Canine Trail Etiquette: Walking with your Dog on Woodland Trails

North Bend resident and pet trainer at Le Chic Pet, Melissa Grant, takes on a dog etiquette topic in her latest column. As many Snoqualmie Valley residents take their dogs on local trail walks, the topic was suggested by readers.


My last article dealt with when and where your dog can be off-leash hiking in the Snoqualmie Valley area. I was asked on Facebook to do an article about how to handle passing and greeting other dogs while walking on our local trails. There are actual rules and common sense rules when it comes to hikingbobtrail with your dog. Good trail etiquette makes a walk in the woods a great experience for humans and dogs alike, and can mean the difference between hazard and safety.

Hiking with your dog is a great activity for both you and your dog. Dogs go crazy for all the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors. It can wear out an active dog and get you the exercise we all need. However, walking with a dog is different from walking by yourself or walking with another person.

In my last blog post we covered where dogs can and can’t be off leash in the area. My rule of thumb is: unless you have superb control – meaning you would bet $100 that your dog would turn on a dime and come when called 100% of the time, even in the oh-so-smelly and interesting woods – he or she should ALWAYS be leashed. BUT, if you want to see the specific leash rules for specific places try

Have Proper Equipment

After you brush up on the regulations for the area where you intend to hike, make sure to have the proper equipment for your dog’s comfort on the hike. If it’s a short hike (at a minimum) you should have a leash, enough water for yourself and your dog, and an ample supply of poop bags. The only poop visible in the forest should be from the creatures that live there.  All other poop should always be either buried or picked up and carried out. Be sure to yield to horses and hikers without dogs – never forgetting you are responsible for your dog’s actions.

Dealing with other Dogs on the Trail

Now that we know how we should behave on the trail with our dog, it’s time to think about other dogs – and the fact that they may not always behave as we’d like.

If you see a leashed dog coming towards you on a narrow trail, the first thing you should do is think shiny happy thoughts and relax that hold on your leash. I know it seems counterintuitive to slacken the leash, but everything you think and feel is directly telegraphed down that leash and alerts your dog how to behave. If you feel good about what’s coming, so will Fido.

Next, get between your dog and the oncoming dog. In other words, you should be the one directly passing the dog, not your pooch. If the trail is very narrow, you go first, becoming the buffer zone to judge how the interaction will go. Do not pause. Do not allow leashes to become entangled. Don’t worry about being polite, just nod, say hello and keep moving.

Any contact between the dogs should last at most three seconds. If need be, keep treats in your pocket, stick one against your dog’s nose and lure him past the other dog.  Do NOT stop to allow a greeting…EVER.  Practice the luring technique throughout your hike to ensure your dog knows the game and will respond appropriately. The odds of a confrontation are lessened if the dogs have no prolonged eye contact.

Unleashed dogs are tougher. It’s unnerving to see a seemingly out of control dog barrel down the trail at you, but again, slacken that leash and think happy thoughts. DO NOT tighten that lead. Step in front of your dog and call out to the other owner “Please call/grab/get your dog!” Ignore the standard “Oh he’s friendly” and continue to repeat yourself calmly.  Tell them your dog is ill with a communicable disease or just had surgery if you wish. You could say “My dog isn’t friendly” to put a little bit of an exclamation point on the situation.

Tell them whatever you want to get their dog away from yours. You can carry a toy or treats and toss them off the trail to distract an oncoming dog; start barking commands the dogs may know (No, sit, down, leave it); or simply turn back the way you came, but sometimes another dog is a far bigger motivation than either of those things.

If all this fails and you have a strange dog with his nose in your dog’s face, drop the leash.  Again, I know this feels wrong, but odds are you won’t be able to help tightening the leash and will antagonize your own dog unintentionally. Hopefully you will then have a friendly encounter and can continue on your way. Watch for loose, bouncy body language from both dogs and only intervene if either dog stiffens, bares teeth or gives a hard stare.

There are dog deterrent sprays on the market that may prevent a fight, but likely won’t stop a fight. One is called Spray Shield and is citronella based. The smell and sound can startle a dog enough to hightail it out of the situation. Dogs tend to react unpredictably to pain so I don’t recommend Pepper Spray. A ref’s whistle can startle a dog, enabling you to redirect the situation.

Most dogs you will encounter won’t be horribly aggressive beasts that you need to fight to the death, but a little thought and practice ahead of time can go a long way to making that hike a more pleasant experience for you and your dog. Happy hiking!


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  • I threaten to hurt the owner’s dog. Not that I ever would. It’s the owner I would really go after! This gets the quickest response from the owner. I have never actually harmed another dog, either.
    I have always owned pit bulls and of course have known about leash etiquette for years. But if my dogs ever got into it with a leash free pup on the trail, guess who would be in trouble – guilty or not?

    1. I agree, and understand completely. On the other side of the leash, or the other side of the societal more, imagine being the owner of the leash reactive, aggressive-appearing Golden Retriever. “What?! Goldens don’t behave this way! It must be….YOUR FAULT!! MONSTER!” Ugh.
      Melissa’s advice is stellar. My leash-reactive Golden and I do not hike narrow, edge-of-mountain trails. It’s not gonna happen, until I have another, less aggressive-appearing dog. I love Snow Lake, but not in this lifetime will I hike it with my current dog. There are plenty of great trails that you and your reactive pitty (bless his/her sweet, gator-mouth, truly loving heart) can enjoy. I hope we meet on the trail. WE know how to be friends. (:

    2. Well hopefully someone with sense would site the person with the off leash dog. That’s the part that annoys me. Off Leash DOES NOT mean that your dog can be out of control. But yes you have a particular sticky issue with that breed, unwarranted and unfortunate

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