Walk Safety & Trail Etiquette

A dog walking on leash with it's owner

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Let’s talk about trail etiquette. A lot of us think this is common sense or common courtesy. However, based on how often I encounter it and hear of others having similar struggles, I’m very aware that many dog owners simply don’t know or understand the importance of controlling their dogs.

First, I’m going to address what I do with my own dogs.

Where I live, the bylaws for local trails state that you can have your dog off-leash as long you have them under control. I think that’s great, as long as you actually have them under control.

My dogs are well-trained, so I let them off-leash when walking on the local trails. However, when I come across someone that has a dog on leash, I quickly recall my dogs back to me and then put them back on their leashes so that they don’t approach the oncoming dog.

Why do I recall my dogs?

I simply just don’t know why that other dog is on leash. It might be for no other reason than their owner just wants them on leash at that moment. Maybe they’re working on their dog’s training, maybe their dog is injured, moody, in heat, or maybe their dog isn’t good with other dogs. At the end of the day, it’s not my business. All I know is that it’s my responsibility to be in control of my own dogs and I will not allow my dogs to approach a dog that is on a leash. This means that when I see someone else with an on-leash dog, I leash mine up as well, no matter what. 

When I walk past the other dog and owner, I make sure to give them space and ensure my dogs are on the far side of my body, so there’s no risk of the dogs going towards each other. If the other owner is being very clear that they want to say hi, and I feel my dogs will be compatible, I can then choose if I want to participate in a greeting or not. There’s no obligation, my dog’s needs are my primary concern, no questions asked. If an on-leash greeting is not ideal for them, then I won’t engage. 

Most importantly, I’m not ever going to assume that my dog should have the right to approach the other dog without an invitation… and I hope the other dog owner will do the same.

I have the same rules for cyclists and runners. If I see someone coming, I ask my dog to stop and sit, or I call them to me, and put them on a leash. I always reward my dogs for these scenarios too. I don’t give my dogs the chance to feel tempted to get in the way, and I don’t allow any opportunity for them to do so. 

Recently, I was out for a walk with my dogs and some people were walking toward us with their dog on a leash. I called my dogs over to me. I put on their leashes and stepped to the side to give them space to pass… but the people proceeded to walk straight towards us with their dog lunging and pulling in our direction. Their dog seemed friendly, but very out of control.

My dogs weren’t comfortable with what was happening. And to be honest, neither was I! One of my dogs started to growl and prepare for the potential of a fight, and my other dog was scared and wanted to get away. Their dog was coming in way too hot and heavy so I told them we needed some space, but they kept coming closer. I put my dogs behind me and had to really assert myself and demand they pull their dog away from us. At this point, they did, but you could tell they didn’t understand and had no idea what they’d done wrong. I did not owe them an explanation. I was not in the mood to explain and I wanted to have our space respected. 

It is not at all appropriate in any situation for your dog to drag you over to a stranger with unknown dogs and force an interaction

It is dangerous. This is how dogs end up fighting. This specific event is actually what inspired me to write this article.

As the dog was pulling towards us, the owners were awkwardly laughing, apologizing and saying “Sorry!! He’s super friendly and just wants to say hi!!” They were not paying attention to my dog’s body language, nor were they not paying attention to me.

If you have a dog that tends to lunge towards people or dogs: give space, move over to the side, put them on the far side of your body, and do not give them the freedom to throw their bodies towards anyone else. I don’t care if it’s out of anxiety, frustration, friendliness, excitement, fear, or aggression – it doesn’t matter the reason if you have a dog that lunges.

It can scare and frighten people. It can scare or trigger the other dog. It can set other people’s dogs back in their training or rehabilitation. I cannot emphasize how important it is to have control of your dog. If you’re struggling, hire a trainer, subscribe to ReadyDog, and learn from our videos.  Educate yourself and your dog, don’t be complacent. 

And if you do have control of your dog, high five to you! Your understanding of trail etiquette is so incredibly appreciated.

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