Over the past year, I have gone hiking countless times on trails and parks throughout the Carolinas. 9 times out of 10, I bring my pup Oreo along for the ride, and 9 times out of 10, we have an encounter with at least one other dog-owner who exhibits not only poor trail manners, but quite frankly dangerous actions that could put their, or my own, dog at risk.
Read below for some tips and tricks on how to exhibit safe and respectful hiking while on the trails with your furry companion.
1. Leash Law
First and most importantly, please abide by all leash requirements posted on the trails you're visiting. These rules exist for several reasons, primarily to keep you, your dog, and others using the trails safe. While these rules can vary, most require a non-retractable six-foot leash.
Do not hike with your dog off-leash in areas that are crowded, unfamiliar, or have dangerous terrain. Not only can your dog come into unwelcome contact with others, but can get lost, stuck, or injured.
If you are hiking off-leash, in designated and sanctioned areas, consider having your dog wear a pack or reflective harness. This not only keeps your dog safe, but should you come into contact with others, this will alert them that the dog is not wild or lost, but out there with you on the trails. Be sure to always keep your dog with eyesight and earshot. Your dog should be trained to return to you on command.
Whether your dog is micro-chipped or not, having a collar with tags is very important. Again, it provides a visible sign of ownership, and it makes it easier for other to locate owners should your dog become separated from you. My dog's tag includes her name on the front and the names of me and my husband, and our phone numbers, on the back.
I recently got a hands-free leash for use when hiking, and I highly recommend it! Comfortable and easy to use, it makes it much easier to grab a drink from a water bottle or climb over a fallen log when you don't have to worry about hanging onto a leash!
2. Dog-Friendly Trails
Of course, if you're going to bring your dog hiking, you have to make sure he is welcome there in the first place. While most National Parks allow dogs within the boundaries to some degree, not all trails are dog-friendly. Do your research before embarking on a new trail and ensure that it is one that your dog is allowed to use. These restrictions are in place for the safety of your dog, as well as local wildlife and plant life.
Please note that the rules for National Forests differ, allowing dogs throughout the established boundaries. Of course State and Local Parks vary by region, again making it important to research your area before embarking on your adventure!
Having grown up just 25 minutes outside of Shenandoah National Park, of course I must mention that is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the United States. Dogs are permitted on 480 out of 500 trails (leashed of course) and allowed in campsites, with dog-friendly accommodations available.
This is where etiquette really comes into play, and tends to be one of the most common faux pas I encounter on my own hikes.
When hiking with your dog, it is critical to yield the right-of-way to all other hikers, cyclists, horses, etc. When you see oncoming hikers, get to a wider section of the trail, step to the side, and put your dog in a sitting position. If you have a small dog, pick him up if necessary. Keep your dog out of sniffing range of others. Not only is this for his and their safety, but it is common courtesy. You don't know if others have allergies or are afraid of dogs. Do not assume that because your dog is friendly, others will want him in their space.
This is especially important when encountering other dogs. I cannot tell you how many times I have moved to the side, put my dog in a sitting position, and waited for others to pass, only for them to allow their dog to come into our space with no regard for the efforts I am taking to keep my dog away from theirs. Worse yet, I have done the above, waited for the others to pass, and when they made no move to do so, I carefully advanced forward, only to then have them bring their dog right up to us.
It is in these moments that it is crucial to speak up. You are your dog's only advocate. You have to be blunt, and be firm. Do not hesitate to say, "I don't want your dog near mine," or "Please get your dog away from mine." Draw attention to the fact that their behavior is unacceptable. If you say nothing and just try to move on, they will continue to do that with other dogs and hikers they encounter. Eventually this could result in injury, to dogs or people.
4. Leave No Trace
The Golden Rule of all outdoor enthusiasts, the principle of leaving nothing behind during your visit applies to your pets as well. What this breaks down to is picking up after your dog. Nobody wants to encounter dog doo on their hike. Aside from aesthetic and respectful principles, dog waste contains diseases that can impact local wildlife, plants, and other dogs that come by. Pick it up and pack it out.
Use the below chart for additional examples of what to say or do when you encounter other dogs on the trail. Remember to use it for yourself and your own dog's manners as well!
I like hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, and offbeat destinations