Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dogs on hiking trails

Talking about dogs in the backcountry tends to promote emotional responses. I am going to try to blog about my experiences in the hope that I won't swing to extremes. I don't have a dog now, although I have lived with dogs in the past and like many of my friend's dogs. I do understand why someone would want to take their dog hiking with them. While hiking I'm met many quiet, well mannered dogs. Unfortunately, I have also met many loud, obnoxious dogs and had some unpleasant experiences. Because of my unpleasant experiences, I think all dogs should be on leashes on public trails. I know many people believe their dogs are under control and would not harm a person or animal but unexpected things happen. I do not think a dog is under control when it is out of sight of the owners or when the dog rushes away even when called. Also, when I meet a dog barking or growling, I don't know the the dog is friendly.

On a recent trip, I was eating a snack just off a trail when I heard a dog, close by but not visible, barking loudly. Because of past experiences, I jumped up and faced the barking. The owner soon had the dog on a leash and had the grace to say "sorry". The group left but I overheard the owner talking about an encounter with another hiker in which the hiker loudly and profanely complained about the dog. She didn't understand and thought that something else was going on. Now I wasn't there but wondered if the other hiker maybe just didn't like being disturbed by a loud, possibly agressive animal that wasn't under control.

Two personal stories to illustrate some of my irritations with dogs. On a moderately busy trail, I went about 30 feet off the trail to eat lunch and put moleskin on hot spots on my feet. I had a boot and sock off and my lunch around me when I heard a sound and saw a german shepard running toward me, followed by yelling hikers. I stood up and tried to put my foot in my boot and grab my stuff. The dog took part of my lunch (jerky), knocked over my water bottle, and got muddy pawprints on my sock.

Another time on a trail, I met a family with small children at a bad spot, narrow trail with a steep drop on both sides. I moved off the trail to let the family pass but the parents wanted some information about trail and we talked for a few minutes. Behind me, another group caught up and after a bit of confusion, started back up the trail so the first family could progress. The second group had a cocker spaniel that apparently didn't want to wait. It continued down the trail and when it came to me, put its shoulder against the inside of my knee (I was below the trail). I hadn't been aware of the dog and when it pushed against my leg I nearly fell. Since the slope I was standing on was steep and composed of loose soil and gravel, a fall could have easily caused serious injury.

I don't think I'm being intolerant in saying neither of these dog encounters should have happened. The second situation was an unusual occurance that would be hard to predict. Which is part of my point, because unexpected situations occur and because dogs aren't reasoning individuals and may behave regardless of consequences to others, the dogs should be on leashes.

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