Even a perfect unleashed dog weakens trail norms.
There’s always the person who defends themself, saying “my dog is very well-trained and listens to me even with wildlife or other people.” Even if they’re right, these people fail to understand what openly violating the rules does to other people. People don’t follow leave no trace and trail etiquette rules because they’re afraid of getting in trouble… it’s incredibly rare for someone to get in trouble for littering or camping where they should not be. Rather, most of us follow the rules because we see others doing so, and are afraid of judgement if we openly violate them. They’re what we call norms, and they keep the backcountry clean and courteous (for the most part).
When you hike up trails with your unleashed dog at your side, other people see you and understand you’re breaking the rules. They feel that they also don’t need to break the rules, and may unleash their own dog. However their dog isn’t trained well like yours. chases wildlife and gets into fights with other dogs. You’re the indirect cause of these impacts. Even the perfect unleashed dog weakens trail norms.
Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorados Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run. Hes on a mission to summit all 58 of Colorados fourteeners and has already climbed more than half.
Leashing your dog keeps it safe.
The single best reason for leashing your dog is its own protection. Wildlife including moose, bears, raccoons, porcupines, mountain lions, and others can injure or harm your pet. If it drinks from mountain water sources it may become ill due to parasites or disease. Every year, pets go missing while hiking or climbing with their owners off leash. Mountains are dangerous places, and it’s easy for pets to fall or get lost. A leash will help keep your dog safe, first and foremost.
Pacer’s BIG 14er Day! (Tips for Dog Adventures)
On a warm summer day in the Southern Colony Lakes Basin, I remember making my morning coffee just after leaving my tent. I sat with a steaming cup and stared at the Crestones above. I’d arrived the previous night, and was preparing for an early morning ascent the next morning of Humboldt Peak. WOOF! A loud bark shattered the silence, and a large lab ran into my lap. We both got a good splash of hot coffee in our faces.
“Oh hey man, he’s friendly!” I heard from the trail below my campsite, about 80 feet away. I walked the dog back to the owners, and gently reminded him that dogs in this Wilderness area are supposed to be leashed and under control. He said his boy was well-trained – he had just gone after a squirrel into my site. I headed back to my site to make breakfast – over the next few hours, three more unleashed dogs wandered into my campground. Each time, their owners excused themselves when I mentioned the rule. One owner became outright hostile.
Why do so many owners flout rules about dog leashing? I don’t think it’s because they don’t care. I believe they don’t understand the impact that unleashed dogs have. Let’s explore a few of the effects.