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Hiking with Dogs

WTA answers all of these questions: Where can I hike with my dog? Why should I have my dog on a leash? What's the best etiquette for dogs on trail? What's a good trail in Washington for my dog? What should I bring for my dog on the hike?

Leashed dog on trail
Mittens heads down some nice crib steps on the Dorothy Lake trail. Photo by Alan Bauer.

Hiking with a dog—and being a great dog ambassador on trail—can help awaken your senses to the wonders of Washington's wild places. Your pups smell new smells and get tuckered out. And you have that extra incentive to get out of the house, hike to a beautiful destination and get great exercise.

But hiking with a dog is different than hiking with another person. It adds layers of complication and responsibility, too. From choosing great trails to etiquette to ensuring your four-legged buddy stays safe, we've got tips and answers to the most frequently asked questions about dogs on trails.

Below you will find the most frequently asked questions about dogs. Click on a link below to take you to the answer or scroll down.

Can I take my dog on a hike, and does she have to be on a leash?

Why should I have my dog on a leash?

What's the best etiquette for dogs on trail?

What's a good trail for dogs?

What should I bring for my dog on the hike?

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Can I take my dog on a hike, and does she have to be on a leash?

Rules for dogs vary from one land agency to another, but what doesn't change is that dogs should always behave in a responsible manner. Even in areas where dogs are allowed off leash, your pet should always be under voice control—this means that your dog will come when called. If your dog does not come when called, you should keep your dog on a leash. And no matter where you are going, you should always bring your leash with you.

Here's a rundown of some rules specific to certain lands across Washington:

  • National Park - Dogs are prohibited on all trails in Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. They are also not allowed on trails (except the Pacific Crest Trail) in North Cascades National Park. In addition, dogs are not allowed on beaches in Olympic National Park, except Rialto Beach 0.5 miles north of Ellen Creek; all Kalaloch beaches (from Ruby Beach south to South Beach); and the Peabody Creek Trail.
  • National Forests - Dogs are generally permitted on U.S. Forest Service trails. There are several areas, however, where dogs are not permitted or must be on leash:
    Diane harness dog
    A harness leash is a great way to keep both of your hands free (and get a little extra tug up the hill). Photo by Julie Reimer.
    • Enchantments and Ingalls Lake Trail - Because of heavy hiker use and the fragile ecosystem of these areas, dogs are not allowed anywhere in the Enchantments Basin and on the Ingalls Lake Trail.
    • Alpine Lakes Wilderness - There's no easy way to summarize, but a good rule of thumb is if the trail leads into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you're generally required to have a dog on a leash. This includes most trails accessed along I-90 and on Highway 2 west of Stevens Pass. Leashes are also required on several popular trails in the Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest. There are several exceptions to the above rules, including trails in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie area. A previous blog post lists the specific leash-only trails here.
    • Other leash-only trails - There are several other trails on the national forest where leashes are required. Always check at the trailhead and bring your dog's leash.
  • Washington State Department of Natural Resources - Most Washington State DNR trails, including Mount Si and Tiger Mountain, require that dogs be on a leash at all times.
  • Washington State Parks - Dogs are welcome at state parks but must always be on a leash. Dogs are not allowed at swimming beaches.
  • King County Parks - Dogs must be leashed on all King County trails, including Cougar Mountain Regional Park.

Rules and regulations can vary from trail to trail, so check at the trailhead for posted information. Or call the local ranger station.

Why should I have my dog on a leash?

There are so many good reasons to leash your dog on trail. Here are a few of the biggest ones.

  • Because you care about your dog's safety - Leashed pups are safe pups. There are a lot of natural hazards out there - cliffs, sharp rocks, boulders, rivers and creeks to cross, wild animals. An off-leash dog is much more likely to be hurt off-leash than on-leash. Or get lost. It's a wild country out there and a dog can easily lose its way.

    And then there are other dogs - especially ones that are not on a leash. Will these canines like each other, or won't they? If not, it is best if you can easily pull your dog away from the other one and continue hiking. Finally, there are wild animals. If your dog gets between a mama bear and her cub, it could develop into a bad situation for both of you.
  • To be courteous to other trail users - You may have the nicest dog in the whole world, but other people don't know that. All they see is a dog,  sometimes a big dog, come careening up a hill or around a curve. They think: Is it friendly? How is it going to react to meeting my dog? My kids? Where are the owners?

    Hiking with a dog on a leash is especially important on busy trails and ones frequented by families with children. From their short perspective, dogs appear very big to kids. And the stakes are high. A frightening encounter with a dog on trail can lead to a life-long fear of dogs or of hiking.

    Hiking with your dog on a leash is a simple, courteous thing to do - and your dog is still going to have a great time (and you might get a little extra help going up the mountain!).
    Robin Lakes leashed dogs goat
    Everyone, including the goats, are able to enjoy this scene. Photo by Wendy Wheeler.
  • To respect wildlife - Marmot, squirrel, deer, goat! There are few dogs that have the self-control not to dart off after one of these creatures. A leash protects these critters and makes sure your dog doesn't get lost or hurt dashing off after them.
  • To protect the vegetation - Unfortunately, dogs—no matter how well-trained—are not as mindful of fragile mountain plants as hikers are. This can be the case on trail, when dogs veer off into the trees or romp in the meadow while bounding ahead of their owner. But it is particularly true at the hiking destination, especially lakes, when you stop to rest. These places usually get more impact from hikers anyway, and dogs simply compound that. The higher you travel, the more fragile the vegetation gets. So please, keep a close eye on your pets in these locations.
  • Because you're following the rules - As mentioned above, dogs are required to be on leash in all parts of the Issaquah Alps trail system, on state park trails, DNR lands and on trails leading into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness - plus any number of other trails. Pack your leash and check the signs at the trailhead to see what the rules are and please follow them, even if other hikers are not.

What's the best etiquette for dogs on trail?

As a hiker, you are responsible for your own actions. As a dog owner, you have an added responsibility: your dogs actions. By following these simple canine hiking guidelines, you will go a long way to making the trails enjoyable for everyone.

Shurtleff and dog leash
Shasta enjoys a hike on the 'flexi' leash. Photo by Katie Shurtleff.
  • Obey the rules specific to the trail you're visiting. Some trails are closed to dogs and many require leashes. Check with the land manager before you head out or consult the signs at the trailhead.
  • Keep dogs on a leash or under strict voice control at all times. Strict voice control means the dog immediately heels, stays at heel and refrains from barking.
  • Yield the right-of-way to hikers. When dog owners meet other hikers, the dog and owner must yield the right-of-way, stepping well clear of the trail to allow other users to pass.
  • Yield the right-of-way to horses. When dog meets horse, the dog owner must first yield the trail. Make sure the dog stays calm, refrains from barking and doesn't move toward the horse. If possible, move to the downhill side of the trail (so you don't look big) and hold your dog close until the horse is well past.
  • Pick up or bury the poop. The only poop atop the forest floor should be from the animals who live there. Pack a trowel and bury the waste as you would your own, or better yet, pack it out in a plastic baggie. Do not leave a baggie by the side of the trail or hanging from a tree to get later.

What's a good trail for dogs?

While most hiking trails allow dogs, that doesn't mean that they're dog-friendly. Obstacles that hikers may not find difficult can prove insurmountable for their dogs. Boulder fields, rooty and rocky trailbeds, cliffs, stream crossings and snow are all important features to take into consideration before heading out.

So how do you find a trail that is good for dogs? We recommend purchasing one or both of the Best Hikes with Dogs books by Mountaineers Books. There is one for the Inland Northwest and one for Western Washington. Each have 75 to 80 dog-tested hikes to try.

Many of WTA's Trip Reports mention hiking with dogs. By doing an Advanced Search and clicking on the Hiked with a Dog box, you can read reports written by hikers who did that hike with a dog.

If you're just starting to hike with your dog, try some easy trails first. See how your dog does crossing small streams, balancing on bridges and dodging big boulders. Determine how much water and food are required for a day hike, how well your dog adjusts to a pack and how she fares with elevation gain and mileage. As you get to know what kind of hiker your dog is, you'll know what to look out for with the trails you choose.

What should I bring for my dog on the hike?

You know about the Ten Essentials you should always have in your pack. Here are the Essentials for Dogs:

  1. Obedience training - Before you set foot on a trail, make sure your dog is trained and can be trusted to behave when faced with other hikers, dogs and wildlife.
  2. Leash and collar - Always carry a leash, even when it is not required. Situations may arise that warrant leashing your dog.
  3. Water and bowl - Don't count on finding water along the trail. Pack enough for the entire day. A good rule of thumb is three liters of water for your dog's day hike.
  4. Dog food and treats - Keep your dog well fed on the trail, because she will burn more calories than usual. Bring extra snacks in case you get lost and need to spend the night in the woods.trowel
  5. Plastic bags and trowel - Be courteous and leave the trail as you found it. Packing out your dog's poop is the best etiquette - or bury it as you would your own waste (200 feet away from the trail and water sources).
  6. ID tag and picture identification - Make sure your dog is properly identified with tags should she become separated from you. Put a photo of your dog in your pack.
  7. Doggy backpack - Let your dog carry her own treats and water. Check that packs have reflective areas for night hiking and are padded for a comfortable fit.
  8. Basic canine first-aid kid - Includes gauze pads and tape in case of cuts, a couple of bouillon cubes to encourage the dog to drink if she's getting dehydrated, and antibiotic cream for dressing wounds that might be infected.

Okay, enough of all of this! Head to the hills with your dog and have fun!

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