soft and supple!

5. Be a Good Steward

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My humans and I love spending time together at the crag! To keep our favorite climbing areas pristine and beautiful, we do our best to be good stewards. Staying on the trail is part of our effort to lessen our impact. We also make sure to pack out everything we pack in, including apple cores and other snack crumbs (I love to help out with this!), climbing tape and other trash, and of course, poop.

Although my poop is biodegradable, it makes a big impact when all the other crag dogs and I poop along the trails of the climbing area. I don’t mind the smell, but I notice humans cringing when they step in it or get a whiff. I think poop is perfectly delectable, but I’ve heard that it can be unhealthy to other wildlife and their habitats, and even I can agree that it’s an eyesore when my favorite trail is littered with turds.

To help do our part, we carry the Stash Bag on our leash. The Stash Bag contains a roll of pick-up bags, so we’re always prepared when number two happens, or in my case, numbers two, three, and four. We always put the bagged poop in my pack, in a designated water bottle (“poop tube”) or directly in the trash if there’s a receptacle nearby. We never, ever leave the bagged poop on the side of the trail for later because we may not remember to pick it up on the way out and we don’t want everyone else on the trail to have to look at it and smell it as they pass by.

Well, those are my 5 Tips for Crag Dogs! If you have questions, comments, or additional tips to share, please leave a comment below. And if you’re a climber or a crag dog, maybe I’ll see you out there!

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