Crag Dog Tips and Etiquette

Crag dog tips and etiquette for your adventure buddy

By Jasmin Pillay

She gazes up at me nervously as I clip my rope into the quickdraw dangling. It’s hard not to worry about how she’s feeling when I am literally the centre of her universe. As take the next moves, I hear a shrill yelp and glance down again. ‘It’s okay Rosey Posey, just wait like a good girl.’

For any animal lover the idea of having your furry friend join you on any of your outdoor missions is a dream come true, be it hiking, trail running, mountain biking, bouldering or sport climbing, it’s such a fun way to spend time with them. After reading the book Django, the memoirs of a game ranger and his faithful companion Django, who travelled most of southern Africa together, I was even more inspired. However, dogs at the crag has been a topic of much controversy amongst the outdoor community. I feel a lot of the discussion points boil down to dog owners being aware and prepared for certain things before bringing their dogs along to join in the fun. Here are a few things I have learnt while introducing my dog into the climbing, hiking and camping scene.

Rose waiting for her humans to finish climbing.

Rose waiting for her humans to finish climbing.

At the top of the priority list before taking your dog out is knowing where you are allowed to have them. A lot of places where we do our outdoor activities do not permit dogs if they are conservation sites, it is extremely important that you respect these restrictions as outdoorsy and nature lover go hand in hand with protecting what little untouched nature we have left. Luckily, there are also a great deal of places that do allow you to take your dogs and we would like to keep it that way, so please familiarize yourself with all the rules and regulations so that we will continue to have this privilege in future.

Dog-Friendly Adventure Spots

Cape Town

  • Table Mountain National Park : Allow dogs in certain places with a permit
  • ● The Mine
  • ● The Hole
  • ● Silvermine
  • ● Lion’s head
  • ● Brightlights
  • ● Echo Valley
  • ● Kalkbay crags



Dog Friendly places in Gauteng

  • Strubens
  • Bronkies
  • Grootkloof
  • Wilgepoort
  • Tranquilitas Adventure Farm – Waterval Boven

Dash, Tag and Pei Pei with their humans at Tranquilitas Adventure Farm.

Being prepared for your dog the same way you prepare for yourself is incredibly important when packing for your trip. If you need water, so does your furry bestie and for that we have you covered with the Nalgene water bottle range, one bottle for you and one for your dog. Rose loves drinking running water straight out the water bottle, so I like to bring with a collapsible bowl to catch water that she misses and to put out when we’re taking a break. I also bring a container of pellets and some treats for the day (it is ridiculous how many times Rose has been yelping and nibbling at us to tell us that she is hungry). Having a stylish buff has never hurt anyone and I think your dog may appreciate some extra warmth on a cold night too.

Crag dog etiquette:

  1. Your dog should be well socialized with people and other dogs. Wary of strangers is ok but no one wants to be attacked by an uncontrolled dog. Do not, and I repeat do not allow your pet to steal someone else’s lunch out of their backpack!!! If your dog has a tendency to grab unattended food, make sure you have someone watching them at all times or alternatively take them to a less busy crag with friends your dog is familiar with. Most climbers are laid back, however, if your dog’s presence affects the quality of their climbing or hiking experience you may have some warranted trouble.
  2. Clean up after your pet! There’s nothing worse than hiking up a trail and finding dog remnant, which an unwitting trail runner has trampled all over, it’s super unpleasant.
  3. Train your dog to look after your gear as well as you do! As silly as this statement sounds you don’t want your dog chewing up your quick draws … even if part of them is called a ‘dog bone’. I bring toys with for Rose or give her a stick to chew on. We also don’t let her walk on our ropes or boulder pads, A) Because dogs are usually muddy, so keeping them off your stuff is a better way to preserve it. B) It’s a safety hazard! You don’t want your dog being fallen on if they’re on a boulder pad or becoming entangled in your rope. C) If you train them not to do this to your gear, they won’t do it to others climber’s gear.
  4. Train your dog to respect your boundaries on the hiking trail, if you tell them to slow down, they should, and they shouldn’t try to overtake you in a risky manner.

Rose supervising her humans.

Tips for training your dog to be a crag dog:

  • Only take your dog out on age appropriate expeditions. The vet will have a good idea of what younger dogs will be able to handle and advise you accordingly.
  • Socialize your canine by taking them to parks with other dogs and people and walk them a lot when they are younger.
  • Established the basic commands with your dog before even thinking of taking them hiking or to a crag.
  • Introduce your dog to a crag with fewer people that they are familiar with for small amounts of time at first. I would suggest a minimum group of 3 or 4 people when you are sport climbing, just so that someone’s hands are free in an event that your dog is unruly when your feet leave the ground.
  • Understand that it may take time for your dog to adjust to new activities and the first few times you take them to a crag your focus will need to be shifted to looking after them, making sure they are comfortable and that they behave. Your climbing experience comes second until you have trained them well enough to be left unattended.
  • If you arrive at a crag with other climbers who you don’t know, put your dog on their lead. Then check with everyone there if they okay with dogs. If they are, you’re good to go, if they are not, respect their wishes and keep your canine away from them.
  • Ask other climbers not to feed your dog and to follow the same rules as you do with your dog (most climbers are accommodating if you explain you are trying to train them).
  • Don’t let them walk on your ropes.
  • Don’t let them lie on boulder pads, you don’t want them to be squished by a falling human.

Dash being trained on how to be a Good Boy by Leo the adventure dog.

After taking Rose to various local sport climbing and bouldering areas our last aim was to take her camping, more specifically, camping in Rocklands. I was incredibly skeptical about this idea after having visions of down feathers falling around Rose like snow as she proudly sits on what’s left of my sleeping bag or of our Vaude Tent being chewed to bits while we sleep because she wants to go outside. Luckily, we had no experiences like this with our sleeping arrangements as Rose has actually passed her chewing phase (watch out for the younger pups), though we still mourn the loss of a La Sportiva approach shoe which had a less fortunate fate. Roses initial reaction to being in the tent was to rub herself up against the side in a weird manner. I think she was trying to understand that she was contained by something other than walls or a car. Lying down in our sleeping bags prompted her to jump in between us and do the same. We had communicated to her that it was bedtime but we needed to scoot her to the side onto an old sleeping bag we brought for her so we could be comfortable too. After some shuffling, she got the idea and thankfully was tired enough to pass out. Nothing quite compares to having a fur ball warming up your feet in subzero temperatures.

After a night session of bouldering at Minky I call out into the darkness ‘Rose!’, ‘Rooooooooooose’. We see the faint flashing of an LED collar (Yes, you get light up dog collars) in the distance and then it disappears. We hear a rustling in the bushes and out she pops from behind a boulder. We start to walk back to the campsite. After dinner she looks up at us with drooping ears as if to say,’ Is it bedtime yet?’ Convincingly tired ourselves we collapse into our tent and Rose curls up in a tight ball in the corner, eyes firmly shut. As far as the crag dog training goes, I think we’re doing well so far…

Rose modeling her Mammut crag cap.

Advice From Fellow Dog Lovers:

I have a young adventure pup, Dash. We are slowly introducing him to crag life. We have a small canvas mat we take along with us that he can lie on while we are climbing and belaying. The idea is that this is his space to chill and get comfy away from the rope and climbing gear. After 2 trips to Tranquilitas and a few local crags, when we pull his mat out and put it in a cosy spot for him, he immediately does his three circles and settles in on it with a chew or stick to keep him occupied. – Cally Bishop

Taking my Pei with me on adventures is just a whole other level of happiness! Be sure to take plenty snacks for your dog as they are burning as much (if not more) energy than you as they run back and forward between you and the exciting new things to sniff and investigate. Poop bags are NB! – Kirsten Noome

It’s a sacrifice for a great cause. I used a lot of positive reinforcement of the dog crushing skills and I encouraged the community to also be stern with the rules and be clear on how they can be a part of the training process. At the end of the day I think of it as it takes a village to raise your fur baby if you want your fur baby to be included in the village. – Jodie Fenton