By Angela Schneider
I used to be that jackass. You know the one who calls out “he’s friendly” while her dog bounds joyfully along the trail unleashed and uncontrolled. Shep was one of the most gregarious dogs I’ve ever met and, after some time and patience, he came when he was called. That doesn’t mean he should have been off-leash in places where he shouldn’t have been.
And I learned my lesson the hard way.
I was minding my own business on an urban hiking trail in Calgary, Alberta, when I heard screaming and yelling nearby. And barking. I ran toward the cacophony and found Shep trying to make nice with a woman who was shaken to the core. She was terrified of dogs.
Since the onset of the pandemic, more of us have dogs. And more of us are outside. Which means more of us are outside with our dogs.
The trails are busy, and we’re all looking to do our own thing. Trouble is, doing our own thing can get in the way of someone else doing their own thing. That’s one of the reasons I’ve learned keeping my current dog, Bella, on her leash is the way to go.
Here are 6 good reasons you should leash your dog on trails.
1. It’s the Law.
Leashes are the law in most cities and counties, including the City of Spokane. If you get busted with your dog off leash in Spokane, you can get hit with an $87 fine. The law goes for Spokane County and Washington State Parks, too.
Want to spend the day climbing to Vista House at Mt. Spokane? Don’t forget your dog’s leash, no more than eight feet long.
2. Safety for You and Your Pup.
You don’t know what you can’t see. And if your pup is off the trail roaming and loving the smell of every pile of scat, there’s no telling what he can get into. Then there’s dogs like my Bella who likes to roll in the poo. (Need I mention we’re frequent patrons of the do-it-yourself dog wash at Julia’s Jungle in Spokane Valley?).
Keep your dog on-leash if you stray over to Idaho and Montana for a day hike, because your dog also runs the risk of getting caught in a wildlife snare. Trapping is legal in those states.
3. Unwanted Wildlife Encounters.
The dangers of wildlife was one of the first things more experienced hikers taught me when I first started wandering trails some 15 years ago with Shep. An off-leash dog can find potentially dangerous critters like bears, cougars, or wolves, and draw them back to you. Luckily, even in grizzly territory in Alberta, the most dangerous animals we ever saw were deer and chipmunks.
An off-leash dog may also spend his time harassing wildlife. And that’s just not cool. Number six of the seven Leave No Trace principles is, of course, “respect wildlife.”
We’re already invading their territory. We don’t need to stress out wildlife more with our dogs getting all up in their grills. Keep your dog on-leash to help ensure the safety for all animals.
4. Peace of Mind.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many Facebook posts I’ve seen where people are searching for dogs lost in the woods. The hiking groups in Washington and North Idaho frequently feature people looking for help finding their dogs. The pups just strayed away or got spooked and took off.
It’s heartbreaking, yet there’s an easy solution: keep your dog on leash. That way you know where she is at all times.
5. Respect for Others.
Not everyone likes dogs. I just don’t get it. I’ve been a dog person my entire life. But yes, there are people on the trails who don’t like dogs, or maybe just don’t appreciate them. They don’t want our dogs running toward them or worse, jumping on them. It doesn’t matter what size either, whether an “oh, but my dog is so small and so cute” dachshund or a “no, really, he’s a big softie” Great Dane.
Some people even fear dogs, like the poor soul whose day I ruined so many years ago. Even a goofy Lab can leave a person with a bite history terrified on the trail.
6. Some Dogs Don’t Like Other Dogs.
I have friends with reactive dogs. They love to go hiking, but lately they’ve been leaving their own dogs at home because too many people think their dogs need to be off leash all the time. “She’s friendly,” they call out. “Mine’s not,” my friends tried to reply. It didn’t matter. The off-leash dog approached, and things spun out of control.
Dogs simply aren’t capable of higher-level thinking. They see another dog and their instinct is to approach and check that butt out. It’s up to humans—the ones capable of higher-level thinking, but who don’t always use it—to be responsible dog owners and nature lovers.
I take the rules pretty seriously. Even though I used to be a scofflaw, my exceedingly responsible husband has lightened my penchant for risk-taking.
It doesn’t help that Bella has been resistant to recall and likes to wander (er, bolt) when she gets the chance. That’s typical for a Maremma sheepdog. Her stubbornness, independence, and defiance are all bits that we love about her. While hiking in Spokane and North Idaho, though, she is on leash.
If you frequently enjoy hiking in Spokane, no doubt you have one of the trail apps on your phone from AllTrails or Washington Trails Association. Most of the trail notes indicate whether leashes are required or even if dogs are permitted on the trail. (Note: Dogs are not allowed on trails at the Little Spokane River Natural Area).
Just keep your dog on-leash. Let’s all be good ambassadors for our dogs and the growing community of outdoors-loving dog owners and make sure everyone enjoys the trails.
Originally published as “Becoming a Better Dog Owner” in the May-June 2022 issue.
Angela Schneider is an adventurer, writer, and photographer at Big White Dog Photography in Spokane. First and foremost, she is mama to her 8-year-old Maremma sheepdog, Bella.