Dog Hiking Etiquette
Dog Hiking Etiquette
Dog Hiking Etiquette

Enjoying the great outdoors with our dogs while exploring new places is good for our minds, bodies, and souls. To keep beautiful places open for us to share with our dogs, we should all follow some basic trail etiquette.

  1. Clean up after your dog. Not cleaning up after your dog is the number-one reason dogs get banned from trails. Anytime you and your dog are outside, bring poop bags with you. Always expect that your dog will poop while your outside and you'll never be without supplies. If you want a merit badge, go above and beyond your dog and pick up after others who have left their dog's poop on the trail.
  2. Follow leash rules. Feeling tempted to let your dog run free in an area with leash rules? Please don't do it. What happens when another hiker and dog come around a corner and surprise you. What if you meet another dog that isn't interested in your dog jumping on them or forgetting dog social skills? What happens if a rabbit pops up and takes off running, or worse a skunk is on the trail? No matter how strong your recall (come) or Leave It are, your dog may behave unpredictably in the wild. You never know what will happen on the trail, and keeping your dog on leash is the safest way to protect your dog.
  3. When passing others on the trail, keep your dog to the outside. Keep interactions to a minimum while you and your dog are on the trail, or anyplace you're walking. Be polite and keep your body between your dog and any passerby. Not all people or dogs appreciate a gregarious dog greeting them, and your biggest job is keeping you and your dog safe.
  4. Respect right of way. Have you ever trekked up a long, steep, hill? Then you know how hard it is to fall out of the rhythm of the climb to move over for someone else. Uphill walkers have the right of way. Horses also have the right of way. Move over for horses and keep your dog visible to the horses, so they aren't surprised. Come to a complete stop, bring your dog close to your position, talk the riders as they approach and pass by. If you and your dog haven't had practice around horses, your dog may be unsure or even frightened by seeing them. Keep calm and give your dog some tasty treats as the horses go past to help them associate the horses with a positive experience. Having a positive experience for everyone involved is the key to successful encounters.
  5. Always advocate for your dog. You know what your dog likes and doesn't like, do not let anyone try and convince you to "say hi" or interact if you know your dog will be uncomfortable. Walking and hiking offer many positive experiences, make sure your dog has a good experience every time you go out and walk. It's your job to advocate for your dog while watching and listening to their signals.
  6. Stay on assigned dog-friendly trails. If you're at a park with dog trails, people hiking trails, and horse trails, stay on the trails designated for hikers with dogs. Paths and trails are separate for a good reason. If you're riding on a horses only trail, you probably aren't expecting to see dogs running loose or people wandering around. Following the trail rules will make it possible for dogs to continue being allowed and welcomed at those parks.
  7. Hike what you and your dog can handle. Pay attention to the area where you are hiking. Are there dangerous inclines and dropoffs, or are you in a relatively flat area? Even on a level hiking trail or walking path, you may still push your dog past his limits if they're out of condition for the activity. Dogs and people need to be physically fit to handle more prolonged or more strenuous hikes. Be fair to yourself and your dog by working up to the longer trails. Check with your dog's veterinarian about your dog's ability to handle the hikes before hitting the trail.
  8. Bring water for you and your dog, even on the shortest hike. Staying hydrated is good for you and your dog and dehydration can happen quickly. If you need to filter water for you and your dog, there are portable systems.
  9. Bring a trail map. Maps are essential on any trail system, but especially on large trail systems. Be sure to bring a printed copy of the trail map with you. Don't rely on mobile devices to be your only map and directions, batteries die, and phones get dropped. A paper map will keep you on track and moving in the right direction.
  10. Pack In, Pack Out. Remember tip number one? Clean up after your dog and carry the poop bags back out. Pack out all trash, recycling, and waste with you, and this applies to anywhere you are hiking. Packing In and Packing Out keeps nature pristine and minimizes our impact on the landscape. Remember this sage advice: Take Only Photos, Leave Only Footprints.
  11. Safety first. Your dog should have safe, non-restrictive gear for hiking. A well-fitted breakaway collar, or a well-fitted harness. If your dog is going to carry a pack, do some conditioning to get them acclimated to the added weight and be cautious about how much you ask them to carry. Boots are good for going over rough terrain, and if they don't like the boots, a paw balm will help soothe their feet. Cold weather hikes may require a winter jacket, and warm weather hikes may need a cooling vest. Hiking or camping in the dark? Reflective gear and LED collars are available. A dog First Aid kit should be in your car and always have your veterinarian's telephone number in your contacts.

Remember you and your dog are ambassadors for all dog owners when you're out walking and hiking. Stay safe, follow the trail rules, stay safe, and have fun.