Trail Etiquette for Dogs

Never hike alone, bring your dog with you! Follow Trail Etiquette to ensure everyone has a fun and safe time on trail.

Do you have an adventure dog? Dogs have been accompanying me on my adventures since I was a kid. What dog wouldn’t love a grand adventure off in the wild? Okay… Maybe not my sister-in-law’s 4 pound Pomeranian, but most others would be ecstatic if they saw the leash come out while you’re packing up. That fluffy pocket-pom might want to take a ride in her pack instead.

Know Before You Go

First things first, check to make sure dogs are allowed where you intend to hike. Most national forests, state or regional parks and recreation areas are dog friendly. On the other hand, there are very few national parks that allow dogs on hiking trails.

Leash Up

Check the regulations at your destination. Odds are if dogs are allowed, leashes are required. Be respectful of this rule, it keeps everyone safe on trail. A dog running loose, especially with a poor recall, can cause chaos on trail. We’ve experienced this far too many times. I spot a loose dog and a hiker not paying attention, then I call out, “Hold your dog!” Usually the response I get is, “Oh, he’s friendly.” Every time I have to shout back that my dog isn’t. Meanwhile, their dog is rapidly approaching my “not so gentle giant” of a Great Dane. It’s absolute nonsense. Please abide by the leash regulation in leash only parks. For some folks, like me, they’ve chosen this park because they have leash only rules.

**Side note- Please don’t let a child walk a dog that can overpower them in an exciting situation. I’ve watched small children walking large dogs let go of the leash or get dragged when the dog sees something it wants.

A retractable leash has no business being on a hiking trail. **Deep breath** They are bulky to hold on to, can cause burns if the line is grabbed while the dog is running, get tangled up easily, doesn’t give the dog clear direction, can injure the dogs neck if stopped abruptly, can be chewed through quickly, allows the dog to get too far from the handler’s reach for protection and inhibits the handler’s ability to give other hikers their space. Did I leave anything out? As a dogwalker, I speak from experience using them and watching others fumble with them. Don’t bring a retractable leash. A 6 foot nylon leash will suffice.

Give Space

Passing other hikers and dogs on trail is a great opportunity for you to practice a “heel” cue with your dog. Give plenty of room to passing two and four legged adventurers.

Loads of people love seeing dogs on trail, but there are a few that would rather not encounter a dog for various reasons. Some have allergies, have their own dog on trail, have a fear of dogs, or are bonkers and don’t like dogs. Weird, I know. Whatever the case, be respectful of others using the trail. If you do encounter an unruly dog or person who appears afraid, step off the trail to allow them more room.

A great way to ensure a successful passing is to get your dogs attention with a treat and place them in a sit while treating them when the other dogs passes. This is great for very friendly dogs who are eager to say “hello,” but are asked not to.

Ask First

This goes for both dogs and people. Asking the handler before petting a dog is common sense. This common sense seems to go out the window when someone else also has their dog out and about. Never assume the other dog is friendly. While there is still plenty of space between the two dogs, ask if their adventure pal is friendly and would like to say “hi” to your dog. If the answer is no, respect them and give them space to pass. If the answer is yes, always take into account the body language of both dogs before letting them play.

I am very grateful to those who respect my Xena’s space. She loves her adventures so much, and it’s always appreciated when we can enjoy them in peace and pass others without incident.

Right of Way

Knowing who has right of way is helpful in being a considerate hiker, with or without a dog.

  • Hikers with dogs yield to hikers without.
  • Hikers descending a hill yield to hikers ascending.
  • Bikers yield to hikers and horses.
  • Hikers yield to horses.

A proper yield means slowing down, stopping completely if on a bike, and stepping slightly off trail if possible. Calmly make yourself known, especially when approaching from behind.

Gear Up

Packing the appropriate gear is essential for hiking with your pooch. Take into consideration the weather and your dogs size, ability, and medical needs while packing. Is your dog carrying his own pack or is the dog gear doing in your pack. Does she need a coat in the winter or is she fluffy? If she’s fluffy, how will she cool down if she gets hot in the summer? Be sure to check your dog’s packing list before you set out.

Leave No Trace… That Means Poo Too

Follow the “Leave No Trace” principals and bring the poo bags. We don’t clean up bear poop in the woods, so why should we have to clean up dog poop in the woods? Because it’s gross, that’s why. Nobody wants to see a big pile of dog poo on the trail. Bring the baggies and take it out with you. In some cases, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, it can be disposed of in the latrine or buried. DO NOT bury or throw poo bags in the latrine. If you bag it, it must be packed out or tossed in the nearest trash bin.

No digging or destroying trees. Dogs love to dig, make sure you are putting the forest back the way you found it or better yet, preventing your dog from digging it up in the first place. Xena has a hilarious habit of biting trees. She is only allowed to do this on private property, not on public trails or protected wilderness areas, though it is comical to watch.


SQUIRREL! Oh yes, we’ve all experience the mayhem of a squirrel crossing. It’s exciting for sure, but once the excitement is over be sure to hush your puppies. Folks in the wilderness are seeking serenity and a barking dog isn’t it. Be respectful and keep your pup focused and relatively quiet.

Be aware of your surroundings, especially when hiking in areas where there are large animals such as moose, bears, and bison. Give these animals space and keep your dog under control.

Respect Hiking Limits

Dogs come in all shapes, sized and abilities just like people. Your one year-old Siberian Husky will go a lot farther and faster than my 15 year-old Border Collie did at Gooseberry Falls. Learn your dogs limits and abilities and adhere to them, grow their ability slowly. Starting off with short fun hikes and gradually increasing the time, distance, and difficulty will have your pups whipped into shape in no time.

Likewise, respect breed abilities. A lean short-coated dog may not do will with a long winter hike in the mountains and a fluffy heavy-coated dog won’t fair so well in the desert heat. Pay attention to your dogs, they’ll know what they can do they just can’t say it in words.

Take breaks when needed. Not just a physical break but if they’ve been in a “heel” for a long while when passing a crowded area give them a mental break to sniff around once you’ve passed the congestion. It’s important to let a dog sniff their area, it makes them relax and feel more comfortable with their surroundings.

Know When to Leave Fido at Home

Be watchful of seniors, while they have more experience under their collars, they don’t adjust as quickly and may eventually enjoy the view from home better. Our Border Collie mix, Oreo, went on so many adventures in her 17 years, coast to coast, mountains to desert. In her final years, she slowed down and was content to meander about the trails behind our house. On her last canoe trip to the Boundary Water Canoe Area, I knew it would be her last and I think she knew it too. She soaked in every bit of her adventure, I can still picture her basking in the sun on the warm rocks near camp. She was the best adventure dog and I miss her greatly.

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