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Guide to Hiking Etiquette with Dogs


Cooler weather is on the way for most of the Southern states, and that means many of us will be once again hitting the trails with our best four-legged friends. But, don’t forget to make hiking etiquette for pets a BIG part of your journey, as it an make or break your adventure.

Let’s face it – nothing cleanses the soul like a relaxing hike through the wilderness. Whether you want to enjoy the rich blooms of wildflowers in that remote desert valley, or take a run through the cool pines, it’s important to make sure everyone out there has the same level of enjoyment as you do.

So dust off the walking stick and renew your wild spirit, but make sure you follow trail etiquette when you take your pets along.

[Check out 4 of our favorite pet-friendly hikes in the US]

Dogs are usually natural explorers on the trailhead. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to watch them carefully – there are plenty of dangers in the wild – from poisonous mushrooms to cacti, and coyotes to rattlesnakes (not to mention hunters of the two-legged variety).

This is why it’s so important to understand the basics of hiking etiquette. Here’s a primer to get you started…

Keep Pets Leashed

This is now law in many areas of the country (on or off trail). Keep your dog under control at all times.

  • Just because you’re a dog lover doesn’t mean that the person walking over that ridge shares your enthusiasm.
  • Just because your dog is “small” or “wouldn’t hurt a rabbit” doesn’t mean they can’t get shot by a fearful person walking towards you.
  • Just because your dog is big does not mean he couldn’t get pounced on by a bear, stung by a scorpion, or struck by a snake.

Leashes also prevent your dog from eating unknown substances (like toxic mushrooms, decaying bodies, or intentionally placed objects designed to injure dogs). Leashing can also prevent your dog from being caught in a trap or stumbling upon some other contraption designed to kill wildlife.

Most trail hikes within national forests require a park pass. You can pick yours up at any outdoor shop, the ranger station or by leaving payment in box at the site.

Hiking Etiquette for Pets

Yield Right of Way

If you’re walking your dog, yield the trail right of way to larger animals (including horses, donkeys, and llamas).

Is it the law? No.

Is it courteous? Absolutely.

Some horses are “dog-shy” and your pet is just as likely (or more likely) than you to get kicked in the head if you don’t scooch over a bit.

Here are a few common questions we get about hiking with pets:

  • If my dog is small, and a large dog is approaching, who moves? Personally, I would say the one with the most control over their pet should be the one to move. But assuming no one has common sense, the small dog owner should probably scooch a bit.
  • If my dog is crazy and a well-behaved dog is coming, should I move? Um, yes? But, a better question would be, “Why is your dog crazy?” Please stay at home until you’ve resolved the behavior issues.

Respect Water Sources

Water sources are rare in the Southwest, so having any source of water contaminated, no matter how small, is a very big deal. You’ll have to use your best judgement for your area, because dogs deserve to play in the water just as we do, but please pay attention to the situation.

Don’t let your pet splash through the only clean source of water for miles (and you shouldn’t splash through either). This rule might be a bit more flexible in areas with running water or lakes, but if you come across a spring, keep paws out of it.

On that same note, dogs should not drink from unknown sources due to the danger of invisible parasites.

Pro Tip: If your dog doesn’t like to drink from a container, carry bouillon cubes or a small packet of dehydrated goat’s milk to encourage your pet to drink.

Hiking Etiquette for Pets

Cleaning Up After Pets

The only waste in a forest should belong to the woodland creatures native to your area. After all, you are visiting their home. 

Yes, bears do shit in the woods. It doesn’t mean you should let your dogs do it without picking up after them. Dogs can easily transfer disease to their wilder cousins and we have a responsibility to keep all animals safe.

Clean up after your pets. If you bring it in, pack it out.

Respect and Understand the Wildlife

Hiking Etiquette for Pets
Yellow caution sign on a pole with text “Caution – rattlesnakes in area”.

Your dogs can have plenty of fun while respecting wildlife.

Leave the bunny alone, don’t chase the squirrel, and for God’s sake, snake-train your pet if you’re hiking in the desert!

Along the same line, you need to protect your curious canine from dangerous wildlife. These include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Wild horses or burros: They are also protected by law, so if you see anyone harassing them, please report them to your local game and fish department.
  • Big cats: I’m talking cougars, puma, bobcats, etc.
  • Coyotes: Learn how to protect your home, your yard, and your camp from coyotes with this guide: Keeping Pets Safe from Coyotes
  • Skunks:We have a whole guide devoted to skunks.
  • Porcupine: Check out our guide for Camping with Pets safely.
  • Snakes: Snakes are dangers that reside throughout the nation. Learn more about rattlesnakes here – Desert Dangers: Rattlesnakes
  • Lizards: Lizards are generally not a problem for pets, but you still need to respect wildlife and not let your dog catch one.
  • Toads: Bufo toads kill more dogs than rattlesnakes in the Southwest.
  • Bears: Be aware of all bears, particularly in early spring when sows have cubs with them.
  • Spiders: There are thousands of different types of spiders and all of them are helpful to the environment. Learn more about spiders at Spider Bites in Pets: Black Widows

Know the Five Commands

Come, Drop, Leave it, Heel and Sit-Stay are the five basic commands every pet should know before walking out the door. 

If your pets cannot follow these simple commands, you should focus your training until they can.

We have a way for your to quickly teach these commands. Training Diaries: 5 Commands Your Dogs Should Know

Owning a pet is about being a responsible pet owner. You are responsible for teaching your pets good etiquette as they will not learn from others. Together we can make the world a better place for our animals and other humans.

Announce Your Arrival and Pass Safely

No one likes animals running up on them, especially not in treacherous places like narrow trails, cliffs, or washes. It’s important to approach every person and animal sharing the trail as if they are fearful of dogs.

If you’re walking up on people or horses, call out that you’re “passing on the right”. Most people head to the high country to lose themselves in their thoughts, not have crazy animals run up on them. “Behind you” or “on your left” are also great notifications to those ahead of you.

When running or walking with your dog, it’s polite to inform those ahead of you that you’re coming up behind. This can also be done with a simple “Behind you” or “to your left” announcement letting them know you’re planning to pass. This is particularly important when using public walkways.

Respect Plants and Animals

There are hundreds of plants that can kill your pet whether you’re in the forest or desert.

Poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, stinging nettle, skunk cabbage, crocus, calla lily, and tulips are just a few.

Personally, the one we worry about most is mushrooms. Wild mushrooms kill hundreds of dogs each year.

Prepare for Regional Illnesses

Your pets can become exposed to unusual diseases and viruses as fast as you can when you’re in a new area. These are just a few of the things you need to be aware of when hiking or camping with your pets.

  • Tick-borne illness: Prevalent throughout the US. Make sure your pets are protected from ticks and fleas no matter where you hike. Learn more about Lyme Disease here.
  • Valley Fever: This bacterial illness is extremely common in the Southwest and there is almost no cure or way to protect your pets. It is transmitted by breathing dust particles.
  • Plague: This bacteria is still common in the Four Corners area of the Southwest. Plague is a bacterial disease caused by the parasitic genus Yersinia pestis. It is generally passed from a rodent or prairie dog to humans (and occasionally pets).
  • Hantavirus: Still commonly found in the Southwest. Dogs and cats are not known to carry hantavirus (Viral hemorrhagic fever); but, they may bring infected rodents into contact with people if they catch such animals and carry them home.
  • Alabama Dog Rot: This disease causes damage to a dog’s blood vessels and the kidney after exposure to mud. It is suspected the disease spreads from muddy and wooded areas. This illness is particularly common in the southeast states and has spread to the UK (especially in Devon, Gloucestershire, Rutland, and County Tyrone). It is also known as cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CRGV).
  • Water-borne Bacteria and Viruses: Listeria, Leptospirosis and other water-borne issues and it’s one more reason why you or your dog should carry their own drinking water.

What to Bring on A Long Hike

When you’re preparing for a hike that lasts longer than a few hours, it’s important to be prepared (especially for your pet’s sake).

  • Water: one gallon for you, 3 liters for each dog, per day. Dogs should not drink from unknown sources due to the danger of invisible parasites. Carry bouillon cubes or a small packet of dehydrated goat’s milk to encourage your pet to drink.
  • Leash, collar and harness: Your pet should always be wearing a collar and proper ID tags. Keep dogs on a leash at all times.
  • Collapsible Bowls: Bring along a collapsible bowl for your dog’s water and food. They are lightweight and easy to clean on the hike.
  • Photo ID: Of course, this isn’t necessary, but if your dog goes missing on a hike, will you have a recent picture of your pet to show others?
  • Waste Bags: Make sure you can (and do) clean up after your pet. Leave no sign of you or your pets. We need to keep our trails clean. If you pack it in, pack it out!
  • First Aid Kit: Be sure you have gauze (enough to wrap an injured paw), flex-tape, and antibiotic cream.
  • Pest Control: Keep your pet protected from mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and other pests. There are many natural pest control sprays that will deter them from your pet (and you). Never use a spray intended for a human on a dog or horse.
  • Pack: Your dog should never carry a pack that is more than 20% of his weight, but tasking your pet with a job is great way to tire them a little faster.
  • Reflective Gear: Make sure your dog is never mistaken as a threat by ensuring they wear reflective gear.

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