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  • Writer's pictureSam Hageman

Mitten Made Pups: Hiking Dog Trail Etiquette

As avid hikers we have seen a lot of poor etiquette on the trails, especially from dog owners. Since the pandemic more & more people have gone outside to enjoy the trails. Although we are happy more people are enjoying the outdoors, problems can arise on the trail when people do not know proper trail etiquette & can cause many problems, including littering on trails, injuries, getting dogs banned from trails, & more. These are some tips to help make everyone's experience on the trail enjoyable.

(1) Always carry something to pick up after your dog & dispose of it properly. This is a constant issue on every trail we have been to, whether we watch someone fail to pick up after their dog or see poop bags at the beginning of the trail. Failing to pick up after your dog can cause environmental issues. Dog poop is an environmental pollutant, as it decays toxic bacteria seeps into the ground water & it can kill the surrounding vegetation.

Further, dog poop can also contain toxins to humans (such as e-coli, salmonella, etc) & other dogs (such as roundworm, etc). You also should be prepared to take the poop home if you have to, because not all trails have trash receptacles. For us we recently upgraded our hiking set up to keep treats, poop bags, & a poop carrier all-in-one. We invested in a Muttruk hiking backpack, which has tons of pockets, spots for treats, & dog poop bags. The backpack also comes with a carabiner to hang a Doo Doo Tube to carry the dogs poop on the trail & in the car if there is no trash. It has worked great & is an all-in-one set up to make hiking with the dogs easier.

(2) Stay on the trail as much as possible. Allowing your dog to wonder far off the trail can damage the ecosystem. Although it should be common courtesy to stay on the trail there are some unavoidable situations, such as small trails where you need to get over to allow others to pass or if you have a reactive dog who needs space away from dogs or people on the trail. However, still try to keep your dogs & yourself on the trail as much as possible to allow nature to stay natural.

(3) A larger part of trail etiquette for dogs comes down to keeping your dog under control. Now this is a very hot topic in the dog & hiking community overall as there is great debate on what "control" means. The "control" debate revolves around leashed/unleashed dogs, the type of equipment used to train your dog, your dogs conduct on the trail, & your communication to others on the trail. So I will hit each of these sections individually.

(a) Leashed/Unleashed Dogs: As someone with two reactive & dog-selective dogs I can become very frustrated by those who fail to respect others. When you are passing others on the trail your dog should be leashed or under complete control, to me this can include the use of an e-collar or voice control. Yours & your dogs ability to respect the boundaries of others is more important than if a dog is leashed or unleashed.

(b) The Type of Equipment used to Train your Dog: Not all dogs are the same & not all owners train the same. Some dogs use positive only training, others use balanced training, some use prongs, others use treats, etc. One of my largest pet peeves on the trail is when someone has their dog on an extendable leash & the dog is losing control/on the end of the lead. Although everyone has a right to use whatever tools work for them, the problem arises when the tool is not keeping your dog under control & causing problems for others on the trail. There needs to be a balance between the tools that work for you & the control you have over your dogs conduct. Although the debate on what equipment to use is a hot topic, you have to use the equipment that works for you, that will keep your dog is under your control without violating others personal space or harming others hiking experience.

(c) Your Dogs Conduct on the Trail: The way you & your dog conduct yourself on the trail is a massive indicator to the other hikers on the trail on how an encounter will go. I do not believe every dog needs to be perfect while being out & about, hell I know mine are not. However, I do expect every owner to have control over their dogs conduct, even if that means struggling to keep their dog from barking or stepping off to the side of the trail to try to prevent their dog from lunging at others. Usually the owners attempting to control their dogs are not the problem & every dog/human has the right to enjoy the outdoors. The largest issues we have faced on the trail are dog owners who do not pay attention to their dogs & those who allow their dogs to come up to greet every person/dog on the trail & fail to give personal space to others on the trail. So if you are the person who allows their dog off-leash & yells "he is friendly" when your dog is 20 feet in front of you, then your dog comes charging or does not listen to you but continues to approach us...then you are the person I am talking about. So please, no matter what method of control you have make sure your dog is listening to you, you both are respecting others space on the trail, & you do not approach people or dogs without their consent.

(d) Communication to Others on the Trail: This is another large part to helping maintain space & control of your dog on the trail. Communicating to those you are passing on the trail or approaching can make things easier & put others at ease. Some examples are: if you have a reactive dog & you need to step over to allow another person with a dog to pass, inform the person they can pass you so you can control your dog; or if you see they are struggling with their dog & you have good control with your dog tell them you will pass quickly on the side; or even if your dog is friendly, you ask the other person if your dog can meet the their dog before approaching & allow the person to communicate either yes or no; or informing someone your dog is on an e-collar & will be passing behind you without interacting with them; etc. No matter what it is, communication on the trail is important to helping everyone enjoy their time & allowing everyone to understand what is going on so there is no miscommunication or problems.

Considering everything above, "control" to me means keeping your dog under your commands, not allowing your dog to approach anyone or anything without permission, & keeping your dog out of everyone's personal space on the trail, thus allowing everyone to enjoy the trail without any problems.

However you enjoy hiking, whether with your dog or without, respecting everyone on the trail by picking up after yourself, communicating, & keeping nature wild will keep everyone happy. Happy trails fellow hikers.


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