Not All Wanderers Are Lost

My mom and I were walking home after a long stroll along the river. We stopped at a crosswalk to wait for a green light. A jogger approached, with a dog on a leash. He asked if we could hold the leash while he tied his shoes. He finished with the laces, straightened up and, without another word, sprinted down the block and around the corner. Time passed. Finally, the dog looked at me and said, “It’s just as well. I’m a trail runner, anyway.”

This odd encounter made me think. Dogs really do love to run, and the best place for that is in the wild. I’m a firm believer that it’s OK for dogs to hike trails, but taking your dog along is a great responsibility. If you’re taking Ajax on the trail, you need to do it right. Just like it’s wrong to leave your dog with a stranger—who does that anyway?—it’s doggone wrong to break trail-hiking rules.


Choose Dog-Friendly Trails

Always check rules and regs of the areas where you’ll be hiking, and never take a dog on a trail that’s clearly marked off-limits to dogs. Most U.S. National Parks do not allow even a leashed dog to share the trail. Many national forests, as well as state and local parks, do allow dogs on their trails, though rules vary.


Follow Leash Laws

Leashes are mandatory almost everywhere. Know the leash law for the trail you plan to hike, and honor it. Letting Butch race up and down and across shared trails isn’t just rude, it’s dangerous. Using a leash is the only way to protect the vegetation and keep dogs from darting off to chase small critters—or confronting large ones. Dog owners: Please stop doing this.


Stick to the Trail

I love exploring just as much as the next dog and, if I were left to my own devices (a rare thing indeed), I’d go tree to tree until the sun went down. As tempting as extra exploration is, it’s important for both you and your dog to stay on the designated trail. Cutting switchbacks, taking shortcuts and blazing your own trail damages the environment. Keep your pup on the path to preserve the beauty that brought you there in the first place.


Scoop the Poop

Leaving your dog’s business where he drops it is inconsiderate, and it’s not as good for the environment as you may think. When hundreds of dogs pass through an area and leave doggie dung behind, it can be a serious and stinky hazard. Instead of leaving it where it lies, double-bag the stuff to block the smell and carry out what you carry in.


Don’t be “that guy” and/or “girl” who ruins the hiking for others. As a dog owner, you’re responsible for your dog’s actions. What’s more, Buddy Boy and/or Missy Sue are ambassadors for all dogs every time y’all hike. When parks learn about bad behavior on trails, chances are that restrictions for dogs increase. The only hard-and-fast hiking rule? Use common sense and simple courtesy.