February 22, 2019 6 min read

Many of us find solace on the trail. Peace, solitude… a quiet place to de-stress and spend quality time with ourselves, friends and pets.


It goes without saying that people have mixed feelings about their encounters with fellow hikers accompanied by dogs. As hikers, we’re responsible for our actions and when we hike with our dogs, we’re also responsible for theirs.


All too often, we encounter an unaccompanied dog or a dog whose owner is simply inattentive. There’s a myriad of ways that this encounter can go, but for the most part it’s safe to say that it’s not usually a pleasant one. Even if there isn’t an “altercation”, dogs unwantedly approaching is stressful and disruptive (the exact opposite intention to hit the trails).


Whether your dog is friendly or not, there are a few things to keep in mind next time you’re on the trail.


KNOW YOUR DOG

Every dog is different and some might be less suited to the trail dog life than others. AND THAT’S OK. Love your dog for who they are. Understanding whether or not your dog is a good candidate for hiking or off-leash hiking (two very different things) is an important first step. If you think your dog might not be a good fit for the trail, meaning:

  • Barks at strangers
  • Doesn’t recall
  • Has a very high prey drive that you cannot control (chasing wildlife)
  • Picks fights with other dogs or people

 

Then you should definitely find other activities to do with your pup. For instance, if your pup does have any of these behavioral issues, signing up for training is a great way to bond and spend time together in a productive way while addressing these issues. Then you can gradually make your way to the trails.


 


TO LEASH OR NOT TO LEASH?

Probably one of the most controversial topics when it comes to hiking with dogs, but an important one.


First off - ABIDE BY THE LEASH LAW. You should know the leash laws for the trail you plan to hike and honor it.

Did you know?

Some trails even require a non-retractable lead, 6 feet or fewer in length.


We’ve all witnessed the dog at the end of a retractable lead with no owner in sight. Just like every tool, when used inappropriately, retractable leads can be ineffective, if not even more problematic, as the lead itself can become a hazard.


Your dog should be able to pass other hikers and dogs on narrow trails both on and off leash.






If you are going to hike off-leash with your dog, there are some basic things to keep in mind.


Your dog should have reliable obedience skills (especially a recall)

Your dog should  always stay within sight and within earshot of you

You should be managing them attentively at  all times.

Staying aware of the trail ahead and behind you at all times.

Listening for approaching people or nearby wildlife

Not  getting lost in conversations

Not  taking photos

Not  scrolling through your phone

Your dog should be well socialized.

Not that they should be approaching other hikers/dogs, but this is real life and things happen. So if/when they do, it’s important that you dog is comfortable in these situations.



Always keeping a leash readily available while your dog hikes off-leash will help greatly. It’s a good practice to leash your dog before approaching other hikers and dogs.

This helps make sure your pup only says hello if the other person says it’s ok.

This is also as much for your dogs protection as it is for other hikers and their dogs.


Remember that not everyone a dog person. Whether they are fearful or just don’t want the dog in their space, be respectful of everyone on the trail.

TRAIL RIGHT-OF-WAY

As we just mentioned, this is where that readily available leash comes in handy. Recall your dog, leash them up and prepare to step aside when you see others approaching. This is where a solid recall is a  must. Calling your dog repeatedly as they run up the trail towards the approaching hikers (and dogs) is simply unacceptable. Choose a wide section of trail if possible and pick up your dog if they’re small enough so as not to trample the underbrush.


If you’re hiking trails where you might encounter horseback riders, it’s important that you and your dog not only yield the trail, but also make sure your dog stays calm. Horses can be easily spooked by strange dogs and at around 1,200 pounds - this can be dangerous for everyone involved. Your dog should remain calm, quiet and under control.



READ THE ROOM

It doesn’t take much to read social cues, verbal or not. So if a fellow hiker communicates that their dog is “not friendly”, take them seriously. For some reason, this is a highly ignored phrase even though people are telling you very directly and clearly that your dog should  not approach them. Even if your dog is friendly. They’re saying this for a reason and it should be respected.


Likewise, do not be afraid or ashamed to say this to others, no matter what the case may be. Your dog might not be all that unfriendly, but you should trust your gut.


If you see an owner shorten their dogs’ leash, take treats out to distract them or starts putting themselves between your dog and their dog… these are non-verbal cues for you to respect their space and move on.


If you really want your dog to run around and play with other dogs, save this activity for more appropriate places, such as dog parks.


LEAVE NO TRACE

Lastly, this is an excellent rule of thumb regardless of if your dog is hiking with you or not and we’ve all heard it:


Leave nothing, take only pictures


LNT practices ensure that the trails we all love so much are taken care of and are around for years to come.


Does this include dog poo?


Another fondly debated topic about hiking with dogs is “take it or leave it”? We all have poop bags crammed into every car, bag and pocket known to man, but some common problems/thoughts are:

I have 3 lifetime supplies of poop bags, I don’t have one  right now(we’re human - it happens)

But I’ve got 3 more hours UP the trail before coming back down the trail and I don’t wanna carry dooky all the way up and back with me

It’s natural and we’re in nature right??


First preventive measure… give your dog a chance to potty before hitting the trail. We know it’s exciting to get going, but a 10 to 15 minute potty break really works wonders.


Some are fond of the bag it, stash it and grab it on the way back method. Be honest with yourself on this one. Are you going to remember to pick it up on your way back? Are you going to remember where you put it? If you forget, are you going to go back up? Probably not.


It goes without saying that leaving bagged poo is more than problematic, even in your biodegradable bags (which can take up to 6 months to actually degrade). And with dozens of dogs hitting the trails every day it adds up.


If you’re concerned about the smell when carrying the bags, there are products available to store the unmentionables so you can enjoy the fresh air. Alternatively, double/triple bag and pop it into a freezer bag or you could even dedicate a water bottle (like a Nalgene) for dooky duty. Just please, please, please make sure you don’t drink from it.


Lastly, there’s the leave it - but make sure it’s not in the way approach.


The British Forestry Commission actually created poem about it.


If your dog should do a plop, take a while and make a stop, just find a stick and flick it wide into the undergrowth at the side.


If your dog should do a do you don’t want it on your shoe, find a stick, pick a spot, flit into the bushes so it can rot.


No one wants to step in dog poo when they’re there to enjoy themselves, so if you absolutely have to leave it, make sure it’s not going to disturb other trail users. Burying it in 6 to 8 inch hole (if permitted by trail rules) is also acceptable.


Do not disturb wildlife and don’t let your dog either. Honor the posted rules and regulations when you hike with your dog. They’re there for a reason and are meant to protect the trails and keep everyone safe.


At the end of the day, let common sense and common courtesy define your conduct on the trail with your dog.



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