hiking with dogs

Hiking with Dogs– Pros and Cons of Dogs in the Wilderness

An Introduction To Hiking With Dogs

Where can you take a dog on public lands? Where must dogs be leashed? And when is it more appropriate to leave your dog at home?

It’s one of the most controversial topics in the backcountry. To take a dog on public trails or leave the dog at home. Dog owners say their pets need to run, and that trails are great places for both people and their pets. Single women (and men, as well) see having a dog as some kind of protection.

Other users, and many land managers, say that dogs chase wildlife, pollute springs, and can scare or even injure other hikers, especially if the dogs are unleashed. Dogs can also damage other hikers’ equipment in shelters and lean-tos, and can get into fights with each other.

Deciding to Take a Dog into the Backcountry

Here are a few considerations for dog owners intent on taking their dogs into the backcountry.

  • Are dogs allowed? Dogs are not permitted in the backcountry in many national parks and state parks, as well as in some other areas. In some parks, dogs may be allowed only at certain times.
  • Are there leash laws? In some parks, dogs are only permitted if on a leash. In others, dogs are permitted unleashed at certain times of day (usually very early in the morning, and late in the afternoon). Check the rules before you go.
  • Do you have voice control of your dog? Really? Dogs in pursuit of a squirrel or another animal are difficult to restrain. Even leashed dogs can quickly bolt, and the issue of voice control may turn out to be an illusion. Similarly, if your dog is running ahead and furiously barks at a hiker coming toward you, what kind of control do you really have?
  • In bear country, think twice about bringing a dog, and think thrice about letting a dog off lead. You don’t want to risk a dog-bear encounter.
  • Is the environment appropriate for a dog? Extremely hot arid climates can burn a dog’s feet, and a black dog may suffer in direct summer sun with no shade. Water sources can also be a problem in arid areas.
  • In sensitive ecosystems, dogs can place added stress on wildlife.
  • Look for dog-friendly areas (check with local dog owners, or ask at outdoor stores or land management agencies.)

How to Be a Responsible Dog Owner in the Wilderness

True, some hikers, environmentalists, and trail managers would say that the only way to be a responsible dog owner in the wilderness is to leave your dog at home. But the fact is that people are going to bring dogs with them. if you’re one of those pet owners, here are some tips that will ensure you are not part of the problem.

  • People have priority in shelters over dogs. Expect to have to pitch a tent if a shelter is occupied, and, if you do want to use the shelter, ask if bringing in your dog is okay with other hikers.
  • Never bring your dog into a shelter if he is aggressive and will scare others away. A barking dog who has decided to guard “his” shelter can scare children and timid hikers,.
  • Keep your dog out of springs. There is nothing that will justifiably irritate a fellow wilderness user more than arriving thirsty at as spring to see a dog cavorting in it (and maybe worse). This is especially important in arid areas, where springs may be many miles apart. Keep your dog out of the drinking water.
  • If your dog is aggressive, use a leash. Most experienced hikers have been aggressively approached by wildly barking dogs off a leash. If your dog is “one of those,” leash him or leave him home.
  • Leash your dog when around more populated areas such as group campsites and picnic areas, and also when in areas where you see a lot of wildlife. (Indeed, many land managers say “always leash your dog,” to avoid interactions with other people, other dogs, and wildlife.)

As with so many other controversial areas, many of the conflicts over dogs in the wilderness could be solved with a little consideration and common sense. Remember that problem dogs usually have problem owners. Don’t be one of them.