Trail Dog Etiquette

Etiquette for trail dogs is just as important as etiquette for hikers, but can easily be overlooked or ignored. These rules of conduct/manners help avoid unnecessary issues with others hikers and animals, which makes trail life much more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Trail Dog Etiquette on Trail

  1. When approaching or passing other hikers put your dog on a leash, or be 100% positive they will a.) follow your voice commands and b.) stay close to you. You never know if another hiker is afraid of dogs or allergic. Either scenario can escalate quickly if your dog is out of control.
  2. Never let your dog beg for food from other hikers! If they like dogs and offer your dog a treat, great! But it’s incredibly rude to let your dog wander around camp bothering people while they are setting up tents and cooking dinner.
  3. Leash your dog on the sections of long-distance trails that require dogs be on a leash. It is for the safety of the dog and the wildlife in those areas, but it is a rule that frequently gets broken. Bears, porcupines, and snakes are all legitimate concerns on certain sections of trail and in those sections you NEED to leash your dog. Admittedly, I have ignored the rule before and I almost got myself, Panda, and anther hiker in trouble in the Shenandoah National Park because of it. The only thing that really saved us was Panda happened to be walking next to me behind Wook and he happened to be very alert to the trail ahead, which meant he saw Momma Black Bear and her two cubs before Panda or I did. I immediately put her leash on and kept her from walking towards them to investigate. Had she been leashed from the beginning it would have been a non-issue. Bottom line: leash your dogs when parks and sections of trail ask you to. Its for everyone’s safety, including your dog’s.
  4. If your dog poops on the trail or next to the shelter move it. If possible, dig a cathole like you would for your own bathroom needs and cover it in that. At the very least move it a foot or two off the trail where hikers can’t accidentally step in it. I know I may get some flack for not telling you to pick it up, but I’m not going to pretend that I pick up and pack out Panda’s poop on our trips. Leave No Trace principles say to pick it up in doggie bags and carry it out with your trash. If you want to go that far more power to you. However, my rules for dealing with Panda’s bathroom needs are a.) don’t leave her poop on the trail and b.)don’t leave her poop next to the shelter or in the immediate camping/shelter area. In the past, this hasn’t really been an issue because Panda runs away from camp to do her business, but on the off chance that she does it too close I clean it up, and I highly encourage you to do the same.
  5. Don’t let your dog in a shelter without getting the green light from other hikers. I met very few hikers who did not like dogs, but liking dogs in general and sharing a sleeping area with them are two different things. I used a hammock and tarp sleep system during our Appalachian Trail thru-hike and much preferred it to the risk of norovirus often associated with sleeping in packed shelters. However, in the rare instances we did sleep in one, I always asked the other hikers around us and I did not allow her to roam in the shelter or get on other hikers’ gear during the day.

Etiquette in trail towns is much the same as etiquette on the trail. An important thing to remember is many hostels and motels are NOT dog friendly so there may be towns you can’t stay in. In today’s “Age of Information” you can look ahead and pick out a dog-friendly place or plan to sleep on trail instead of being surprised the day or night of.

Trail Dog Etiquette in Trail Towns

  1. Keep your dog leashed. Once again, this is for safety and is very important even for a well-behaved dog. They should be leashed as you get to the trail-head into town, the entire time you’re there, and on your way back to the trail. 
  2. Pick up after your dog. Accidents in town are inevitable if you’re going in and out of towns on a long hike . Keep your doggie bags handy.
  3. Be sure your dog is securely attached to a solid structure before you leave them unattended to do laundry or get food. That can be a bench outside a laundry mat or a pole outside of a restaurant or cafe; Whatever is close to where you will be and that your dog can’t hurt itself on. You don’t want them to somehow get tangled on anything or  get excited and be able to take off down the street with your pack. 
  4. Hand-in-hand with number three is having situational awareness when you leave your dog unattended. Especially if you are not rejoining them in 2-5 minutes, be sure they a.) are out of direct sunlight b.) have water and c.) are out of the main walkway. It’s best not to leave them unattended for very long, but if it’s necessary follow those 3 guidelines and check on them frequently. 

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