Dog Walking 101: Etiquette Rules for Hiking Trails

Published: 03/04/2021
Hiking with your dog is awesome. Fresh air, the beauty of nature, a physical challenge, and doing it all with your best furry friend by your side.

But hiking with a dog is a little different from hiking by yourself. When you take your dog out into nature, there are several important factors to keep in mind. To ensure that you and your dog stay safe, and that you don’t offend or inconvenience anyone else, remember to follow these essential dog trail etiquette tips.

Make sure the trail is dog-friendly

Before setting out on any hiking trail, with your dog, check whether dogs are actually allowed on the trail. For example, many areas of national parks are off-limits to dogs, so you’ll often have to look elsewhere if you plan on hiking with your pooch.

Do your research online, and call around if you can’t find any clear information online. Only when you’re certain a trail is dog-friendly can you start planning your hiking adventure.

Abide by leash laws

Many hiking trails, particularly popular and busy routes, require pet parents to keep their dogs leashed at all times. These laws are in place for a reason — sometimes to protect native wildlife, sometimes to help manage traffic on a busy trail, and sometimes for your dog’s own protection.

So if a trail is designated for on-leash dogs only, keep your pooch leashed. Ignoring this rule could not only earn you a hefty fine, but it could also put your dog and other trail users in danger.

Know when to keep them on the leash

Even if off-leash hiking is allowed, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to let your dog off the lead. For example, if your pet doesn’t have a completely reliable recall, or if they have a strong prey drive and love chasing anything small and fluffy they come across, the safest approach is to keep them safely on a lead.

You may also decide that there may be too many hazards around to let your pup more than an arm’s length away. If you’re walking through an area where you might encounter rattlesnakes, for example, keeping your dog close will give you extra peace of mind.

And remember, your off-leash dog should never approach other trail users. Not everyone enjoys meeting a strange dog out on the trail — some people are quite terrified of dogs — and many people simply like being left alone to enjoy the peace and solitude of hiking.

Share the trail

This one is all about common courtesy. Remember, while you and your dog might be having a wonderful time exploring nature, you’re not the only ones using the trail. That’s why it’s important to take care when passing other hikers.

The best course of action is to simply step to the side to let others pass. Regardless of whether they’re hikers, joggers, cyclists, or horseback riders, giving them the right of way is a safe and easy solution. Ask your dog to sit and ensure that they stay calm and under control — some horses can be spooked easily by dogs, so maintaining careful control of your pooch is a must.

If there’s nowhere to step off the trail, pass others with your dog on the outside. And if your dog is off-leash, be sure to put them on the leash when you approach other trail users.

Stick to the trail

One of the key considerations when hiking, regardless of whether you’re hiking with a dog or by yourself, is to leave the trail exactly as you found it. That means you should only ever stick to the marked trail. Taking shortcuts or trying to cut new trails can have a disastrous impact on the environment and on the animals that call it home, so avoid doing so at all costs.

And if you do need to leave the trail to get to your destination, do so via the route that involves the least amount of off-trail hiking.

Clean up after your dog

While we’re on the subject of leaving no trace, it goes without saying that you should always clean up after your dog. Picking up after your pooch is just as important here as it is at your local dog park, so the best option is to bring along a good supply of poop bags and carry your pup’s waste out with you.

We know the smell can be mighty unpleasant, but it’s just one of those things you have to deal with when hiking with dogs. Encouraging them to answer nature’s call before you set out on the trail can help prevent any trailside toilet stops.

Above all else, remember to be friendly and polite with all other trail users you meet on your hike. A little bit of common courtesy can go a long way, so say hello, keep your dog under control, and stick to all posted rules. With all of these responsibilities taken care of, all that’s left to do is make the most of this exciting outdoor adventure with your fur-baby.

And if you and your dog can be responsible trail users, you’ll be doing your part to help ensure that more beautiful hiking trails right around the country remain dog-friendly.