Unleashed Dogs And Inconsiderate Owners

I guessed it wasn’t just me. Per the PCTA, “We’ve all been startled by an unleashed dog running at us while on trail.” I’ve been harassed by several unleashed dogs on trail and plenty of them around town. It’s happened so many times that I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between these incidents. (I’ll get back to writing about the PCT in just a moment.)

I’ve been running regularly for more than 20 years, and in that time I’ve lived in several different cities. In one of those cities, my running routes were also popular with people walking their dogs, which is when I noticed a big increase in the number of incidents.

  • 10 years, approximately 3 incidents per year.
  • 10 years, approximately 1 incident per month.

I should emphasize that the vast majority of owners act responsibly by keeping their dog on a leash. Very rarely, a leashed dog will lunge at me as I run past, which isn’t an issue because I keep my distance. And some unleashed dogs are obviously well trained. When the owner sees a runner, they call their dog to them and command it to sit. These dogs aren’t a problem either.

All of the roughly 150 incidents I’m thinking of involved unleashed, badly behaved dogs. With very few exceptions, the owner was nearby. Without exception, they were unable control their pet. Every time, I stopped running as soon as the dog started moving in my direction.

The dogs

Most of the incidents involved small dogs: angry, yappy little things that were mostly teeth and hackles. Bigger dogs can be aggressive too, but less frequently. Big or small, if a dog gives me trouble, it’s obvious they feel threatened rather than playful.

You may have been warned to avoid direct eye-contact with a dog you don’t know. In my opinion, if a dog has decided to pick a fight with you, an unwavering stare might be your only defense. I’ve found that it buys enough time for me to back away slowly. In fact, there were times when locking eyes with an aggressive dog was the only thing that kept it at bay. A stern “NO!” might make the dog hesitate for a moment, but that was the most it ever accomplished.

The owners

If the owner was present, the incident inevitably ended with them having to restrain their dog. I had to fend off the irate animal while the owner made their way over to me, and I was usually irritated by their lack of urgency. I expected more than a saunter. Not a full-on sprint, but perhaps a slow jog.

Twice, I received an apology from the owner. The other times, they had one of two reactions. About half of them would drag their dog away without saying anything. The other half were dismissive; cheerfully saying something like, “You’re fine. He doesn’t bite.”

One owner used those exact words after reattaching her dog’s leash. The dog was still furious and frothing at the mouth, lips curled back, teeth bared. Every few seconds, it stopped snarling just long enough to take a breath. The only reply I could think of was, “Really? Because he looks like he wants to bite.”


People who let their dog off its leash are happy to see their pet enjoying its freedom. I get it. However, the vast majority of those people haven’t trained their dog well enough for it to be let loose in public. Either they don’t know their dog’s behavior is unacceptable, or they don’t care.

If you happen to be harassed by an unleashed dog, the bad news is: you’re effectively on your own, even if the owner is nearby. The dog will ignore its owner, who won’t intervene quickly or be sympathetic when they arrive. The good news is: whatever the circumstances, there’s a good chance you’ll walk away unscathed. I’ve only ever had one really close call where I didn’t think I’d be walking away.

A close call

It was a windy night, and my guess is that somewhere, a gate had blown open. Three dogs had escaped: two Pit Bull Terriers, and a Beagle mix. I saw them before they saw me, and I came to a complete stop. They were romping along the sidewalk towards me, distracted by their play, and obviously very happy with their newfound freedom. Then they spotted me, and their behavior underwent a complete transformation. They were no longer three happy-go-lucky juvenile domestic dogs, but a pack of experienced hunters. I’m not sure if it was instinct or training, but it was extremely sinister.

As if on command, they spread out and began to approach from three different directions. Low to the ground, cautiously, steadily, they advanced. I moved to the curb, and turned my back to the road so that the dogs were to my right. There was 50 mph traffic just a few feet behind me. In front of me, there was a 10 foot wide sidewalk and beyond that, a 100 foot grass verge. The dogs had plenty of space to get past if they wanted to. They didn’t want to.

The hunt

One of the dogs continued to circle around, making its final approach in front of me. One dog hung back for a few seconds, then approached from my right. The third dog slunk off the sidewalk in order to sneak up from behind. As the dog in front of me closed the gap to just a few feet, I bluffed. Like I was throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game, I took a step forward, stamped my foot, and pretended to hurl my water-bottle at the dog. It didn’t even flinch. I was out of options, and had just one thought. “Shit. This is gonna hurt.”

But then, a stroke of luck. Behind me, and somewhere to my right, I heard a car whose driver had slammed on the brakes. A second later, there was a loud bang and an equally loud yelp. As far as the two remaining dogs were concerned, the hunt was over. The intense, singular focus with which they’d targeted me just a moment ago was gone. All their attention switched to the dog that had been hit by a car, and I took the opportunity to escape.

There are risks

For an unleashed dog, the backcountry might be even more risky than town. I recently talked to someone at a trailhead who was waiting for a hiker. The hiker was carrying her injured dog from the trail after it had been severely stung while investigating a hornets’ nest.

It’s not just the wildlife – people are a potential threat. The PCTA warns that “Your dog could be harmed by people acting out of fear with boots, sticks, pepper-spray or other weapons, even if it’s not aggressive.”

The PCTA is right. I used to hike with someone who carried a gun when backpacking. One evening, as we were getting close to camp, we passed a tent that was about 50 feet from the trail. An aggressive dog approached us, and its owner tried in vain to call it back. With the dog too close for comfort, my friend put his hand on his gun. The owner’s calls immediately pitched-up slightly, and a note of panic entered his voice. The dog heard it too: it stopped in its tracks, turned its head towards its owner, then grudgingly returned to its campsite.

I don’t carry a gun, but I sometimes carry bear-spray. Once, a large Dobermann sprinted down the trail towards me, and it was lucky I wasn’t quicker on the draw. The dog shot past me, with its sights set on a fast-retreating squirrel. A few seconds later, the slightly worried-looking owners appeared. They assured me that the dog was “super friendly” before chasing after their wayward pooch. Super friendly or not, that dog almost got a face full of bear-spray.

Back to the PCT

The hike from Burney Falls to Interstate 5 was uneventful. The first day was overcast, but then the sky cleared without things heating up too much. There were a few heavily-logged areas, miles of green tunnel, and plenty of trail with unobstructed views. My perspective of Mount Shasta changed on a daily basis. I leapfrogged a five-person trail family several times, and met the vanguard of the SOBO hiker bubble.

Low vegetation in the foreground, tree-covered hills in the distance.

Looking south from a ridgeline, northbound mile 1450(ish).

This section’s other memorable moments.

  • Lowlight – the pit toilet at Ash Camp, next to the McCloud River.
  • Highlight – Girard Ridge. This dirt-road shortcut has good views, and it knocks almost 3.5 miles off the descent to Interstate 5.

When you reach Interstate 5, you have several options. You can take the bus or try to hitch a ride. Nearby destinations are Castella, Mount Shasta or Dunsmuir. Some people walk alongside the railroad tracks towards Dunsmuir. There’s a mile of track between Soda Creek Road and Financial Avenue, with an additional three mile road-walk into Dunsmuir.

Number 151

Not long after midday on a Friday, I started walking along Financial Avenue. I’d read the Farout comments mentioning the aggressive Pitbull in the second house on the left, but I was confident I could handle it.

The house’s front door was open, and a Chihuahua was barking incessantly from the safety of the porch. What a relief! The commenters had seriously overstated the threat. That’s when the Pitbull/Bulldog mix barreled through the doorway. It charged past the Chihuahua, leapt off the porch, and covered the distance to me in about three seconds. I barely had enough time to raise my trekking pole and point it directly at the dog. It was a big animal, but it managed to stop in time, with its nose about eight inches from the tip of the pole. It was the rare canine combination of very large and very angry. Through bared teeth, it snarled and barked without apparently needing to take a breath. With its front paws stretched out towards me, and its chest low to the ground, it was itching for the right opportunity to spring forward.

I locked eyes with that creature like my life depended on it. Then I slowly continued in the direction I needed to go, backing away very carefully. With my trekking pole pointed at the dog like a giant magic wand, occasionally I glanced over my shoulder to see where I was going. Each time, the dog would dart forward, trying to advance around the trekking pole. Reestablishing eye-contact restored the stalemate. Between barks, I could hear muffled, half-hearted shouts coming from inside the house. Presumably the dog’s owner, and predictably, no help whatsoever.

You’re a wizard, Barry

For the next 150 feet, I progressed along Financial Avenue like some sort of moonwalking wizard trying to banish a raging monster from the kingdom. At the boundary of the dog’s territory, it started to drop back, but I continued my backwards progress until I was sure I was safe. My adrenaline level didn’t return to normal for a mile or two. Once again, an owner had failed to consider the consequences of their dog’s behavior. And once again, I’d been lucky.

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Comments 49

  • Tom S : Oct 25th

    I carry a 6 ft bamboo solid staff when hiking just for the reason of warding off unleashed dogs. I and my hiking companion have been jumped on by angry dogs who quickly retreat when given a quick poke with this solid martial arts pole.
    Not intended to damage just intended to stop the aggressive attack. As much forces as needed is used. Owners always say I am sorry but I no longer believe them. Keep the leash on iis one of the rules of the trail.

    • James Raymond : Oct 25th

      I had to spray one extremely agressive Akita about 150 lbs, with Udap bear spray whilst pulling out my Desert eagle 50 cal. I would have shot. This dog would have attacked me, and a family of kids behind me, I’m 77 and wasn’t afraid, but calm, if I panicked I wouldn’t have had a chance

      • Richard Monroe : Oct 26th

        I don’t carry a gun. I have sharp knives

      • Walter : Oct 29th


    • Carina Fosse : Oct 30th

      My leashed dogs and I have been startled by many runners on trails. I know you guys are trying to make your best time, but please slow down when passing others.

  • Stew : Oct 25th

    Full grown man, scared of a dog

    • [email protected] M hoover : Oct 29th

      You haven’t been mauled. No place for unleashed dogs in a clearly posted sign. There for a reason. Golden Retriever killed by a coyote . Yes. Dog lost the fight. Take dogs to parks specifically for off leash. Owners learn soon enough if their dogs can’t be off leash. My dog has been attacked by ‘harmless’ dogs. I don’t have a problem if the dog is well trained. I have encountered many. But it is the dog who doesn’t listen. I have had to shout to get folks to leash their dog because I have no control over a loose dog.

    • Carolyn hoover : Oct 29th

      Seriously? Hike much? Run into dogs who are aggressive? Yes. I am not afraid but will hurt them. Problem is one doesn’t see them and the owner is unable to control. Friend of mine learned the hard way. Was sued and I mean sued. And it was like, ‘she is friendly ‘ maybe under certain environments but not that day. I have a dog but I know her limits and while she listens to commands I do not have her off leash on trails. Read the signs. Bears, mountain lions, coyotes and other dogs. I am 73 and hiked beautiful Colorado and have had my run ins. So no, the man you insulted? He isn’t a coward. He knows.

    • MikeR69 : Oct 29th

      Smart money says you kill snakes without even the slightest idea whether they’re venomous or not. And you probably think all snakes are “poisonous.”

    • Mikey T : Oct 30th

      You’re a crybaby dogs don’t belong on leashes ppl do. I can guarantee an 8 lb happy dog can do you know harm as far as bigger dogs maybe you’re the problem what humans don’t understand is it’s not always about humans – my dogs are more loyal and kind and friendly than 99.999999999 percent of Americans, who seem to think that they are entitled just because they are Americans I suggest you go run with someone holding a leash that’s attached to a collar around your neck my guess is you won’t like it either – friggin pussy!!!

      • He who knows : Oct 31st

        Shoot your dog first-let you see him suffer the consequences of your ignorance

  • Curtiss Wright : Oct 25th

    Full grown man scared of dogs. Shut up man. I have hiked hundreds of days with and without my dog. I have only had trouble with two legged animals.

  • Richard Monroe : Oct 26th

    I’m on the trails a lot now that I’m retired. It gets me how peoples unleashed dogs run at me barking and the owners just say sorry like that fixes the problem. 2 places that don’t allow dogs are awesome.

  • Catmando : Oct 26th

    On the long trail I met my most aggressive dog- I love dogs but this wasn’t going to end well for him, fortunately his owner showed up. I help train service dogs and believe this to be an accurate statement: a loose dog on trail in front of their owner/ family goes from docile to protector. Their entire demeanor changes to aggressive- if they have teeth- they will use them. I’ve hiked with too many people that have been bitten. It’s a handful of irresponsible owners that cause problems. Stay safe!

  • Lou “York” Blanchard : Oct 26th

    As one who has hiked the entire PCT and most of the Continental trail I totally concur with this article. Though not a runner but a continuous hiker (I live a few mins from the PCT in the Cascades range) I find myself very leery of dogs on the trail. I have been bit while on the trail, a leashed dog with a poorly handling owner, and had several standoffs, I use my hiking poles and have had bear spray in hand. Once a herding dog keep me at a spot for the time it took for his flock of sheep to pass the creek I was at (Colorado trail). I’ve had several encounters with bears, mainly blacks but 2 brushes with Griz in Montana and I’m less fearful with them. Most are predictable where dogs especially those pit bulls just aren’t.

  • Mikeycat : Oct 27th

    I’ve had several dog encounters on trail. I usually give them enough room and let them pass me by if they’re on a leash. Some of the better temperment dogs let me pet them. It’s the ones running loose that are wild cannons. You never know what demeanor they’re going to show.

    One trail 2 towns over…some local lets his two full size dogs run loose more than he should. The first time, when i was alone, they sniffed me and kept on running. The second time, when i was with my scout pack (lil kids), they stopped and growled at my son and another kid. I came up with my mace in hand, but did the clicks and whistles to calm their demeanor…they decided to take off.

    During nightly walks around town, I’ve had a couple of aggressive barky dogs approach me. On one occasion, a pit bull terrier flew straight off its porch, across the street, and straight at me. I sprayed my regular mace at its face. It stopped, i backed up while keeping a stare at it and told it to back off while its owner was yelling for it to return to her yard. I was prepared to spray it again and gouge its eyes out if necessary.

    I’ve had a couple of aggressive coyote encounters in the woods while hunting, as well as curious & scared coyotes who eventually darted away. They’re not as bad as a pit bull though. Pits bull terriers are bipolar. Their personality will turn on a dime. Anyone who thinks they make loving pets must have a screw loose.

    When out in the woods, i usually carry bear mace and a trekking pole or hiking stick for that very reason…dog protection. If I’m deeper in the woods, I may carry a small sidearm if its a remote area. If its between me and a dog, I’m going to make sure the odds are in my favor.

    Just remember, if your dog is unleashed and attacks a human, you as the owner are legally liable for any damages it causes. The dog will also likely be removed and euthanized by the state, if the poor victim hasn’t already shot the dog himself in self defense.

    • Bill : Oct 28th

      Sounds like an old used up man who wasted his life feeding the meat grinder. You belong in an arm chair not hiking grandpa. The fact that your lack of physical ability makes you think you can shoot something scary is laughable. Ever heard of escalation of force? Thought you older crowd had some balls.

      • BillSucks : Oct 28th

        Go troll someone else.

        I bet you’d trash talk your own mom the same way you trash talk grown men. You’re despicable. Grow up.

        Btw, I’m not an old man, as you wrongly assume. I’ll send a pack of hungry pit bulls after you and see how you handle yourself. Let me guess, Mr Wannabe Toughman is gonna punch and kick a pack of dogs to death, break their backs and jaws with your bare hands, and bang the owner’s wife when you’re done showing how “tough” you are.

        • Marr : Oct 30th

          You are an idiot

      • BillSucksWeiner : Oct 30th

        Lol, shut up ya lil cuck. ?

  • Bill : Oct 28th

    Imagine going into the woods and being scared of animals hahahah! I bet you use those walking plastic sticks too? Please stick to inner city walking trails while us real mean enjoy time with the animals. You soy filled women.

    • BillSucksWeiner : Oct 30th

      Stick to facebook, neckbeard.

  • Jay : Oct 28th

    As someone teaching a puppy how to be responsible, this post is scary to read. My dog is fine on a leash, fine off leash in familiar surroundings (dog parks) but hasn’t yet figured out (2 trips) that people on a remote (remote, not city) trail are fine. He barked. But he also came when called and, I noticed, was progressively figuring it out. It seems like the poster and several others are willing to spray or hit a dog that barks for being in the vicinity of them? Or is the poster saying that all these dogs actually attacked him?
    I agree that you can’t assume all dogs are good. But please don’t assume all dogs are bad either (a doberman chasing a squirrel almost got pepper sprayed…?), especially when young.

    • BillSucks : Oct 28th

      The original poster and others are most likely normal folks who have dealt with aggressive dogs who growl, charge, and show other signs of attacking. It’s not simply a barking dog or one who stays in its own yard. It’s when they won’t let you pass, stalk you, and start nipping that it’s game-on with the pepper spray. If it can be de-escalated, great. But don’t think dog owners are off the hook if their dog bites someone.

  • ATKB : Oct 28th

    Take a moment to see things from a different perspective… a human being afraid of an animal is very ironic. Animals get killed by humans for food or fear without a flinch of an eye but heaven forbid you get spooked by an animal. Maybe you could learn to understand why an animal would be afraid of you and make a change yourself. You’re on nature’s trail, not your trail. Get over yourself.

    • RabidSquirrel : Oct 29th

      Do you think humans are scared of squirrels, cats, pigeons, raccoons, or ponies on trail? NO. Or what about calm demeanored ankle biters that you can launch like a football? NO. It’s the large, growling, gnashing, wild hair up their butt, foaming at the mouth, untrained, undisciplined dogs that are territorial to the Nth degree and have an urge to lunge at a person’s throat and have them for dinner, that people are cautious about. I’m surprised you folks in the land of fruits & nuts don’t invent some new derogatory word for folks who have been attacked by the bad dogs of the world. Not all dogs are bad, just like not all mentally ill homeless inner city folks are bad, but SOME ARE. That’s the point you’re all missing on this one.

  • Tom : Oct 29th

    Be a man

    • Tomsucks : Oct 29th

      Tom: please enlighten us. What does it take to be a man according to you? I guess you’ve gotta be 500 miles in the mountains climbing free handed while drinking a Coors at the same time. When a pack of wild dogs passes you by, you laugh at them. Then, when they lunge for your throat, you punch them in the face and they drop like a stone. Yeah, isn’t that how your grandma is too? A real man.

  • Dogcatcher : Oct 29th

    I bet dollars to donuts that Stew, Bill, and Tom are the same person.

  • Phyllis wiersma : Oct 29th

    Have a mixed breed part Lab don’t know what else put she is pure muscle. If she was so inclined we would be dog food. Treat your dogs kind. Even if you have them totally cowed you will be punished some day.

  • Rasputin : Oct 29th

    Man, some of you folks appear to be after nothing so much as divisiveness running amok!

  • MikeR69 : Oct 29th

    About 90% of people who own dogs should never be allowed to own dogs. They don’t spend any time training them and mostly ignore them once the dog is no longer a puppy. Essentially, they own a wild animal that doesn’t have to hunt its own food. It’s not the dogs that need to be beaten or shot…

  • Dog Owner : Oct 30th

    Here’s a different take. My dog is fine with other dogs and people when not in a leash, but he’s something called leash aggressive, meaning when he is leashed and other dogs aren’t, he goes into defense mode. Yes he has been to training to try and correct it. Because I’m not an ***hole dog owner, I keep him on a leash when hiking. That’s where the leash aggressive part comes in. All those unleashed dogs that run at him when he is on leash? They’re at risk of setting off my dog because he goes into defense mode knowing he is leashed and unable to do what is necessary to protect himself. If you let your dog run around unleashed where leash laws apply, you’re an irresponsible POS.

    • Cat Owner : Oct 30th

      Exactly! ?

    • Mike Padgett : Aug 10th

      In case anyone wonders, the average payout for the owner of a dog that bites a person when taken to court trial is $65,000. Because of this I am very hesitant to let small children even pet my dog. So people who think letting their dog run loose in public may have the equivalent of another school loan to pay off fr the priviledge to be arrogant and inconsiderate.

  • Marr : Oct 30th

    I’m totally annoyed by people and their dogs. They are not human people, they’re ANIMALS. Stop treating them as they are equal to human beings. I’m 100% convinced that most people would choose their dogs life over a stranger or someone they simply don’t like. This is wicked and evil.

    • Dogperson : Oct 31st

      You are entitled to your opinion. But I am totally annoyed by people with their children. Oh, I should just understand when you’re loud obnoxious child ruins my one nice dinner out? Oh I should not be upset that you’re kid is kicking the back of my chair. I should just UNDERSTAND that’s how kids act. I am aware the my dog isn’t a “human person” but that only makes her superior in my eyes. My dog is my child and yes, I would save her life before yours with out an ounce of regret.

  • Joe mama : Oct 30th

    I carry a gun when I hike. I would not hesitate to shoot a dog that is attacking me. And if the owner attacks me I’ll shoot them too.

    • Joedaddy : Oct 30th

      Amen brother. Sling LEaD that’s what I do. Works every time. Let’s go Brandon

      • Anne : Nov 1st

        Fudge off you anti-social dog fudger.

  • Jeff : Oct 30th

    I used to have an aggressive dog, who I always kept leashed. She almost took the face off of a couple unleashed dogs whose owners were too stupid to keep them under control. Not a single dog owner ever realizes that leashes are for their dogs’ protection, too.

  • Dr Rock : Oct 30th

    Apparently tje author has not learned many lessons from so many negative encounters with loose dogs. Been there. Carry bear spray. Always. Use it. Especially when a dog gets too close. Screw the owner. I love dogs not people because they’re stupid. Too bad you cant spray the owner.

  • Jennifer : Oct 30th

    This problem has escalated since covid.
    People who don’t know dogs or deserve dogs have gotten them for some odd reason or to fill a void.
    I personally have a dog who has been ruined and traumatized by 3 attacks from off leash pit bull terriers, all on property that require leashed dogs.
    His tolerance is now zero when he sees or hears a dog becomes terrified he’s rips me to the ground. He is in training but he has lost all ability to control his emotions.
    My dog is damaged and my life has been changed for the worse because of stupid people. I’m angry!

  • Nobody : Oct 31st

    ? ya’ll need some real problems

  • Adventures with Otis : Nov 1st

    Yeesh, someone has way to much time on their hands. I’ve been hiking, climbing, and running ultramarathon trail races all over the west coast for nearly 20 years, and have never had anything but positive experiences with all animals – dogs included – that I encounter out in the trails. I’d suggest you focus more attention inward and explore the possibility that maybe you’re the problem. It seems like maybe the forest isn’t a great place for you to hang out, maybe stick to the sidewalks and suburbs.

    Proud Service Dog handler.

    Happy Trails

    • John Simmons : Dec 2nd

      Service dogs aren’t real, they’re just people taking advantage of the special perks disabled people get. Of course someone with a “service dog” is going to go out and blame the victim of dog aggression for the dog’s behavior.

  • Bart : Jan 27th

    Wow, this article must have hit a nerve.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many responses to a Trek article.
    Dogs off leash aren’t “harmless”.
    There was just a postal worker killed: “US Postal Service worker mauled to death by dogs in Florida”

  • Jan : Dec 6th

    When the owner of an unleashed aggressive dog tells me “he doesn’t bite,” I like to respond with “you seem to know that, does the dog know that as well?”


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