Trail etiquette for dogs (and their people)

- August 15, 2011

"Three times this summer I have been threatened or chased or bitten by unmannerly, loose dogs on trail..."

I love dogs: the soulful eyes that invite a great adventure in the woods, the sheer joy they express when outdoors with their favorite people.
BUT.  Three times this summer I have been threatened or chased or bitten by unmannerly, loose dogs on trail. This is sheer nonsense, and of course I blame their people -- not the dogs. To be fair, I've been greeted happily by wagging, smiling dogs much more frequently but those instances of aggression are quite enough to color an entire outing.
Some places, like Tent Rocks and Bandelier, have banned dogs because of conflicts.
So here I offer a few suggestions. If your dog is likely to greet other people and dogs with a wagging tail, and no jumping, then do bring them along! They're great company and can help alert solo hikers to the approach of others. If they stay near you and come immediately when called, then they're good off-leash candidates.
But if you need to have your dog leashed in the parking area or around other people, think twice about letting them off-leash down the trail. Dogs that run up ahead, chase wildlife, trail runners or mountain bikes, and don't come when called are not so fun for others. Take them to a fenced dog park or other area for running willy-nilly and walk the trails on leash. And think about enrolling in some training classes together so that it's not a permanent condition.
An acquaintance of mine was out in the woods with his roaming dog -- a sweet dog, but given to heading off out of sight -- who did her usual disappearing act. Moments later, there was a crash and the black dog came tearing out of the brush on a beeline for her owner with a bear hot on her heels!  Her owner, no dummy, threw a pine cone at his dog and she swerved off again, confused, taking the bear with her.  Luckily, she reappeared several minutes later with no bear.
So, to you responsible dog people -- thank you.  To the rest of you -- please be more considerate before someone else or your dog pays the price.