Trail etiquette for hiking with dogs


Ugh! It happened again on Sunday. I was enjoying a hike with my husband when a large, unleashed dog appeared on the trail ahead of us and began growling. His owner appeared a few seconds later and the dog bounded toward us.

I called out to the owner and asked him to hold his dog. He called the dog’s name, but it ignored him and continued running toward us. The dog circled me and bumped into my legs.

I think the owner tried to say something about the dog not biting, but I was too scared to register much. I pulled my arms up and in tight to my body and blinked back tears. The dog continued to ignore its owner, so my husband (love this man!) grabbed a stick and chased it away from me.

By now it should be obvious that large, unleashed dogs terrify me. It’s a horrible feeling, born out of life experience. As a kid I was corned by one in my own yard several times. In college, I lived next door to a pit bull that would slam his face into the aluminum fence separating our yards and bark non-stop anytime my roommates or I were in sight. In law school, I rented a room from a family that had a small white dog that nipped at my ankles. Then, only a few years ago, one of my worst cycling fears came true. A blue heeler chased me while I was mountain biking and took a chunk out of my thigh.

I don’t care what people say about how nice their dog is, a dog bite – even a mild one that leaves only four small tooth marks – hurts like heck and takes weeks to heal. The mental impact lasts much longer.

My fears and the attack aside, I love that people can share the outdoors with their dogs. I want people to be able to enjoy our trails with their dogs. Considering that I am probably not alone in my discomfort around dogs, though, I would like to propose few simple rules of trail etiquette for dog owners to help even the most reluctant person like me happily share the trail with dogs.


  • Have dogs on a leash or under very strict voice command at all times. Strict voice command means the dog immediately heels when told, stays at heel, and refrains from barking the first time it’s asked. If it is not under strict voice command, then it has not earned the privilege of being off leash.
  • Keep dogs in sight at all times. There is a higher tendency for dogs to get into trouble when they are out of sight. They can also easily become lost. People who encounter your dog are also less likely to be frightened of the dog if it is accompanied by their owner.
  • Yield the right-of-way. When a hiker and their dog meet any other trail user, the dog and owner should step aside, allowing others to pass without worrying about getting sniffed, licked, jumped on or otherwise approached by the dog.
  • Train your dog to stay on the trail. Dogs — no matter how well-trained — are not as mindful of fragile mountain plants as hikers are. When dogs veer into the trees or romp in the meadow while bounding ahead of their owner, they can damage fragile vegetation. Keeping them on the trail with their owners will help protect the environment we’ve all come to enjoy.
  • Leave no trace.The only poop on the forest floor should be from the animals that live there. Owners should pack a trowel and bury the waste as you would your own (6” deep and at least 200’ from a water source), or, better yet, pack it out in a plastic baggie. Do not leave a baggie by the side of the trail or hanging from a tree to get later. It is unsightly and not part of the natural environment.
  • Leave noisy dogs at home. Most people hike to enjoy a quiet, natural environment. A barking dog disturbs that experience.
  • Finally, never let your dog approach another trail user unless it’s invited. An owner knows their dog is friendly, but a stranger has no clue what the dog’s intentions are. Please don’t let your dog make anyone else feel uncomfortable. Remember, the dog doesn’t have a right to be there, but the other user does. Respect their space.

What do you think? Am I off my rocker for expecting dog owners to follow these rules? Anything else you’d add?

Photos by Aaron Schultz and vastateparksstaff, used with permission

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