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, I did some things that weren’t cool when I first started hiking with Chester. I’ve also been a witness to a lot of uncool behavior by others.
When A Happy Hiking Moment Goes Bad
A couple of weeks ago I was hiking with some friends. We got really lucky and got to enjoy a very popular lookout by ourselves for a while. It was a magical few moments because, in all of the years I’ve been going there, I’ve never seen nobody at the top when I got there.
My friend spent all morning making a delicious sandwich and she was really looking forward to it. She was eating one half with the other on her lap when, out of nowhere, a lone dog came running out of the woods. It ran around for a second, sticking his nose in our faces to see what we were eating. Then honed in on my friends sandwich.
As she was frantically trying to put away the dogs snatched it from her. Still, the owner was nowhere to be seen, so I yelled out “Please come get your dog, its eating our food.” The man came out of the woods and grabbed his dog. He dragged it away by its collar, shaking it and yelling at it for being a bad dog.
I felt bad. The dog was just doing what dogs do. It was the owner who was complacent or, dare I say being irresponsible. My friend was very upset by what happened – both to her sandwich and to the dog – that she couldn’t get it off her mind. I was upset that, even though leashes are legally required on the trail, the owner chose to not leash his dog (or leash it when he got to the lookout… or even keep it in his sight!) and it was the dog who suffered for it.
The incident definitely put a damper on our hiking fun.
Good Etiquette When Hiking With Your Dog
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of dogs, dog behavior, and human behavior on the trail. I compiled a list of big don’ts when hiking with your dog based on my 10+ year of experience and observation.
I am sharing this because I don’t want you to be “that guy” that ruins someone’s hike. Worse, I don’t want you to unknowingly do something that gives all dog owners a bad name in someone’s eyes.
These are some of the ways you can ensure you are being responsible and respectful dog owner when on the trail:
- Make sure dogs are allowed on the trail
Research the trail before you go and if it says “No Dogs Allowed” leave your dog at home, don’t go, or make arrangements for someone to watch your dog while you are hiking.
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 though. For a good summary of requirements on Washington trails see the Washington Trails Association Website.
- Follow the leash laws`
Leash laws vary depending on the trail and what entity manages the land. Some places require the use of a 6 foot, non-retractable leash at all times and others are ok with a 10 foot leash and/or strict voice control. There are some areas where strict voice control (where the dog comes instantly on command every single time) alone is ok.
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 article from Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle.
Note: If you are going to hike with your dog off leash on a trail where leashes are required by law, please be aware that users of the trail expect that all dogs that they encounter will be restrained. Please be respectful and leash your dog or hold their collar when you see other hikers coming.
- Scoop 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, or place it in a smell-proof, sealable bag, 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
Other people: When encountering other hikers, the people hiking downhill should yield to the people hiking uphill (although they can choose to let you pass if they need a break). However, when dog owners meet other hikers, it’s considered courteous for the dog and owner to yield the right-of-way no matter if you are the uphill or downhill party.
Horses and livestock: 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.
Bikers: Technically, bikers are required to yield to hikers. However, they are going faster than you so they might not see you until they are almost on top of you. They should stop and let you pass if they see you in time but that is usually not the case. It’s just best to step aside of you see a biker coming. It’s a courteous thing to do too because it takes more work for them to get off and on the bike than it does for you to step aside for a second.
- Don’t let your dog bark or lunge at others
Don’t 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 or scare them.
- Don’t let you dog run up and sniff people or other dogs
Don’t let your dog go up and sniff or “say hi” to other hikers without permission. Shouting, “my dog is friendly” as you let them run up to others doesn’t mean it’s ok either. As hard as it may be to fathom, not everyone is a dog lover. Some people are allergic, are just not dog people, or are afraid of dogs.
If the person has their own dog, that dog might need its space from other dogs. Even normally well-behaved and friendly dogs can feel threatened when a strange dog comes running up to them in a confined space (which a narrow trail is).
If the person loves dogs and is ok with your dog approaching them they will make it known. Otherwise, assume they would like you and your dog to pass by without interacting with them.
- Don’t let your dog be a food bandit
If you’re hiking with your dog off leash and you come up on what looks like a snack or lunch area, which is usually a lookout on the trail or summit, be sure to leash your dog or keep them very close to your side.
Even if your dog is on-leash, don’t let them 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.
- Help 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 standing on a rocky area.
- Help 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 traumatized 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.