There are so many reasons why our trails are some of the best places to adventure with our dogs. Maybe you live for the end of the hike moment overlooking beautiful scenes with your four-legged friend by your side. Or it's your favorite way to de-stress from work and get some much-needed exercise for you and your furry companion. Or you just want to make lasting memories with your best friend, all while strengthening your unbreakable bond.
And on especially great hikes, we're usually not the only ones on the trail - hikers, bikers, backpackers, horseback riders, and of course, dogs, all have the same rights to use the same trails, unless otherwise specified. By being good stewards of the outdoors and following good trail etiquette, we can all enjoy these beautiful spaces together. When hiking with our dogs, we are responsible for keeping them on their "goodest boy" behavior so that trails remain dog-friendly without restrictions.
We put together a quick trail etiquette guide that includes some best practices when hiking with your canine by your side, whether you are new to hiking with your dog or are just looking for a quick refresher before your next trip. So whatever your "why" for hiking with your dog, together we can ensure that our trails continue to be the best place to adventure for all trail users.
Dog Leashed vs. Unleashed
The most controversial topic on the trail might be whether a dog should be leashed or unleashed. Following trail rules by looking at signs posted at the trailhead or researching the trail beforehand is the best rule of thumb.
The reality is not everyone loves our four-legged friends as much as we do. The number one rule of trail etiquette is to use common courtesy and respect other trail users. If you’re visiting a crowded trail, it’s probably best to keep your dog leashed regardless. On a more desolate trail, you’ll need to use your own judgment.
You know your dog. So when deciding to let your dog off leash, it comes down to understanding and accepting your dog for who they are. If you are confident that your dog will respond 100% of the time to recall and strict voice commands, they are probably okay to be off-leash.
When you encounter other people or animals on the trail, make sure to step off to the side of the trail and restrain your dog when they pass. You can’t always see if the approaching party has a dog or if that dog is friendly. Always keep your leash quickly available so that you can leash them up when necessary.
If your dog is newly adopted or nervous around others, and you’re just not sure, loudly communicate to other trail-goers that your dog is not friendly. Ultimately, just remember you know your dog’s behavior better than anyone else and should know if they are good candidates for off-leash hiking.
Leave No Trace When Hiking with Your Dog
Leave no trace refers to 7 principles and best practices for enjoying and protecting the outdoors. We will just touch on a few of these principles to consider when hiking with your trail buddy:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Every trail is different, and it's always a good idea to check ahead to see what requirements are necessary. Some trails don't allow dogs at all. Following specific trail rules keeps public land open to dogs in the future and creates harmony among all trail users.
Travel on Durable Surfaces
Traveling on durable surfaces is another way of saying don't travel off designated trails or create new pathways between switchbacks. One path ensures that there is less impact on the land and that our beautiful places remain that way.
Dispose of Waste Properly
One thing everyone has in common? No one likes to see dog poop on the trail. Dog poop is an environmental pollutant and can contaminate waterways. It's best to bring plenty of dog poop bags and pack your dog's poop out.
It's not uncommon for trail-goers to put their dog's poop bag on the side of the trail to grab on the way out. But, it's also not uncommon to forget them there either. Hands-free dog bag carriers like the crap carrier are an easy solution to keeping trails free of poop bags. It securely attaches to your dog's leash and can carry up to four poop bags at a time. Out of hand, out of mind is how we like to think about it.
Our dog poop bag holders that attach to your leash are a great addition to your set-up so that you have all your dog gear in one spot for every impromptu adventure. It’s a win for you and the environment.
Be Respectful of Other People
Respecting others on the trail helps boost the reputation of dog owners and helps avoid trail closures to dog use. Besides managing our pets, another aspect of trail etiquette is knowing who has the right of way.
Who Has the Right of Way on a Trail?
Dog owner encounters other hikers on the trail: Dog owners should yield to other hikers stepping away from the path, giving hikers plenty of room to pass.
- Dog owner encounters other dog owners on the trail: It's usually a good idea to yield and step off the path, letting the other person pass unless the hiker has already moved off-trail. If your dog doesn't get along with others, move far off the trail first.
- Dog owner encounters others traveling uphill on the trail: A hiker climbing uphill typically has the right of way. However, if you need a break from making the ascent, it's okay to step off to the side of the trail and let people coming down pass – but this decision should be made by the person moving uphill and clearly communicated to the approaching party.
- Dog owner encounters a group on the trail: The dog owner should move off the path when meeting groups, especially bicyclists, because hikers are more flexible, and it's easier to move off the trail.
Dog owner encounters horse on the trail: Horses can become easily spooked by dogs. It's the dog owner's responsibility to move far from the path, preferably downhill, so that the horse doesn't feel threatened – stay in clear sight of the horse and don't make any sudden movements that might startle the horse.
The best rule of trail etiquette 101 when hiking with your dog is to use common courtesy and treat others on the trail the way you would like to be treated. Using good trail etiquettes ensures that our favorite rugged paths continue to be a place of relaxation, and the user experience is equally enjoyable for everyone.
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