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The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

Posted by Loren D at Jun 03, 2019 10:39 AM |

Whether you hike with dogs or not, we all share the trail. We need to try to consider other perspectives.

by Loren Drummond

“He’s friendly,” they shouted at me as their dog, a goofy young Lab, barreled towards me and my nervous dog, Lula. We keep her leashed for exactly these kinds of unexpected encounters, be they wildlife, folks who might be afraid of dogs or pups like this giant goofball whose attention she will definitely not enjoy.

Dogs on trail: Bring up the topic in a room full of hikers, and you’ll see people on both sides of the debate get their hackles up. (If only we could bring the same fire to the subject of trail funding, amiright?)

dog railroad grade Jason Heritage.jpg
Photo by Jason Heritage. 

The problem with dogs is not dogs. It’s us. And it’s a problem complicated by the sheer number of factors in play: safety, laws, wildlife, ecology, etiquette. And, perhaps most of all, our very human emotions.

Dogs are family, and we love them like family. Let’s be real, though; dogs are tough to trail-proof. Our beloved furry friends can act like goobers, demonstrating behaviors and reactions that confound us. They pull, jump, chase and bite. It’s hard to admit, and it can be embarrassing to manage in the tight confines of a trail.

For some people, an encounter with a dog can be stressful or scary. They may be afraid of dogs, and a chance encounter can be hard when they’re just looking to unwind in nature. All of us come to the trail (and to conversations online and off) with these stored-up experiences and charged emotions. And when we hit the trail, feelings flare up in all kinds of situations — when you see someone disregard the rules or when a passing hiker makes a cutting remark about your dog.

But does it have to?

dog Teddy Wingo.jpg
Photo by Teddy Wingo.

Our feelings often get us into this mess. Maybe they can get us out too. Whether you hike with dogs or not, we all share the trail. We need to try to consider other perspectives.

Try this: The next time you’re part of a tense encounter involving dogs, try to find empathy for the folks on the other side. Try to see how love or fear or being new to an experience might color what’s going on. I know it can feel like everyone is ignoring the rules or behaving badly. But as you hike, notice all the people (and pups) trying to do the right thing. Smile. Say thanks. Take care of each other.

I’ve found that talking to people can make these situations just a little easier. Maybe all these little conversations, these tiny acts of consideration, will add up to a better collective trail experience for all of us.


T&C N on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

Remember, when you hike with a dog, you are imposing your dog on everyone else who is there. I have seen very few dogs on trails that could improve the experience, or a least not detract from it.
And... they are not your kids. That's an insult to children.

Posted by:

T&C N on Jun 03, 2019 07:53 PM

Pete R on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

T&C N, great job! You've just exhibited the exact lack of empathy and consideration that Loren is pleading against. Clearly, you hate dogs. If you want to avoid them altogether, you'll have to stay inside. Otherwise, have a constructive conversation with someone whose dog is off-leash. People with dogs have few off-leash choices in the city, and letting Fifi run loose on the trail might seem like a good option to them. They may treat anyone who thinks differently as a curmudgeon, and it doesn't help that that's exactly how you sound. You're within your rights to complain; you just sound like a complainer when you do.

The fact is, letting a dog off-leash on the trail exposes them to dangers, not just wild animals, but other hikers and others dogs too. It's definitely safer to keep them close. Even though one's dog may be well-behaved and in control, one can't control other dogs, people, or animals.

Posted by:

Pete R on Jun 04, 2019 09:52 AM

T&C N on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

Hey, Pete R, my comments got you to reply, so that's good.
If I sound too harsh or unyielding on the subject of dogs on trails, it's because I don't believe most dog owners recognize what a detriment they are to the hiking experience, even for the owner. The majority of dogs I've experienced on trails, detract from the atmosphere we are all there to drink in. Aside from getting under foot, barking, and other behaviors dogs are known for, they require the owner's attention regularly, sometimes constantly, which the rest of us witness as well.
I don't hate dogs at all. Clearly, you're jumping to a conclusion. I grew up with a dog most of my formative years. Like you said though, the only way to avoid other's dogs is to be a hermit - that's not a good thing.

Posted by:

T&C N on Jun 04, 2019 11:43 AM

nesmila on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

My dog previous loved going out on trails with me. And as a single female she provided a certain amount of safety. Those are worthwhile reasons to bring a dog. She was also well behaved and stayed with me. I had a super long lead so she could have some freedom but always reeled her in among others. My current dog is not a good trail dog. Too anxious and protective and not friendly. She loved going out but she was a lot of effort to keep in control. So I stopped. Know your dog. Your dog may be friendly but the one she runs up to may not and that is never fun. I used to let my first dog off leash. I know better now. Keep your dog leashed so everyone can enjoy the trail.

Posted by:

nesmila on Jun 04, 2019 06:02 PM

ehiker on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

I just cannot get behind the premise of this... The only times for me that it gets 'tense' with dog owners is when they are breaking the rules, and I have zero reason or motivation to try to empathize with someone who is yelling he's friendly! to me as their dog charges me growling and snarling in an area where he shouldn't have even been off leash. ZERO. Even your lead in was someone *breaking the rules*. That dog was not under control, and should not have been off leash (not by my opinion, btw - even off leash areas require the dog to follow commands) even *if* it was allowed in that area.

You want to compare them to kids... well, do thank people with toddlers in the grocery store just because the kids aren't throwing temper tantrums? Of course not. Don't expect me to thank you for actually following the rules on a trail.

Posted by:

ehiker on Jun 05, 2019 09:07 AM

Pete R on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

T&C N, if you say you like dogs, I'll take you at your word. My big issue is with your blanket statement, "I have seen very few dogs on trails that could improve the experience, or a least not detract from it."

My friend brought his dog to Teneriffe Falls last week. We all love this dog; he's great with people but doesn't impose himself on them. But he is terrible with other dogs; he may just want to say hi, or he may want to eat them; we can't tell and don't want to risk it. After a mile we turned around, and it was so stressful that he probably won't be out on the trail again for a long while, if ever. The reason I am bringing this up is that he was clearly far and away the worst dog on the trail. All the other dogs trotted along next to their owners, eyes forward, and acted like good little hiking buddies. I think the worst dogs are the ones we remember, but the good ones are so unobtrusive that we barely notice them, and are the vast majority.

Of course people need to keep their dogs to heel, and if it's not working out, they should be left at home. Not everyone will be polite and considerate, obviously. I think the point of this article is that, just because Dog Owner X is rude, that's no reason to be rude to all dog owners. As Loren says, there are many out there who are trying to do it right. If you aren't appreciative of the well-behaved dogs on the trail--or, for that matter, the well-behaved toddlers in the grocery store--well, maybe you should reconsider.

Posted by:

Pete R on Jun 05, 2019 01:48 PM

Muledeer on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

It can also be added, a good well behaved dog owner picks up the dog poo and PACKS IT OUT!!

Posted by:

Muledeer on Jun 05, 2019 08:47 PM

alexlim on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

Opinions on this aren't going to be changed.

It's not bad to reiterate the notion of having empathy towards dog people/trail users, but the point of this article is basically just 'be nice' and try and get along, no? You could easily apply this to a wide array of social issues and just swap in new terms.

T&C and Pete's dialogue is classic back and forth, though I think the constructive nature of this article keeps it from getting nasty.

The rules/policy/ecology/etiquette around dogs on trails is not static. Meaning, rules such as being leashed or dogs being banned from specific areas, came about for a reason. Whether it was just the 'bad dog owners' or just the reality of the practice, those rules and things came to be at their current state because people spoke up, took issue, and forced a change. It totally sucks when a few idiots ruin it for the ones who do everything perfectly, but that's how it is across all thing we have to share.

Like it was said, we immediately go to our own on-trail experiences, and I could add a mention of the majority of mine being a negative experience (including some absolutely horrible, disgusting, and dumbfounding), but to me it isn't about appreciating or Thanking the good owners while having to Educate the bad... it's about the notion of having to do that at all. That's not my job, I'm there to get away from shit (often literal) like that. I'm sorry but it's not two sides of a coin or equal arguments, as much as you don't want to hear it (or don't care), it's not. T&C says is well, 'you are imposing your dog on everyone else', we don't have a choice. We're NOT doing the same to you.

Posted by:

alexlim on Jun 06, 2019 07:51 AM

ngie on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

I'm ok hiking with dogs, as long as the leash rules are being followed (especially in higher density areas) and poop bags are picked up along the trail (this is littering), or not used and the poop is pushed off trail (this is permitted in some areas; check with the land managers before doing this). Also, there are some national forest areas where dogs can go off-leash, but they _must_ be under voice command and no more than 6' from the owner. Those hiking with pets need to be aware of the rules and control their pets, or if there are enough negative incidents, all pets could be banned from a given area (leashed or not). It's not the dogs' fault; the onus is on the humans caring for them.

This aligns with Loren's message: letting dogs access trails responsibly is ok and is the responsibility of the hiking party to care for the pets while out on the trail per the trail guidelines, which includes keeping pets under reasonable control (leashed or not per the area requirements).

Posted by:

ngie on Jun 06, 2019 07:28 PM

sunzhine on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

Where can I hike within an hour of so of Seattle where dogs are not allowed? If you search for this in google, all of the dog-friendly hikes and articles come up. Why can't we have some trails that are dog-free, that don't allow dogs? In fact, I do not know of any trails that do not allow dogs except National Parks. Where are they? In other states with hiking such as Arizona or California, they have designated trails that are for dogs and they have other trails that do not allow dogs.

WTA provides a search engine option for finding hiking trails to take your dog but not the opposite? Shouldn't we also cater to people that prefer to hike without dogs? Can WTA provide a search option for trails that do not allow dogs as well so as not to discriminate against non-dog owners?

With the huge increase in dog owners combined with novice hikers, it seems there should be some trails that are off limits to dogs, especially some of the more narrow trails like Chirico and Mount Si.

Posted by:

sunzhine on Jul 24, 2019 07:07 PM

ngie on The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame

By and large having well-behaved dogs is ok on many trails, because they are multi-use. It’s humans not following the rules (many times, but not always because of ignorance) that cause a problem, as the dogs are doing what they would do naturally.

There are other hikes that don’t allow dogs like the Enchantments, and hikes in the Alpine Lake Wilderness (at least) require dogs on leashes.

Your best bet to avoid dogs: find extremely difficult trails... with lots of rocks... most owners tend to shy away from taking their canines over talus fields.

PS Mt. Si is narrow? I need to introduce you to some goat trails sometime :)..

Posted by:

ngie on Jul 24, 2019 08:33 PM