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Pets In The Wilderness

Dogs not on a leash out on the trail - an all to common site on many of our hiking trails. The dog in these pictures is wandering around unleashed by the bulletin board with the above notice posted on it.

How you handle any pets that you choose to take with you on the trail can potentially negatively impact other hikers. Probably the most common pets seen on wilderness trails are dogs. Anyone that has owned a pet can probably understand the bond that a pet owner might have with his or her pet. The pet owner doesn't want to leave their beloved companion at home. Some hikers may also feel less vulnerable and safer having their dog along. But those feelings and your decision to have a pet in the first place are all about you. Don't spoil other folks hikes by not being totally responsible for your pet if you take one with you. Most of the hiking trails near where I live require that all dogs be kept on a lease while on the trail. Sadly my experience has been that less than half of all the dogs I have encountered on the trail recently have been on a leash. If dog owners do not start complying with the regulation they may loose the privledge of taking their pets along altogether.

Some dog owners argue that their dogs are so well trained that they do not need to keep them on a leash to have them under control. Well that may be their belief and it may even be true 90% of the time. But how are the other hikers do distinguish and know the difference between a dog not on leash that is under control and a dog not on a leash that is not under control. And who is defining "under control" the pet owner or the hiker encountering the unleashed animal? If a hiker has at some time in his past been bitten by a dog and consequently has a real fear of dogs, should he or she have to fear attack because they encounter an unleashed animal? I had a dog owner explain to me that their dog normally did not behave like that and I had surprised their unleashed dog and that was why it was running around me barking and growling. They way they said it is was as though it was my fault for having surprised their dog instead of their fault for not keeping the dog with them on a leash.

Taking dogs into the wilderness may also spoil other hikers' chances of viewing wildlife. If you own a dog and love hiking with your dog, the responsible thing to do is keep your pet on a leash. If you are not willing to have your dog under physical restraint at all times, then its best to leave your dog at home when you go hiking. Leaving the dog at home may be the best choice for hiking whether you use restraints or not because you just might see more and you won't irritate your fellow hikers.

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