Chamonix for dogs in Summer

It’s no exaggeration to say that Chamonix is a real paradise for dogs – they are welcome almost everywhere and it’s full of fantastic walks. But there are some things to consider when bringing your lucky dog to enjoy summer in this wonderful high mountain environment. (NB we sometimes accept dogs at the chalet – details here.)

Daphne, our Italian Spinone, loves her life in the mountains
Daphne, our Italian Spinone, loves her life in the mountains

These are only my personal observations and thoughts. Please do take time to look for other opinions! For a good overview of the pet passport and bringing your dog to France (including a list of which breeds have special regulations and may not be permitted, I recommend Sarah’s excellent “Pets in France” article here.

Much, as in so many cases, depends on your dog’s individual personality and training. The valley is not a risk-free environment for dogs (or humans!) so it makes sense to be aware of the issues. Accidents are rare but they do happen.

I’ve covered here:
Equipment – what I find useful
Walks – suggestions and where you can and can’t go.
Risks – potential issues to consider
Vets – local and 24 hr with contacts
Practicalities – other useful information.

Equipment

As well as the equipment I generally recommend for humans (see Summer Walking Safety ) there are some extras you may want to consider for dogs.

Harness
I generally use a harness for the high walks in order to have a ‘handle’ should we get into an awkward place. I think it’s also useful, when a dog is new to the valley and likely to be seeing so many new things, to have something that’s better fitted for restraint than only a collar.

We use the Ruffwear Front Range but are also considering the more secure Webmaster as she is now old enough to do bigger walks that have greater exposure. Lots of choice is available!

Harnesses
Jess, Daphne and Shizu model their harnesses together

 

Bell
A small bell, clipped to the harness, is useful in many ways. If the dog runs off, even just into the woods, it makes finding it much easier. Both adults and children who are frightened by dogs can be alarmed when one suddenly appears close behind on a narrow path. It’s a pretty sound and people are generally quite charmed. The bell gives plenty of warning, so they are less startled, and you can reassure them “Il (Elle) est gentil(le)” – pronounced like “Jonty”.

Finally I think it helps a little with giving a warning in case of the rare but possible danger of surprising a snake.

Ours is a small sheep bell from the local Sonnettes Devouassoud factory, nice for a visit!

Bell clipped to harness
Or you can get mini souvenir cowbells very readily in Chamonix – but they don’t have such a good tone.  If you want to get one before you go, gundog bells are available, and I know a few people that use falcon bells for this purpose too.

It’s clipped on with a mini carabiner, easily got at camping shops, also sold in Snell Sports downstairs. The carabiner is useful as it’s good to be able to unclip it easily at the end of the day. Or if your dog is mainly on the lead, you can keep in in a bag, ready to attach when they are let off.

After you’ve gone home they make practical key rings – shake your bag to check that the keys are in there!

 

GPS
I have a GPS (Podtracker) on her at all times. So if she were to go missing, I can track her position and direction easily. I find these things a huge reassurance and an excellent backup. There are a few holes in the mobile coverage in the valley, so it is not 100% perfect. But mostly it works very well.

Daphne models her Podtracker
Daphne models her Podtracker

 

Lead
I don’t generally use a lead when walking in the valley, as she is very accustomed to this environment, though I always carry one in case it’s needed. But for a dog that is new here and could be driven to distraction by scents of wild animals, and may not be used to the terrain, it could well be sensible to keep it on.

Molly is an experienced negotiator of high mountain paths
Molly, experienced negotiator of high mountain paths, demonstrates why some dogs may need a lead.

Ruffwear make a running lead with an elastic section which is good for making sure you aren’t pulled over by a sudden lunge. It is long enough to give them a good amount of freedom and strong, in case of a fall. I would beware of extendable leads for the high walks as they may not be strong enough to hold a falling dog, and can get tangled around people’s legs on narrow paths.

Oh Poop!
Please do bring poop bags and pick up along the trails. There are generally bins at all the parking spots. On a highly unsavoury note, if your dog is a poo eater, do keep a close eye, especially on the wooded valley floor trails as (alas!) many people are quite relaxed about using the woods if they are caught short.

puppy in the flowers
Let’s look at an adorable puppy in the flowers and not think about that too much

Water
There is water (streams and ponds) to be found on many of the walks, but I always carry water and a collapsible bowl. It’s good to have a separate water bottle for dogs as you can then refill it from any ponds etc if necessary.

The bottles that have an integral drinking “half bottle” attached are also good, especially as it’s easy to tip back unwanted water.  Check that your dog will drink happily from one of these before setting of on a long walk.

Cooling off and hydrating at Le Tour.
Cooling off and hydrating near Les Posettes at Le Tour.

 

Walks

I often get asked where a nice dog walk is! Essentially…nearly everywhere.. however there are various considerations to think about.

Walking from the Prarion lift in Les Houches
Walking from the Prarion lift in Les Houches

Which walks to choose?
Walks are truly endless in Chamonix, with so much depending on weather, fitness, time of year etc. It really is a huge subject, which makes it tricky to make general recommendations.  If you’re going to be here for more than a few days, I’d recommend a book such as the Cicerone guide, and possibly also a map.  The tourist footpath map is actually really good but the extra area and accuracy of the IGN one is well worth it if you plan to spend a week or more walking.

It’s also better for checking the exact boundaries of the nature reserve. For instance, Bellachat and Tre-le-Champ are very close to the boundary. It is always signed, but you need to plan your route to avoid backtracking.

Molly heads up towards Bellachat.
Molly heads up towards Bellachat.

Things change, so I would always recommend a visit to the Office de la Haute Montagne (OHM), in the Maison de Montagne opposite the tourist office for a chat about any specific high walks you plan to do anyway – and especially if you intend to take a dog.

The OHM can be very helpful (sometimes it depends who you get though! ) Pop into the Tourist Office first, they will give you good general advice. But it’s the OHM who can give detailed info on paths, especially at times when there may be snow.

Easy walks

Of course the valley floor walks are lovely easy places to start – walk up through the parapente fields towards Les Praz and further into the woods around Les Bois.

Early morning by the river in Les Praz
Early morning by the river in Les Praz

The Paradis des Praz, the Petit Balcons (Nord and Sud) are all lovely, low pressure walks with no exposure, ideal to start with, and you can use a car or public transport to pick them up at any point.

Springtime playtime in the valley
Springtime playtime in the valley with Daphne and Bonkers.

Les Houches has very safe and accessible high routes – its rolling, shallower terrain is ideal for dog walking. Take either of the lifts up, it’s all beautiful though I have an especial love for the meadows of La Charme.

Romping at La Charme
Romping at La Charme

You can also drive up to Charousse, another lovely and easy walk. As you go further up the valley, Le Lavancher and Le Planet are also driveable, easy and beautiful – Le Planet also has a train station.

Le Planet is beautiful in Autumn
Le Planet is beautiful in Autumn

The Chemin des Diligences between Vallorcine and Montroc is also an easy, undulating trail without exposure, and both have train stations. Much of Le Tour is open terrain. These are just a few suggestions – there are so many more!

Panarama at Le Tour
Panarama at Le Tour

You can also go to Italy for a day – I always enjoy this for the near constant exclamations of “Oh! Bella Spinone!” As long as you have the EU dog passport it’s fine, there are no extra requirements. You can take dogs into Val Ferret, accessed from Courmayeur, which is lovely. Courmayeur itself is lots of fun too.

Where you cannot walk – nature reserve

The lower south-facing side, including the magnificent Grand Balcon Sud, is fine, but much of the high terrain on the south-facing side of the valley is in the Nature Reserve of the Aiguilles Rouges. Dogs are absolutely forbidden, even on a lead, and the wardens will fine you if they catch you. This unfortunately includes some high Alpine classics like Lac Blanc and Lac Cornu, so if you want to do these, you’ll need to arrange someone to dog-sit for the day.

Local group Cham Dog Share is a good place to ask for recommendations. If you are just visiting Chamonix, do give a clear description of the dog and what you are offering in exchange – you’ll see many very informal dog-sitting requests on here but this is because a lot of the owners know each other.

Molly stops for a drink on the Grand Balcon Sud
Molly stops for a drink on the Grand Balcon Sud

 

Using the lifts.
You may want to have some treats in case your dog is spooked by the lifts and has to be lured in. Many dogs (mine included!) love them but some don’t, and it’s something that’s difficult to train for.

Fun on the lift
Fun times on the lift

Dogs can go on all the lifts apart from the open chairlifts which are:
– the Index (which would take you into the nature reserve anyway)
– the Autannes at the top of Le Tour (so you have to walk the last section to the col).
– The Bossons chairlift (it’s possible to park halfway up and walk the rest in about 20 minutes)
Also forbidden is the Aiguille du Midi – totally understandable for the top but a bit annoying that dogs can’t use the lower section.

So, if you want to walk the beautiful Grand Balcon Nord, you either have to do it as an out and back from the Montenvers station (possible as a circuit via Forbes Signal, a very nice option but with quite a lot of height gain) or walk down from Plan de l’Aiguille, which I don’t particularly recommend.

NB If you’re fit enough to walk up to Plan de l’Aiguille this would be a good and challenging day out. Do note that there are some exposed places on the Grand Balcon Nord where I would always use a lead. Also in the basin below the Midi midstation, there is a big marmot colony, so again, a lead is best here.

Risks –  Exposure

Peering over the edge
Peering over the edge..careful! (NB This is actually not a big drop. She is quite safe.)

Some of the walks have very exposed places where a dog could fall a long way, and sadly accidents have occasionally happened. Also, a large dog running around a corner and colliding with someone in these places would be bad news. Amongst these exposed but popular walks I would count some parts of the otherwise very accessible Grands Balcons.

Admiring the view on the Grand Balcon Sud
Admiring the view on the Grand Balcon Sud

Some (EG  Albert Premier, La Jonction, Rochers des Mottets to Montenvers) also have ladder or peg sections where a dog might need to be carried, and if you are one small person with a large rowdy dog, these would be best avoided. Leaf through your book and read what it says about the route you want to do, checking for mention of ladders, pegs, via ferrata etc.

Daphne negotiates steps

In general, if you don’t know the walks so well, I would recommend keeping your dog on a lead unless you can see clearly that there is no danger, and I would not let a dog without reliable recall off the lead at all on the high walks – too easy for excitement or a strange and fascinating scent to take over. Ibex and Chamois in particular can walk on near-vertical faces which could be highly dangerous for an excited dog following a scent.

Risks – River
The grey/green glacial river Arve is very dangerous for dogs – fast flowing, cold, with limited places to get out as it is banked with stone in some places.

Hamish loves to cool his paws
Hamish loves to cool his paws

Be very careful around this river – for visiting dogs I would err on the side of caution and not let them in it at all. Due to the hydro-electric barrage the level can rise very abruptly. There are plenty of lovely smaller streams to paddle in, especially around the Paradis des Praz.

Rosa the GSP and Daphne by a valley floor stream
Rosa the GSP and Daphne by a valley floor stream

For dogs that really love to get in for a good swim, you can take them to Lac des Gaillands 1 km outside the town, or a 20 minute drive to Lac de Passy (south side only in summer)

Happy dogs at Lac Gaillands
Happy dogs at Lac Gaillands

Risks – Farms
It’s vital to keep your dog on a lead around farm animals. There are often cows, sheep and goats in the high pastures – they are lovely to see and the gentle clonking of bells is very peaceful. Of course you would not want to disturb them but added to that, the cows are quite confident enough to take on a dog and will sometimes approach if they feel threatened. Also, the farm animals are often enclosed by electric fences which are most upsetting for a dog.

Never mess with the Queen of the Herd
Never mess with the Queen of the Herd

Sheep and goats are often also guarded by Patou – the local name for Great Pyrenean Mountain dogs. These are absolutely beautiful dogs, like gigantic golden retrievers, but exercise extreme caution around them. Their job is to guard the sheep and they will do it with great efficiency. Many hikers have been bitten by Patous, and a dog approaching ‘their’ sheep could be in real danger.

Patou puppy
Patou puppies are adorable but be very cautious around them!

Snakes

These are around, and though bites are extraordinarily rare, they do happen. Keep a look out on the trails, just in case you see one, especially on hot days. For perspective, in ten years of regular walks, I’ve seen three snakes, and twice it was just a view of one disappearing. The other time I was on a bike, so moving fast and without footsteps.  They are very shy. But do look out for them on the paths, or a dog away from the path and interested in something you can’t see. And should your dog be unlucky enough to be bitten, call a vet immediately as the bite can be serious.

Vets

Dr Valerie Heirmann in Les Tines (on the road up to Argentiere) speaks perfect English
+33(0)4 50 53 98 08

In central Chamonix there is Dr Thomas Colson
Phone: +33 (0)4 50 53 31 71
Address: 120, place du Poilu

In an emergency, the nearest 24 hour vet is about an hour away, just outside Annecy

Centre Hospitalier Vétérinaire Saint Martin
275, route impériale – 74370 Saint-Martin Bellevue
+33 (0)450 600 900
Directions

More practicalities

We have a local pet shop Cham’dog  for stocking up on treats, food etc which also offers grooming.
There is a larger one in Sallanches opposite the Carrefour which has a good range of Ruffwear products – not that Ruffwear are paying me! but they have a good range for mountain-loving dogs:
Animalerie Medor, 1852 Avenue de Genève 74700 Sallanches.

Ticks are a real menace here in summer, be sure to have your tick treatment up to date, or get a tick collar, and consider carrying a tick remover on walks.

Tags and details
If your dog’s ID tag has a UK number on it, check that it also has the country code (+44). If not, consider getting a tag made up that has this, for use on holiday. Alternatively, you could buy the type of tag that you can write in yourself, and add the number of your accommodation.

Make sure you have your dog’s details stored somewhere accessible like a phone, in case of emergency. For instance, name, age, description, vet’s contacts, a couple of clear photos, chip number, picture of relevant passport page, any behavioural or medical issues.

Public Transport – somewhat oddly, you have to buy a half price ticket for a dog on the Mont Blanc Express train, so don’t forget a few extra euros for this. They travel free with your pass on the lift system and Montenvers railway, and on buses. Strictly speaking they are supposed to be muzzled on public transport but I have never heard of this being enforced. If your dog is of a breed or appearance that might cause worry, you could consider carrying a muzzle just in case you are asked, but I have never heard of it.

Bars and restaurants: Almost all restaurants and bars welcome well behaved dogs, and if you mention the dog when you reserve, you’ll generally be found a table with a suitable area. I have often found that restaurants will allow an extra “place” at the table for the dog, and remove the chair so she has a clear spot to lie in :)

Lillie Belle here has beautiful manners so she gets very special treatment in her favourite restaturant!

Lillie at the bar
Lillie Belle at her favourite bar.

In conclusion..

This sounds like a lot to think about!  But thousands of dogs enjoy these trails every year. It is just good to be aware of these possible issues – then you are unlikely to have any problems. Please do feel free to contact me with thoughts or more questions. We do occasionally accept dogs at the chalet – details here.

It is a wonderful place to take a holiday with a four footed friend – Enjoy!

Daphne and I at Rochers des Mottets
Daphne in the Alpine Rhododendrons at Rochers des Mottets