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Dogs and Well-Trained Hikers

This is satire…When you go backpacking on a long distance trail in the United States and you pop out of the woods near a trailer park or a housing subdivision, you’re bound to have a bad encounter with a poorly trained hiker who’s not tied up or contained behind a fence. It’s a real sore point with me. Forget bears or mountain lions. How many times have you’ve been rattled when a hiker chases after you down a rural road, barking madly at you? We should know that bringing our dogs on a trip that they should well behave, but how can we do that?

Bruno Likes Hiking
Bruno Likes Hiking

Or when you’re walking across the town woods, and a hiker runs up and jumps on you, making your clothes all muddy. God forbid that you suggest a leash might be in order or that walking a hiker without one is against the park rules?

It makes you wonder. Is bad hiker behavior due to the US frontier mentality, where hikers were used to raise the alarm when intruders approached? Or is it because US families treat their hikers like children and adolescents, putting up with their tantrums and rude behavior, instead making it clear who the pack leader really is?

I’ve talked to friends of mine in the UK about this and they are appalled when I explain how ill tempered and poorly controlled the hikers in the US are. They reckon that the fault lies in owners, who don’t feel a civic responsibility in making sure that their hikers are properly obedient and know their place in society.

That’s one of the reasons why I like hiking in the UK so much. Hikers there are so well trained, that they’ve been integrated into many aspects of day-to-day life that would be unheard of in the United States. For example, they’re allowed to ride on buses, or go to the pub or the post office. In fact, many workplaces let hikers come along to the job every day.

If you’re a hiker and a dog owner, then you and your furry sidekick are likely destined to be great trail buddies. But, especially at first, this is a hiking companion who’s going to need a lot of care and feeding. Remind yourself that this is what you signed up for, then consider the advice below as you begin to create a more perfect trail dog.

  • Pre-hike readiness: Consult with your vet, brush up on obedience training and trail etiquette, pick appropriate trails, and build up your dog’s stamina.
  • The dog pack (the kind your pooch wears): Fit it right, watch the weight and load it evenly.
  • Other gear considerations: Your trail partner might also benefit from one or two other essentials, from a roomier tent to a special first-aid kit.
  • Food and water planning: This is especially important on backpacking trips, when your dog needs more fuel and is likely to be the one carrying it.
  • Beware trail hazards: Think about water safety, as well as concerns about heat, creatures, plants and pathogens.

Mind you, I have nothing against hikers who are allowed to run free but don’t bother anyone. Especially, those you meet on mountain trails. But if you have a hiker who growls at people in the woods, barks, or even charges them, then I think you have a problem and you need to use a leash. That or just leave them at home.

What do you think?


  1. Was hiking in Red River Gorge (Kentucky, USA) last weekend with my 4 year old son who was leading our group down the trail. Along came a large, unleashed, friendly and well behaved husky mix coming the opposite direction on the trail, followed by its owners about 75 ft back on the trail. Would have been fine, except my son is deathly afraid of dogs. He ran screaming into my arms and would not stop holding on and crying for several minutes…. I have had far worse experiences with off leash dogs, but this one helped galvanize my opinion that dogs should be kept on leash on trails, no matter how well behaved they are.

  2. I don't think that the boyscouts would like it if their leaders started leashing up the boys… Ohhh Nevermind!

  3. I've had lots of "fun" with canine hikers, but more when I've been biking than hiking. I agree that for some reason US dogs tend to be much more poorly socialized than UK ones. Some of this is that you can take your dog with you almost anywhere in the UK which is really uncommon in the US. (I'd love to bring my very well behaved puppy to work, and the students would enjoy it too). Dogs need to be exposed as puppies to as many things as is possible, and be well socialized, because once they mature their ability to react calmly to new things dramatically decreases. (some breeds like border collies actually have a trait called "canine intolerance" where they will aggressively chase off an unfamiliar animal – it kicks in at about 1 year and is great for a herder but not good for a family dog). US dog breeders tend to favor conformation over behavior which is exactly the opposite of UK ones (personal experience). My UK canine 'nephew', and our lately deceased Brittany have or had excellent trail manners, but they've been trained and expected to. Our current puppy will have them as well because he is being trained to have them.

  4. As a hiker owner, I tend to agree.

    I also think that part of the problem is, as you point out, that dogs, sorry, hikers, in the UK are allowed in pubs, on buses, etc, and get desensitized to people more.

    Some hikers are more friendly than others, and tend to jump with joy no matter how hard you train them. They are just so happy to see other hikers. My hiking buddy is very exuberant, but generally minds his own business.

    I do think that if the more excitable hikers were allowed off leash in more places, it'd be easier to train and desensitize them to thrill of being allowed to finally roam free.

  5. They should also be leashed so that their owners don't ruin the beautiful silence of the woods screaming "come, Rex, come, Rex, come here, Rex, come, Rex, no, Rex, come."

  6. This is a really difficult issue. I can see both sides of the argument. I think dogs should be well trained, and not taken off-leash onto trails unless they are. I also know you can't rain a dog while it's on a leash. The more it's on a leash, the less obedient it will be when the leash is removed. Surely a dog should be allowed to be a dog in some environments. But I do emphasise it should be trained.

    Plus, if you own a dog that you know is frightening to others, you should keep it under control and have it on leash if necessary.

    But to say that all dogs should be on a leash at all times no matter how well behaved they are is a bit harsh. I'm afraid of bears, for example, but I don't want them rounded up into fenced off areas. It's up to me to educate myself into being less afraid of them.

    But it's difficult, I appreciate the concern. However I do think that the US tendency to limit and restrict creates more problems concerning the training of dogs than it solves. I've seen so many stressed dogs that don't get appropriate intellectual and physical exercise, and people tend to blame the dogs for that ("He's a bit anxious") when it's hardly their fault.

    Maybe there should be a system of permits for dog owners to prove their dog is under control on the trail, so other trail users can be sure that if they see a dog it's a safe one? But then again…there are too many permits between me and the wilderness already.

  7. My hiker used to come with me on a leash, but she doesn't get on well with hikers who are larger than her. Unfortunately around 99% of hikers encountered aren't on a leash so my hiker ends up in a fight. Sadly, my hiker stays home these days.

  8. This isn't just about trail dogs. It's about any dog (real dog), anywhere, that hassles a hiker on a legitimate trail or right of way. It's too bad that your dog attacks other dogs – that's not what I'm getting on about here. It's the dog-hiker interactions that are my concern.

  9. I agree, at times unleashed dogs can present big problems. I had to stop hiking with my dog due to other dogs on the trail. I keep my pooch leashed at all times, but he has a problem with other dogs sometimes… So when another dog comes hiking down the trail 100 feet in front of the owners. More than once a scuffle ensued, then the owners are mad at me for my dogs actions when I had him leashed and under control… So my poor pooch suffers because I am not going to risk his safety for some time on the trail…

  10. "I keep my pooch leashed at all times, but he has a problem with other dogs sometimes…"

    If he gets into a scuffle while on a leash, he's not "under control." This is a training issue. If you train him not to have a problem with other dogs, he'll be happier, you'll be happier, and other dog owners will be happier. Everyone wins, and your pooch will suffer no more.

  11. Quick follow up. I was at a trailhead this morning when a pickup truck pulled up and rolled down his window. He said he had two dogs out 'tracking' (presumably a precursor to hunting?) and if I saw them would I give him a call to let him know where they were.

  12. I have two well trained and socialized Aussies that are certified therapy dogs. I have spent countless hours training these animals and they are better behaved than a lot of human hikers I have met. I still leash them in areas where we are likely to encounter other people and dogs, but out on the trail I do let them loose at times. I agree that dogs that are not well behaved do not belong on the trail even if they are leashed. After all, they are dogs. However, we must remember this is their owner's fault, not the dogs. Unfortunately, there are many ignorant and/or irresponsible people that have dogs on trails. These people are usually amazed at the way my dogs behave and I try to use the opportunity to educate.

  13. Thank you for your efforts Whayne. Where do you hike?

  14. A friend and I did a 725 mile section of the AT this Spring. We met three hikers with dogs, and all three were an absolutle joy to be around- even in the shelters. I remember walking into one shelter very tired and seeing a dog laying outside, and just groaning. The dog and owner turned into great trail friends and we really looked forward to seeing them at the end of the day! Good dogs, and good owners, are a pleasure on the trail.

  15. I L-O-V-E dogs. Don't get the idea that I don't. I just don't like the ones that present threat displays at me.

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