Search the internet and you will find that dogs on hiking trails is a subject that is hotly contested. There are very passionate voices on either side. I am of the belief, obviously, that it is ok for dogs to be out on the trails. However, bringing your dog along comes with great responsibility to both people and the environment.
I admit, haven’t always been the most responsible person when it comes to hiking with my dog. Over the years I have learned a lot of lessons about the art of hiking with your pooch.
I started the Seattle Adventureweiner Club to share the joy of hiking and being active with other weiner dogs and their owners. I am excited at the number of people who have shown interest and joined the group. By the looks of things almost everyone is new to hiking so we wanted to share some of the lessons we have learned.
I am sharing this because I don’t want you to have to take years to learn it like I did and I want the image of the club to be fun and adventurous. I want other trail users to say, “Hey, here comes the fun troop of Adventureweiners. How neat.” not “Oh, no! Here come those Adventureweiners causing trouble (with a stern voice and a scowl). These guys really annoy me.” I feel I have an obligation to promote proper trail etiquette because I have created such a large and visible group and we want to set a good example for other hikers.
These are some of the ways you can ensure you don’t give small, and long, canine hikers a bad name:
- Follow the local trail rules. Research the trail before you go and if it says “No Dogs Allowed” leave your dog at home or don’t go. Rules vary from State to State and from land use to land use. For example, Dog’s aren’t allowed in National Parks but are allowed on Forest Service trails. Even on Forest Service land there are areas, like the Enchantments in Washington State, where your dog is not allowed. For a good summary of requirements on Washington trails see the Washington Trails Association Website.
- Follow the leash laws (if you dog is allowed). The leash laws also vary. Some places require the use of a 6 foot, non-retractable leash (see note below) at all times and others are ok with a 10 foot leash and/or strict voice control. Be sure to find out what the rules are in your state and on your trail before you go and be sure to always follow them. Besides it being the law, it is the courteous thing to do. For more on why you should leash your dog, read this great articlefrom Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle.NOTE: Flexi-leashes give you less control over your dog. Dogs on expandable leashes can be just as much of a nuisance to other hikers and the environment as unleashed dogs because their owners seem to be oblivious to them. By the time the owner realizes the dog is doing something it should not be doing it is too late and too difficult to get them back under control. Also, letting the leash extend out can trip or wind up other hikers. Just having your dog on a leash does not mean you are in control.
- Pick up the poop. I know…it feels like poop from animals in the woods is natural. It’s not though, at least in the frequency and volume created in one area by hundreds of dogs hiking the same trail day after day (and in case you need more reasons why you should pick it up see my post Do Dachshunds Poo in the Woods?). No one wants to step in poo left on the trail either. The bottom line is bag it and carry it out (double bag it to reduce the smell if you need to). PLEASE do not stash it on the side of the trail unless you are vigilant about picking it up on the way back down. Using brightly colored poop bags help you find the bag in the bushes. I see WAY too many sad, abandoned bags of poop on the side of the trail.
- Yield to other trail users. When dog owners meet other hikers, the dog and owner must yield the right-of-way, stepping well clear of the trail to allow other users to pass. Hikers should always yield the right-of-way to horses. Make sure the dog stays calm, refrains from barking and doesn’t move toward the horse. If possible, move to the downhill side of the trail (so you don’t look big) and hold your dog close until the horse is well past. As a side note, bikers are required to yield to hikers but they are going faster than you so they might not see you until they are almost on top of you. Once they see you though they should stop and let you pass.
- Do not let your dog bark or lunge at other dogs and hikers no matter what size dog you have. Just because you have a small dog does not mean that other trail users find this behavior “cute”. It’s just poor manners. Along those same lines – don’t let your dog repetitively bark and interrupt other trails user’s peaceful experience.
- Along those lines, don’t let your dog go up and sniff or “say hi” to other hikers without permission. Don’t assume everyone likes dogs. As hard as it may be to fathom, not everyone is a dog lover . It is better to assume that everyone you encounter doesn’t like dogs or has a severe allergy and act accordingly. If the person loves dogs and is ok with your dog approaching them they will make it known.
- Don’t let your dog beg for food from other hikers at lunch/snack stops. Every dog will be curious when they hear crinkling or smell food but keep your dog on a short leash if necessary and do your best to keep them staring them down.
- Protect the Ecosystem. Hikers and dogs should stick to the trails and practice minimum impact. Don’t cut switchbacks, take shortcuts or make new trails. When passing other hikers it is customary to step aside with your dog to let them pass but try to do it at a wider spot in the trail where you will not trample vegetation. If you MUST step off the trail you will do the least damage to vegetation by picking up your dog and stepping off in only one place (preferably a rocky section) and step immediately back on the trail from there.
- Protect wildlife. Whether your dog is on a leash or under strict voice control, do not let them wander off the trail to sniff or chase wildlife. Don’t let them bark at wildlife either. If your dog is barking it can traumatize critters. In the case of large animals, they may think your doggie is asking to be eaten.
Following these 9 etiquette rules are pretty easy, In fact, several of them are closely related which makes them easy to remember. By respecting nature, the environment and other trail users we can ensure that dogs will remain welcome on trails for years to come. It only takes one or two to make a bad name for everyone else.
What kind of rude things have you seen out on the trail?