• Danielle St. Louis

Rocky Arbor State Park

Updated: Jun 3

Lucky and Thea at Rocky Arbor State Park

PREFACE

I always imagined having a dog would be so much fun. Before getting Lucky, I thought I’d be that dog owner that took my dog everywhere with me. We’d be inseparable―best friends; a family. But then I got Lucky, and I soon discovered he wasn’t the kind of dog I could take everywhere. Even walks around the neighborhood were stressful. I’d have to take specific routes to avoid the house with the chain link fence patrolled by another reactive Border Collie and the other house with the six-foot privacy fence that barely contained the massive Great Dane behind it. And those were the knowns. Stray dogs, other people walking down the sidewalk, squirrels . . . I never knew what we’d run into and how Lucky would react.

Having a reactive dog made me feel isolated. I wanted to meet my neighbors when we were out for walks, but they couldn’t get close to me without Lucky barking and lunging. I wanted to take Lucky along on Fourth of July walks down to the car show and to accompany my nephews in the kiddy parade, but I didn’t know what we might run into, how he’d react and if I’d be able to control him. But even though he clearly had issues, I was wrong to think he wasn’t the kind of dog I could take everywhere. He just wasn’t ready. And neither was I.

We’d done a basic obedience course, and I’d watched every episode of the Dog Whisperer. I knew Lucky and I both needed something else if we were going to make significant improvements, and I knew the odds of Caesar Milan coming to the rescue were slim. So, I looked into some local dog training companies and discovered Local Dog Training and Adventure.* Local Dog offers a series of courses called Focused and Confident, and when I read the course description I thought, “this is exactly what we need!” The course trains owners on how to modify behaviors like reactivity and develops dogs’ confidence and trust in their owner. The Focused and Confident courses have helped me keep Lucky focused and given me confidence to tackle all sorts of situations―like taking Lucky to all of Wisconsin’s state parks. I no longer let Lucky’s reactivity make me feel isolated, and in fact, we’ve gained an amazing community through our training. Lucky and I have found our tribe of other reactive dogs and dedicated dog owners, and we both have Local Dog to thank.

OK NOW ROCKY ARBOR

Lucky and I were so thrilled to be joined by Jess and Thea on our trip to Natural Bridge and Rocky Arbor state parks. Jess is the fearless leader of Local Dog, and Thea is one of her three rescue pups. Lucky and Thea have met on a couple of previous occasions, and after the initial greeting, the two were pretty indifferent to each other, which is great!

We started our adventure at Natural Bridge State Park and then headed up to Rocky Arbor. These parks are perfect for doing the same day because they are both small with only a few miles of hiking, and they’re only a little over a half an hour from each other. We’d all been to Natural Bridge before, but Rocky Arbor was a first, and I was curious to see what it had to offer. The only trail is called “Nature Trail,” and general state park pet policy says dogs are prohibited on marked nature trails. Not sure what to make of this, I emailed the DNR prior to our visit and got a prompt response. Turns out this trail is nature in name only, and dogs are allowed. WHOOHOO!

What a great little trail! It has all of my favorite things: rock outcroppings, ferns, pine trees, and more ferns! As the park’s name suggests, its main features are the sandstone gorge and the surrounding forest, both of which are charming and conveniently located just a few minutes off of 1-94. Jess, Thea, Lucky and I moseyed along the trail, exploring smells and fallen tree balance beams. We even got to practice calm and focused behaviors as we let other hikers pass us on the trail. This easy 1.22-mile loop was a nice compliment to the 1.5 miles we’d hiked at Natural Bridge, and our company for these adventures was a pair I’ll cherish forever. (Even if they end up moving to South Dakota ☹)

Want more information about hiking with your dog in Rocky Arbor State Park? Order your copy of A Dog Lover's Guide to Hiking Wisconsin’s State Parks now!

*NOT AN AD, but certainly an endorsement!

#naturalbridge #RockyArborStatePark

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