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Trail Etiquette For Dogs!

By Kayla Fratt

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As summer spreads across the northern hemisphere, many of us are pulling our hiking boots out of the closet and getting ready to hit the trails with our dogs. Whether your dog is a seasoned trail veteran or a new puppy, you might want to brush up on some trail skills for your dog.

Many trail skills are actually quite human-centric and not ideal for dog training. Let’s go through the process of preparing you and your dog to be excellent trail stewards:

1. Know before you go.

There are lots of basic questions to ask about a trail before you head out.

  • Is the trail dog-friendly this time of year? Some trails are only dog-friendly at certain times of the year. 

  • What are the leash restrictions? It’s important to follow these regulations for the safety of your dog and others as well to maintain access for all dogs! 

  • What wildlife may be active in the area? It’s key to know if an area is a hotspot for deer that may tempt your dog or more dangerous wildlife like elk, bear, and moose.

  • What other hazards exist on the trail? Are there cliffs, rivers, highways, traplines, barbed wire fences or free range cattle? You can use the AllTrails app to find a lot of this information.

  • What is the usage of the trail? If the trail is heavily trafficked with ATVs, horses, mountain bikes or other users, you’ll want to know and plan accordingly!

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2. Pack your bags.

Even on relatively small hikes, I always bring a leash (even if the trail is off-leash friendly, it’s good to have backup), poop bags and some treats. 

  • On longer hikes (for us that’s anything over about 3-4 miles) I bring a small grooming kit to remove burrs and foxtails. That kit includes a flea comb, trauma shears, tweezers and lubrication to loosen up the seeds. We also pack a first aid kit with gauze, vet wrap Carprofen, and a few other odds and ends. I also bring water and may put visibility vests and/or bear bells on the dogs.

  • For our really long hikes (10+ miles or overnight trips), I also bring along a Pack-a-Paw Rescue Harness. We also have a larger first aid kit for these trips and I may bring along a jacket or cooling coat for the dogs, depending on the weather.

  • My dogs generally don’t need booties, but that’s because their paws are tough and we aren’t in an area that’s particularly rocky or cactus-prone. You may want to consider booties for your dog depending on your dog’s needs and the terrain.

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Even on relatively small hikes, I always bring a leash (even if the trail is off-leash friendly, it’s good to have backup), poop bags and some treats.

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3. Brush up on your dog’s trail skills.

At a minimum, your dog should be capable of passing other people, dogs and recreators of all sorts safely. If you know your dog may bark or lunge, it’s important to be vigilant so that you can warn people and move off the trail. With my puppy Niffler, I call to people, “He’s a pandemic puppy and may bark at you. I’m just going to move off the trail and let you pass.” That does the trick! I then feed Niffler lots of treats. He’s quickly learning that seeing people is a cue to come to me, step off the trail and get delicious snacks. A win-win-win: he isn’t in their way, he’s not barking and he’s learning that coming to me is a good idea when people show up.

  • It’s polite to pull off the trail and let others pass, even if you don’t have to. At most trails, mountain bikers are supposed to yield to hikers and dog owners. The reality is, they often don’t or can’t due to their speed or a corner. Try to stay vigilant yet friendly and keep your dog close enough that you can keep other recreators happy. 

  • Once your dog is competent at politely and safely passing others, you can think about other training projects: directions on the trail like right and left, coming when called around distractions and staying close when off-leash are all important skills for trail dogs. Letting your dog off-leash is a huge topic beyond the scope of this article. It takes a lot of practice but is so rewarding!

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I then feed Niffler lots of treats. He’s quickly learning that seeing people is a cue to come to me, step off the trail and get delicious snacks. A win-win-win: he isn’t in their way, he’s not barking and he’s learning that coming to me is a good idea when people show up.

What other skills and preparation do you think is important for a good trail dog? Do you have any questions about what we covered? We’d love to hear your feedback on our social media channels!


Kayla Fratt is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and the owner of Journey Dog Training. She’s passionate about helping owners prevent and treat behavior problems in their pets. She also works as a conservation detection dog trainer with her border collies in Missoula, Montana. She’s an avid runner, cross-country skier and a budding agility competitor.

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