Hiking with dogs

Having a dog is a responsibility many of us have chosen to accept in trade for the companionship, protection, entertainment and enjoyment they provide.  Taking a dog hiking is good for both dog and parent.  Let’s face it: you don’t own your dog, if anything your dog owns you.  If one of us is owned, it’s the one going to work while the other sleeps on the couch all day.  Here are two articles that ATrailLife posted here previously on Hiking with Dogs: Part 1 and Part 2. They are both full of info about hiking the AT with a dog and they get into Trail Etiquette and on the Trail Pet Policies.  I want to get a little deeper into the Trail Etiquette of hiking with a dog.


Seeing dogs on the trail is a joy to some, but not to everyone.  As dog parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure our dog is as good of a trail ambassador as we are.  I can honestly say more times than not, I don’t want to see other dogs on the trail.  Not because I don’t love dogs.  I am a dog person, and I tell anyone with their dog that I am a dog person, just to put their mind at ease.  I think this is just as important as someone saying they don’t like dogs, so that the owner keeps their dog at a distance and under a closer watch.  If you don’t like dogs, or are afraid of them, please let someone know right away when you encounter them.  I know I always appreciate it when others tell me up front how they feel about my dog.  Most issues on the trail with dogs are not because of the dog, but because of the owner.

Dogs do what they are trained to do, or not to do.  All those bad habits are preventable, or correctable with time and patience.  I love to allow my dog off lead in the woods.  I owned a hunting dog that had to be able to run free in the fields and woods, but still be under my control.  My new puppy will be taught the same things.

I’ll go out on a limb and just assume that everyone has a basic understanding that obedience is key.  Any dog, anywhere around other people should consistently obey; No, Sit, Come, Stay, Off and Leave it!

While hiking, my dog spends the a lot of it’s time on a short 6′ lead at heel, or behind me.  Notice I said behind, not 100 yards ahead of me eating deer poop in the middle of the trail.  (What’s up with dogs eating that stuff anyway?)  In more remote areas my dog is off lead, I won’t lie.  My dog was taught and understood the command every single hiking dog owner needs to use, heel.  She was great at heel on or off a loose lead.  Not pulling 6′ in front of me dragging me down the trail.  That’s no fun for anyone involved.  It’s a torn rotator cuff or a skinned knee waiting to happen.

There’s a time to hike and there’s a time to play and run free.  Hiking isn’t playtime although that doesn’t mean it’s not fun for everyone.  A dog that has mastered heel is a joy to hike with.  This isn’t something we should use a fancy harnesses for and gimmicky collars to put a Band-aid the problem.  That’s like taking weight loss pills after gaining 75 pounds.  Granted the collars can help you to train your dog, but it goes beyond just the collar.  It’s a matter of taking the time and training the dog what is expected of it.  Most dogs pick it up pretty easily and there are millions of  ways to teach the heel command.  It’s about patience and commitment, that’s all.  Please, please, please teach your dog to heel.  I even Google’d how to teach your dog to heel for you here.

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At all times our dog needs to be under our control.  This is where the big disconnect comes in.  We need to be able to speak a command to a dog and have the dog obey immediately.  It honestly could be a matter of life or death for the dog.  Think about the dog that is running towards a busy road, a rattlesnake, a raccoon or a redneck straight out of Deliverance.  If I must repeat the command to my dog, it’s a request not a command.  It’s also not under my control.


Everyone has a story of a dog off lead that has an owner chasing after it yelling commanding requests as the dog playfully runs away as the owner gets near.  Or the beloved communal campsite “great dog” that has an absentee owner.  The one that’s always stealing food and peeing on things like tents and backpacks.  I was referring to the dog doing those things, although some owners may also fit the bill too.

The woods belong to all of us, 2 legs or 4.  Don’t believe me?  Tell that to a mother bear at 3 AM.  We all have to share it and be respectful of each other.  Teaching our dogs to heel is a great start!

What sort of encounters or experiences with dogs/owners have you had on the trail?  Feel free to leave a comment below.  Positive stories are always encouraged!

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Comments 1

  • Chris : Jun 25th

    There’s one thing no one can teach their dog to do: to stop being an allergen. I have a dog. He’s staying home when I do my half-thru next year. I’ve seen how some people’s allergies react to dogs. Their faces swell up, their noses run, they start to itch/get hives, sneezing— it looks Incredibly Uncomfortable. Some people have no problem with pollen or mold, but get them near a dog and they can barely breathe. I would never impose my dog onto strangers. Unless you never plan to sleep in a shelter, I wouldn’t take a dog and risk ruining someone else’s day (or night). I understand this is a contentious issue. Then again, I also won’t eat peanut butter in public (my best friend is deathly allergic and, while she has an Epipen, they are expensive and make her feel sick post-injection). Hike your own hike, but be aware of others.


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