Dog and Owner Trail Etiquette

Dog and Owner Trail Etiquette

by: Dorothy Williams

Be considerate to fellow hikers, wildlife, and the land.

If dogs are allowed off-leash:

  • Have voice control over the dogs at all times. This means that when the dogs are called, they come regardless of the situation.
  • Carry a leash for the circumstances that may arise.
  • Do not let your dog wander off. Keep them in sight at all times. There is a higher tendency for dogs to get into trouble when they are out of sight. They can also easily become lost.
  • Be sure your pet is wearing a secure, legible ID tag and has a registered microchip. 
  • Do not let your dog chase wildlife. Chasing wildlife is not only dangerous to your dog, it is harmful to the wildlife being pursued.

Not everyone that is out on the trails enjoys the company of a dog. Some hikers may be scared of dogs, have allergies, or just do not care for dogs. An unfamiliar barking dog running at a hiker can be terrifying. When your pet frightens a hiker, be aware that the situation may escalate as the hiker may react in a way that frightens your pet and injuries may result. To prevent problems when approaching other hikers, bikers or horses on the trail, always leash your dog or call the dogs over and step aside and let the hikers pass.

As you come upon fellow hikers with dogs, especially leashed dogs that are excited, give the owners a moment to get the dogs under control. Dogs on retractable leashes can become more excited when the owners are pulling to shorten the leash. The more the dog is pulled backward, the more they want to pull forward to signal that something is happening. By giving the owners a moment to gain control over the dogs, it allows for a less stressful situation when passing. If both parties of dogs are friendly with other dogs, let them approach and have a sniff before continuing on.


Interesting fact: A dog’s flight distance is 7 feet. In nature, dogs approach in a curved path and sniff at the hind end of the other dog. Head-on approaches and meetings are “rude,” can be intimidating and even threatening to dogs. Letting dogs meet in a more natural way is recommended.

Some owners are working with dogs on training while on the trails. By giving them a moment to gain control over the situation, it allows them to have their dog sit and stay with positive reinforcement before the passing hiker approaches.
If your dog is leash aggressive, nervous, or fearful with approaching hikers, bikers or horses, explain this as they approach and position yourself between the dog and the oncoming people. It signals to your dog you are in control, and it reassures them.

On some trails, such as the Appalachian Trails, hikers with dogs may pass “through” hikers carrying large packs and hiking poles. Many dogs are afraid of the packs and poles. It can be a threatening sight for the dogs and they may react negatively. Leash your dog and allow the hikers to pass. 

Always ask permission to pet dogs or let your dogs interact with other dogs. Just as you, a human, would not go up to another unfamiliar human and start touching them, don’t touch a pet without permission and don’t let your dog do it! 

When hiking with dogs off-leash, be respectful of the dogs on-leash. There may be a reason they have to be leashed. There are friendly dogs that cannot be off-leash due to not responding to their owner’s voice control, but other dogs may have a tendency to be aggressive.  Always ask other hikers if it is acceptable for your dog to approach their dogs. Even if your pet is not aggressive, you can cause harm to another hiker when your unleashed pet causes the other hiker to try to prevent contact between the dogs.

If there is a tussle between dogs on the trail, be respectful and exchange contact information with the other hikers. People bitten by dogs with an unknown rabies vaccine history could face having to go through a series of injections to help prevent rabies. Even if your dog is up-to-date on his or her rabies vaccination, if your pet is bitten by a dog with an unknown rabies vaccine history or by wildlife, he or she must have a rabies vaccine booster within 72 hours. If you are bitten by an infected dog or wildlife, see a doctor immediately! Rabies is a serious disease that can cause death. For more information on rabies, CLICK HERE

When hiking with children, do not let them run up to dogs they do not know. Not all dogs have been socialized with children and may react out of fear. Most hikers that have kid-friendly dogs are more than happy to have the dogs stop so the child can pet them and sometimes will even allow the child to give the dog a treat. It is a great opportunity to show off your dog. 

Limit the number of dogs hiking together. Increasing the number of dogs increases pack-like mentality. Know how your dogs react in a pack. Know your hiking companions. Sometimes when one dog gets excited, it can excite the entire group thus heightening the chance of a confrontation with injuries. It can be a lot of fun to hike with a group of dogs running and playing together, but on the trails, you may encounter a “new” dog or wildlife that changes the dynamic of the group. Having enough hands for the number of dogs can be a lifesaver in situations with other hikers, dogs, and wildlife.

At this time of the year, wildlife is starting to be seen more often. Do not allow dogs to chase wildlife. Momma bears and cubs are out and can be very dangerous. If you encounter a bear or bobcat, leash your dog and slowly back away. Be aware that there are poisonous snakes in the area. If your pet chases wildlife, the terrain can change quickly and your pet could fall off a cliff or outcropping. Be aware of your surroundings and your dog’s behavior on the trail. Remember that dogs can smell and see animals more quickly than humans. Always remember that your pet must have a rabies booster within 72 hours of being bitten by wildlife.  It is a good idea to know the closest veterinarian or emergency hospital to the trail you are on.

Leave no trace

Take out whatever you bring in on the trails. Let nature be, only take out photos of what you see. Do not trample on plants or let your dogs walk on delicate areas.  Stay on the trails. Don’t leave your garbage and dog waste on the trails. Follow the rules for human waste if you do not carry out your pet’s waste- bury it 6” deep and at least 200 feet from water sources.

For more information about the LEAVE NO TRACE MOVEMENT go to:

If you are respectful to fellow hikers and the land, hiking is a wonderful way to enjoy a beautiful day, lower your stress level, and have fun with your dog. Enjoy!


Thank you for your article. I have a dog and do not take her with me when I run trails. I have become increasingly frustrated with other dog owners who do not take responsibility for controling their pet on trails. I have often had to stop my run and call ahead to ask owners to control their dog only to have the dog turn and sprint while barking or worse, growling with hair raised right to my legs. Some people seem to act as if this is the dog's right and call out "Oh, he's friendly." I do not view being charged at by a strange barking dog as friendly. I do view it as aggressive and dangerous. Every dog owner thinks their pet is friendly. I do not want to be the person who gets bit for the first time. I shouldn't have to stop my run and protect myself from strange dogs. I now carry pepper spray to keep a protective boundary between myself and dogs that act aggressively and are not under their owner's control. I do appreciate responsible pet owners and have met many who are considerate and keep their dogs controlled and clear of other people who are out enjoying the woods. Again, thank you for addressing such an important safety issue for the beautiful area we all live in. Hopefully more people will read it and take responsibility for their pet.