Hitting the trails with your dog makes just about every hike immensely more fun, but there’s some debate going on about proper etiquette when it comes to leashing your pup. Wherever you fall on the leash vs. unleash discussion, there’s no denying that allowing your dog to roam free doesn’t come without risk.
Before you unleash Fido into the wild on your next adventure be sure to keep these dangers in mind and prepare accordingly.
Your biggest concern should be what your dog might come up against without you there to protect him. There are bigger beasts than your Labrador running around in the wild that would make quick work of him if they thought he looked like a nice snack. If your dog is the type to run up to strange animals to make friends you’re probably better off keeping him on leash until you can break that habit.
It’s a fact that most dogs like to stick their noses where they dog belong and, even worse, will taste pretty much everything in sight if you let them. Have you ever met a dog that didn’t like the taste of poop? Without your watchful eye to guide him your pup could swallow something poisonous without you even knowing it. It only takes seconds for a dog to swallow poison ivy or a toad when you’re not looking, which could lead to vomiting, diarrhea or even death.
If you’re going to go off-leash always make sure you have a doggie med kit on hand in case of poison emergencies.
Not everyone is a dog lover (hard to believe, we know) and those folks that are pooch-averse don’t always take too kindly to a dog running up to them on the trail begging for attention. Most of them will be polite about it but the really cranky ones could actually do your dog harm. Is the trail you’re hiking heavily trafficked? The last thing you want is for your dog causing a scuffle with another hiker that could result in bodily harm to you, your dog or someone else. This is how lawsuits occur.
Before taking your pup on a hike the first thing you should do is make sure it’s legal. Like it or not there are plenty of places where taking your dog into the wilderness is actually against the law. Breaking the rules could result in heavy fines. Some locales cite the dangers a dog poses to the environment and the safety of other hikers as reasons to outlawing them but, whether you agree with these justifications or not, you still need to take them seriously. If it’s illegal, leave the dog at home.
While some areas allow dogs, they don’t always allow them off leash. If there’s a sign requiring you to keep your dog on lead while on the trail, don’t be a rebel and ignore it.
Not every dog is capable of handling every kind of climate, so you should seriously consider the weather on the trail before allowing him to run free. Muddy conditions could cause him to vault down a hill and disappear on you with no way back up, or he could dart onto a lake of ice and fall through before you can reach him. Check the forecast and make sure the trail is safe for your dog to run free on before letting him loose!
While wild animals are definitely threat, you also need to consider the domesticated ones on the trail too. Just because your dog is friendly towards other dogs (or maybe he isn’t?) doesn’t mean the other pup will want to be friends with him. If your dog is running off leash and barrels into another off leash dog will it be a match made in heaven or a fight to the death you won’t be able to stop? Keep in mind that it’s not only your dog’s behavior your have to worry about, but also that of any other dogs running free on the trail.