Attention Dog Owners: Trail etiquette so everyone can enjoy hiking

Do you hike with a dog? If you do you probably have some opinions about the ethics of hiking with dogs and whether dogs should be on or off leash. But regardless of your individual opinions, I hope we can all agree that we want dogs to be a great addition to any hike, not a reason someone doesn’t enjoy hiking.

In order to attempt to make hiking a great experience for all trail users, I recommend following a few simple rules of trail etiquette.

Consent is an important concept in many aspects of life, and the general rules of consent still apply on a hiking trail.

In general, assume that other hikers do not want to be approached by your dog. If you want to let your dog greet other hikers (human or dog), ask first.

If the answer is no, call your dog to your side and give some space when passing the other hiker. Not all people are comfortable around dogs. And many dogs are reactive to other dogs and/or really don’t like strange dogs running straight up to them and getting in their space.

These people and dogs may have been greeted before by overly enthusiastic dogs who jumped on or jostled them. They may have had a bad experience with an aggressive dog. Or they may just not be socialized and comfortable with dogs. RESPECT THIS.

If your dog can’t calmly heel with you as you pass hikers who don’t want to be approached, then hike with a leash and leash your dog as you pass others. If your can’t reliably recall your dog, train a reliable recall or leash your dog.

2. Give Other Users Space to Enjoy the Trail

As mentioned above, not all hikers want to be approached by other hiking parties. And many people hike with their dogs to escape crowds and enjoy the solitude of nature.

As a general rule, attempt to give other users space to enjoy the trail. Other hikers who are working on training their dogs to ignore other trail users will really appreciate any extra space you can provide.

Whenever possible, I recommend operating under COVID recommendations and giving other trail users 6 feet or more of space.

3. Train your Dog to Heel when Passing Others

I mentioned this above, but training your dog to return to you and pass other hikers in a heel position is an amazingly respectful skill for your dog. If other users are nervous about dogs, the evidence that your dog is trained and deferring to you will make dog-nervous users much more relaxed when passing you and your dog.

And those hiking with dog-selective or dog-reactive dogs will really appreciate not having to worry about your dog darting towards them as you pass.

4. Teach Your Dog Not to Stare

Staring is rude behavior. In people and in dogs. Teach your dog that it is okay to look at oncoming dogs and people, but not to stare. Unless, of course, your dog is staring at YOU. Then reinforce the stare which means they are watching for signals and positive reinforcement cues.

If you are interested in learning more about why I train my dogs not to stare, check out our post: How to Pass Other Dogs Calmly, Stop the Stare.

5. Reinforce Calm Greetings

If you do let your dog greet other trail users, encourage and train your dog on how to greet people and other dogs calmly.

Your dog shouldn’t jump up on other hikers. Instead, they should know how to sit or stand for petting. I know it can be hard to train a dog not to jump up (my dogs still struggle with this sometimes), but it is a very important life skill.

Allow your dog space to exit the greeting if they become uncomfortable. And encourage other people to avoid leaning over your dog or petting them on the top of the head to make greetings a more pleasant experience for your dog.

When greeting other dogs, your dog’s body language should be relaxed and he or she should curve around to sniff the back end of a new dog. If your dog is stiff or running right up into the face of another dog, you may need to step back and work on some dog-to-dog socialization skills.

If your dog is on-leash when greeting other dogs, try to give enough leash so your dog can still greet with curved body language. Try to avoid face-to-face greetings and keep greetings short. I let my dogs sniff for about 3 seconds before encouraging some movement.

For more information on proper greetings for dogs, check out this nice article by the Whole Dog Journal.

6. Follow Leash Regulations

Please follow leash regulations for a specific trail. If you want to hike with your dogs off-leash, head to trails where that is allowed.

There are many trail users who choose to only hike on-leash trails and don’t want their on-leash dogs to encounter off-leash dogs during a hike. Especially for those of us working on behavior modification for a dog who reacts to other dogs, encountering off-leash dogs can set back training for our own dogs. So please respect local trail ordinances.

And if you do hike off-leash trails with your dog off-leash, make sure your dog is responsive to your voice commands and that you are following trail etiquette guidelines 1-5.

7. Pick Up After Your Dog (Leave No Trace)

And on the concept of following trail regulations, please please please pick up after your dogs. More and more people and their dogs are discovering hiking as a great pastime. But the more of use there are out on the trails, the more important it is for all of us to leave no trace.

Not only is leaving dog poop on the trail unsightly for other trail users, but it can also be a health risk. Dog feces can spread many different parasites and diseases, such as whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, parvovirus, canine coronavirus, giardia, salmonella, cryptosporidium, and campylobacter.

And scarily, some micro-organisms (like roundworms, E.coli, and Giardia) can survive in the environment for up to 4 years if not picked up.

Additionally, it has been estimated that two or three days’ worth of fecal material from 100 dogs could contribute enough bacteria to the environment to temporarily close a bay and watershed areas within a 20-mile radius to swimming and shellfishing due to the amount of fecal coliform bacteria in dog feces.

So please pick up after your dogs. And if you need some helpful suggestions on how to transport your dog’s fecal material away from the hiking trail, I have just the blog posts for you.

8. Don’t Allow Your Dog to Harass Wildlife

Many dogs have high prey drives and instinctually like to chase wildlife. While I do believe that all dogs need a good outlet for this drive, you should not let your dog chase wildlife on a hiking trail.

Wildlife can be injured by dogs or have their habitat disturbed. And some types of wildlife (moose, bears, etc) can injury dogs or end up chasing your dog back to you, putting your safety at risk.

For these reasons, allowing your dog to chase wildlife is illegal in several states. You can find a list of local regulations here.

If your dog hikes on a leash, preventing chasing should be pretty simple. But if your dog hikes off-leash, make sure you work hard on a reliable recall and train your dog to resist the urge to chase.

9. Limit Barking

And lastly, in order to be a respectful trail user and reduce your impact to the hikers and wildlife around you, try to limit your dog’s barking while out hiking.

Many dogs bark when over-excited or frustrated, so working on reducing reactivity to help your dog be a calm and enjoyable hiking partner. Not sure how to start working with a dog who over-reacts to stimulus on trail, head over to our post on the basics of living an active lfie with a reactive dog.

Why is Dog Trail Ettiquette so Important?

Everyone deserves to be able to enjoy hiking trails. And by following good etiquette rules for dogs, you are helping keep more trails open to dogs. There are many areas, like national parks, that prohibit dogs on hiking trails. These rules are in place for a variety of reasons, including dogs’ own safety. But sometimes trails are closed to dogs due to too much dog poop accumulating, dogs chasing wildlife, dogs harassing other trails users, etc.

By following the etiquette rules above, you attempt to reduce your dogs impact on other trails users, which can help keep more trails open to dogs.

Many of us only learn these trail etiquette rules from trial and error and from experiences where someone else’s lack of trail etiquette negatively impacted our experience. I like this following quote from Mountains and Mutts about learning how to respectfully share outdoor spaces when you hike with a dog.

This is a perspective that I’ve only had for a couple of years. I used to think my off-leash dogs never bothered anyone but the reality is they did and I share outdoor recreation spaces with a lot of other people and other dogs who all equally have a right to those spaces. Reactive dogs need exercise and they need the outdoors as much as other dogs, arguably even more. It’s important to share the space and obey the rules of the outdoors so that we don’t lose access to these spaces with our dogs. There are already a lot of parks which have started banning dogs, I don’t want that trend to continue. We should all just adventure responsibly with our best friends.

And for more dog hiking etiquette, I recommend checking out this great list from Long Haul Trekkers.


Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

One thought on “Attention Dog Owners: Trail etiquette so everyone can enjoy hiking

  1. Finally! Thank you so much for this piece; it protects people and their dogs. I have been badly attacked and am often “dismissed” by dog owners with aggressive large dogs. I
    I don’t want to have to go through the painful healing and the intravenous antibiotics that I had to have strapped to me in a hip bag for 2 months. And all of that without so much as a “Sorry.”
    I have tried being polite, being vocally firm, being silent and just standing still or stepping off the trail, and none of these methods works with a bad dog owner.

    The good owners, even with loose dogs, at least recognize that I am uncomfortable and call their dogs back. Even though the state law forbids dogs off a leash, calling them (and having the dogs respond) is all I ask.

    I am forever bewildered by folks who don’t think they owe any common courtesy to anyone else out there on the trail.

    Thank you!

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