Taking Dogs on the Trails


Experienced hikers, backpackers, and backcountry managers have evolved, over a period of time, a variety of “Dos and Don’ts” (often referred to as trail and camping etiquette). Below is a comprehensive list of these behaviors for your consideration related to taking dogs into the backcountry, both on the trail and in camp. With which do you agree? Disagree?

Doggie Dos and Don’ts

 —  Obey signs prohibiting or restricting pets.

 — Do not take dogs on trails unless well behaved around strangers; do not let them steal or beg for food.

 — Keep dogs on a leash or under strict voice command at all times; never let them chase wildlife.

 — When meeting other hikers, keep your dog close; keep a tight leash even if you are confident the dog is safe around strangers.

 — Realize that some people have an aversion to or even strong dislike for dogs; don’t assume others will want to pet your overly friendly dog.

 — Grab the dog’s collar when around pack animals, small children or other dogs.

 — When meeting pack animals or in the presence of wild animals, do what you can to prevent barking or growling.

 — Do not let your pet drink from places where people draw their water; either have them drink well downstream from all people or drink from a container of water provided by you.

 — Do not take dogs camping if not confident they will be quiet at all times, especially at night.

 — Remove dog feces well away from the trail or camping areas.

 — Be a responsible dog owner; do not give others more reasons to promote further restrictions on pets.

The above listed behaviors have been synthesized from many sources. The underlying issue of whether or not to take dogs into the backcountry in the first place is controversial. I am not a dog person and would rather not see them in wilderness areas. But I also acknowledge that dogs in the backcountry are a fact of life and greatly enjoyed by many. For some they are seen as necessary for security and protection. This article should serve to, hopefully, make life easier for dog owners, non-dog owners, and the dogs.

Some Practical Questions For Dog Owners
Questions to ask yourself before deciding to backpack with your dog (provided by Liz Young, dog owner and avid hiker):

  • How old is your dog?
  • Do you have an indoor dog (mostly stays inside with you) or an outdoor dog (comes inside only rarely)?
  • Is your dog at a healthy weight?
  • Will you take the time to accustom your dog to the pack?
  • How long is a typical day hike with your dog and what are the weather/temperature extremes you've hiked in with your dog?
  • What do you know about first aid for your dog?
  • How obedient is your dog?
  • Will you pick up after your dog?