As a dog sitter, I hike the Southern California trails often. Usually this happens without incident, but once in a while my pack and I meet a fellow hiker whose actions make the pups unhappy. More often than not, they don’t have canine companions, but sometimes they do.
We all want everyone and every dog to make it off the trail without scratches, bruises, and bites. I do my part by walking alone any pup not good with people or too rambunctious. This gives me the strength and focus to make sure nothing goes wrong. On legal off-leash trails, only my dogs good at recall and social with all humans and other dogs are allowed off-leash. Unfortunately, not all dog owners take such a common-sense approach.
With that in mind, here are six tips for sharing the trail with dogs, whether you are hiking alone or with your pups, too:
How should you walk by a dog on a trail? Walk by. No running; if you are running, slow to a walk. No screaming. Just walk.
I was on an off-leash dog trail once and a male runner came up behind while my pack was stopped for a water break. Upon seeing the dogs, the runner screeched to a halt right in front of us. Of course, one of my dogs saw this as odd behavior and started barking aggressively and taking a “back off buddy” stance. When I went to grab him, he ran just out of my grasp, desperate to get the threat moving along.
The response from the runner was to take off his shirt, yell, and throw it at the dog. I’m not sure what he expected this to achieve. I told him it would be best if he just continued on with his hike. He grabbed his T-shirt and did just that. The previously unhappy dog went back to lapping up water, happy now that the threat was gone.
If you are coming up behind a dog, yell out “on your right” far enough in advance that the owner can respond. If I have a dog who I know doesn’t like to be passed from behind, the heads-up gives me time to anticipate and control the dog’s reaction. This is common courtesy when passing anyone on a trail. Dogs have sharp teeth, though, so it’s wise not to startle them in particular.
Easier said than done. When we physicalize fear — screaming, jumping back, grabbing a person next to us — a dog can easily misinterpret our actions for play. If you can’t walk by a dog without freaking out, warn the owner before you get close.
Say, “I’m afraid of dogs. Can you hold him close while I pass?” Granted, some dog owners will respond with, “He’s nice. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Just reiterate, “I’m really scared, so if you can hold him close I’d appreciate it.”
If you come across a dog who seems unfriendly and the owner is nowhere to be found, your best bet is to turn around and walk away. This is a pain since the opposite direction is not the way you want to go, but it’s better than having a possibly aggressive dog come at you. By walking away, you give yourself distance and give the owner an opportunity to catch up to the dog or to navigate the pup around you at a more convenient location.
Recently I was walking my pack and met a gentleman and his dog coming up a trail we were going down. He told me his dog wasn’t friendly. I should have taken my pack back up the hill until I could find a place where we could pull out of the way to safely let the other hiker pass.
Unfortunately, I’m really bad at taking my own advice. I knew my dogs wouldn’t react. They didn’t, but it was a very difficult situation as the hiker crouched on the ground in the middle of the trail and put his dog in a bear hug. Of course the dog was not happy. Put me in a bear hug on the ground, and I’m going to be angry, too! We all survived, but it was a confrontation that didn’t need to happen. Do as I say, not as I do.
Many dogs are protective of their owner and pack. Coming up to a dog or an owner can cause a dog to see you as a threat. Recently I was on a hike, and a runner came up from behind a curve. The pups were already startled, but the runner was so put off and afraid of the barking dogs that he ran right into one. Of course, this didn’t go well, and the pup jumped up on the man as he quickly retreated. I feel like, “Don’t run directly into the dog” is a no-brainer, but it happened!
Sometimes when a person is afraid of dogs but trying to hide it, he’ll stare at the dogs and bark. Bad idea. First of all, staring a dog in the eyes can be seen as aggressive. Add a bark, and you are just asking for trouble. You don’t know how to speak dog. For all you know, your bark translates into “Your momma’s ugly.” A dog doesn’t like when you insult his mom.
Without question, it is the dog owner’s responsibility to control the dog. Even so, the more everyone can do to peacefully and safely share a trail, the more pleasant the adventure will be for everyone.
Do you have any tips for sharing a hiking trail with dogs? Let us know in the comments and share this with your hiking friends without dogs. The more knowledge we all have, the safer we all are!
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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.