Nothing expresses happiness more clearly than puppies running free in the mountains.
(Well, it’s a tie with bunnies frolicking in wildflowers and a baby seeing bubbles for the first time.)
In the city of Boulder, you can let your dogs enjoy the abundant nature around us. Nearly all (about 90 percent) of the city’s 150 miles of trails are open to dogs.
Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks are one of the rare open spare areas in the state where dogs are allowed to walk off-leash. (Beyond the city limits, all Boulder County spaces require dogs to be on-leash at all times; this is due to the amount of wildlife and mixed-use of many of these trails.)
This makes Boulder’s mountains a huge draw to dog-lovers.
But it’s not quite that simple. Just because a trail is dog-friendly doesn’t mean you can let Kermit the Dog jump out of the car and run wild amid the aspens.
Here’s what you need to know to have a safe, legal and fun time on the trails with your furry friends.
1. Know the rules of your trail. Some trails allow dogs to be off-leash. Some don’t. Check the dog regulations by area before you set out. Even in the same area, different trails may have different restrictions (like the Chautauqua area).
2. Your dog needs a certain tag to be off-leash. Think of it like a driver’s license for pets; to have permission to cruise around leash-free, your pup needs a special, purple “voice and sight tag” and needs to be under voice and sight control. This is not exactly an easy standard to meet. (Read more about it below.) All dogs older than four months old need a regular license, too.
3. Leash laws may change throughout the year. Just because you check the restrictions today doesn’t mean the rules won’t change. Some trails implement seasonal leash restrictions during peak hiking season, May 1-July 31 and Aug. 15 through Nov. 1.
4. No dogs can be off-leash at the trailhead. Even if you have the special leash-free tag and your dog is perfectly obedient, all dogs are required to be leashed when you get out of your car at all trailheads and the surrounding areas in Boulder. This is for the safety of you, your dog and other hikers. You can find certain markers along the trail to indicate when the dog can be taken off leash. You’ll learn about this during the class required to get a voice and sight tag.
5. No chasing allowed. Instinct be damned, your dog isn’t allowed to chase, play with or harass wildlife or livestock. This includes seemingly harmless critters, like prairie dogs. They may carry the plague. If you have a bird chaser, best to keep him on a leash and go to the dog park.
6. Pick up the poo. You must pick up after your dog. Beyond being just plain nasty, it’s unsanitary and dangerous. You can find dog waste composting spots at some trailheads.
7. Stay hydrated. This goes for both you and Tyson Barkford. Make sure your dog has plenty of breaks and plenty of agua.
8. Beware of ticks. Make sure you always check your dog and yourself for ticks in the springtime.
What does “voice and sight control” mean? It means your dog stays in your sight and responds to your vocal commands (the first time! Not after 8,000 commands) when he is off-leash.
How can dogs walk off-leash? Qualifying dogs can be granted an off-leash tag (which they must wear on their collar), and their owners can be registered with the Voice and Sight Dog Tag Program. Both you and the dog need to be on this good-boy list; if you haven’t been trained, even if you’re walking a tagged dog, that’s a no-go. You need to renew this tag every year.
How do dogs get this tag?
- You have to complete a Voice and Sight Education Class. This is a free, hour-long class open to the public. It covers legal requirements, tips for walking a dog off-leash and more.
- Then register for the special tag.
- Your dog needs to have an up-to-date rabies vaccination and license.
How expensive is registration? It’s pretty cheap: just $13 for Boulder residents. If you live outside of town, it’s more pricey, though: $75.
Why is the tag required? For your dog’s safety. Wildlife (coyotes, bears, mountain lions, snakes) can hurt or kill your dog and they’re more likely to attack if your dog is chasing them, even playfully.
Note: You can still get in trouble for walking a dog with a tag if it doesn’t remain in your sight and voice control at all times, so make sure your dog is appropriately trained. Violations aren’t cheap: $100 for the first violation and no less than $300 for the third, plus possible other court-ordered sanctions.
If my dog has the tag, can he run free anywhere he wants? Nope, only on specifically designated trails and never within city limits, except in dog parks.
Is there any way my dog can run freely without a tag? Yes, at public dog parks.