On a trail, to leash or not to leash?

Few issues get hikers more stirred up than what to do about dogs on trails.

The recent hub-bub (ado? fever?) about the proposed new rules to tighten leash rules in some of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a perfect example. The rules would require that dogs be on leashes in areas of the park where they can now run around, and they would be off-limits entirely in many other areas where they are now permitted. For the next three months, the federal government is asking people to comment on the proposed rules, and this being the Bay Area, the commenting – at least on discussion boards, blogs and trails – has been hot and heavy already. And there will be a handful of public meetings in the first week of March where you can show up and discuss it.

I’ve seen dogs on trails many times, sometimes as part of my hiking group and sometimes from other folks. Generally, they’re a positive part of the experience, and I like having them around. For one thing, they scout out what’s ahead, either by running back and forth on the trail or sniffing around and alerting us if there are snakes or other animals around. Also, it’s probably a great outing for the dogs, many of whom are stuck in apartments or small houses for much of the time. I can see though why some aren’t too happy to see them on the trails, especially unleashed. I’ve been biking a few times and nearly gone way off the trail to avoid colliding with a four-legged friend, and if I were to be on a horse, I’m not sure how pleased I would be to see an unleashed dog come bounding toward me. I suppose it also kind of depends how much you mind the presence of others – people and canines alike – when you’re wandering up some hill, escaping from the world.

But I’m not a dog owner so I can’t say I have the strongest feelings about this, one way or the other. Plenty of people do, though. What do you think – are dogs – unleashed or leashed? – a good idea on hiking trails? Comment below, if you want.

Here’s a link to the formal rules.

Click here for the news story on the proposed dog rules.



  1. Chris Marks

    Dog’s don’t pose much of an issue for people but can be a bit damaging to the environment especially wildlife.

    Sure some owners don’t clean up after their animal, and occasionally they’ll break trail etiquette by careening into a biker, but I think more importantly they have a knack for ripping up wildflowers, and leaving their scent in the territory of other animals.

    I don’t hate dogs by any means but the presence of dogs is disruptive to unseen creatures along the trail, particularly in wilderness area.

    January 27th, 2011 8:42 am

  2. Deb McGauley

    It seems that more and more of us baby boomers with empty nests now have 4-legged children. We enjoy taking our new children out for walks. Most of us are mindful of others, of rules and of the environment. My husband and I thoroughly enjoy hiking with our dog, however we are discouraged to do so at many regional and state parks. It seems to me that more damage is done to the trails and surrounding areas by humans than by dogs. Deep bike ruts on and off trails, litter left behind, cigarette butts everywhere, and yes, the occasional pile of poop not picked up (or picked up and the little blue bag left behind!) So I say, let the dogs enjoy the great outdoors too. We can all co-exist peacefully.

    January 27th, 2011 9:16 am

  3. Wyomingite

    Many people are afraid of dogs; others are allergic to dogs, and quite a few people just don’t like dogs, although they make keep their dislike to themselves for fear of offending their dog-owning friends. Dogs bark, disturbing the peace and they chase and sometimes kill wildlife.

    Dogs carry diseases and transmit diseases to wildlife and humans. On average, according to the CDC, dogs kill 14 humans a year while thousands make visit emergency rooms for dog bites and others are admitted to hospitals for overnight stays or longer. Dogs carry and spread diseases. According to the CDC, some 40 children a year, in our country, go blind because roundworms find their way to the child’s optic nerve and destroy it. The source: dog feces. Dogs defecate wherever they want and their owners don’t always pick up their feces.

    For the above reasons, dogs should be restricted to dog parks and areas specifically designed to accommodate them. Dogs have no place on public trails when those trails are located in city, county, state or national public lands.

    January 27th, 2011 9:50 am

  4. USMarine


    FYI, More people die in the US from other people than by dogs. More people die per year from falling on trails than dogs.

    The last proven disease passed by a dog, a disease that was not carried by another animal or common in humans, was in…wait for it….NEVER!!!! Try using Google next time.

    Dog feces is almost NEVER eaten. The fact you spouted was about cat pooing in kid sand boxes and kids getting into kittie liter, Also CDC, Humane Society, and every other reputable source all said the same thing.

    People have a fear of dogs is usually based on culture/nationality. Since this is the US and it is founded on Freedom and Rights and every President in US history has been a dog owner. There are 60 million registered dogs in the US and an estimated 80 million unregistered. With the US pop at 308 million that makes a dog for every 2 people.

    Lastly, what makes you think you have more rights than a dog owner? Dog owners pay more in taxes and fees that keep those parks open. By your logic we have more rights than you.

    January 27th, 2011 11:02 am

  5. Jack Sparrow

    For me, it depends on the dog. Little dogs are OK. I’m weary of pit bulls, and Rottweilers. As long as owners leash the dogs while I’m walking by, I’m OK with it. Let the dogs run free if no one is around.

    January 27th, 2011 11:21 am

  6. TrailRider

    I am a responsible dog owner who daily walks my dogs. There are places for doing this. Many trails are not the places for doing this because people, not dogs, are not responisble about etiquette with their dogs. This comment, however, is with off-leash dogs creating a potentially life-threatening situation for me when riding my dog-friendly horse. If an off-leash dog suddenly appears out of no-where, or comes charging at my horse, even in a friendly manner, my horse immediately senses a predator and can spook or bolt, potentially throwing me from the saddle and resulting in injury or death to me or my horse. Is this worth an off leash dog sharing my trail? NO. My horse is trained to recognise a dog as a dog, not a mountain lion and is used to dogs running around a the barn. But on trail a charging dog becomes a predator to run from. An on leash dog can be fine in certain controlled situations.

    Unfortunately, in many areas, dogs (and people) are not taught proper trail etiquette on or off leash. I have experienced the opposite in the Sierras where I have met many nice people and dogs with proper trail etiquette and voice command.

    I say, on-leash, some areas could even be by permit only with qualified dogs and owner who have passed a “canine and handler good citizen test” with a qualified trainer. Some areas need to be left to the wildlife, as well for all the reasons. Thank you.

    January 27th, 2011 11:40 am

  7. USMarine


    What makes you think a horse has more right of way over a dog? Considering Horses make up on avg 486 deaths in the US per year vs a dogs 14 pear year.

    Or to go further, horse related human deaths for 2009 around the world is 643, 982, which is 27% of the worlds yearly growth.

    Horse do not belong in ANY public area statistically and cause more damage to nature than any dog…plus horse owners NEVER clean up after their horse, which is required by law. If you ever noticed the law states ANIMAL feces, not just dog, when it comes to required clean up.

    January 27th, 2011 12:21 pm

  8. Steve Klausner

    Do you have your dog under control. Most people don’t. On the trail and off leash my dog will not walk ahead of me (I am the leader). My dog knows our family is her pack and she is right below the cat in pecking order.

    Come to think of it the cat might be ahead of me to. I wouldn’t mess with him.

    January 27th, 2011 12:56 pm

  9. USMarine


    I rarely ever see a hiking dog that wasn’t in control, and I have over 4500 miles of hiking on 4 continents, 3000 of them in North America. Most dog owners who hike are more prone to have fully trained companions. ‘City Folk’ are the only ones who have dogs with terrible habits and poor training.

    Horses on the other hand, bite(nip) very often on traill. It’s not on purpose, it’s a form of hello for most of them.

    January 27th, 2011 2:33 pm

  10. Rick

    I am a dog owner and can understand the types of problems dogs can create. I also think horses cause problems as well. I have seen horses on trails that are not comfortable with some of the things the come across. I think the key is training and socialization for all parties.

    January 27th, 2011 6:40 pm

  11. Wyomingite

    USMarine, you’re 100% wrong about just about everything you posted.

    USMarine, you’re 100% wrong about dog feces. Oxocara canis (also known as dog roundworm) is the worldwide distributed helminth parasite of dogs and other canids. Children play around dog feces and dog feces are the source of roundworms that find their way into children’s optic nerve and blind them. What do you think the transmission path is? It is through the mouth. Check the Centers for Disease Control for the FACTS about Oxocara canis and stop making up your own “facts.”

    According to a report published in the February issue of the public health journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, seemingly healthy pets can carry parasites, bacteria or viruses that cause mild to life-threatening illness in people. Of the 250 zoonotic diseases — infections transmitted between animals and people — more than 100 are derived from domestic pets, said veterinarian Dr. Bruno Chomel, report co-author and professor of zoonoses at University of California School of Veterinary Medicine at Davis.

    Approximately 60 percent of all human pathogens are zoonotic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    USMarine, you’re 100% wrong about people fear of dogs being based on culture/nationality. Most people’s fear of dogs comes from being ATTACKED AND/OR BITTEN, frequently from being attacked and/or bitten as children.

    USMarine, you’re 100% wrong dog owners having a RIGHT to own a dog. Show me where, in our Constitution, you have the right to own a dog. Dog owners have the PRIVILEGE to own a dog and this privilege is administered generally by county government. You don’t have a RIGHT to drive a vehicle, you have a privilege which can be taken away from you if you break the law. Your friendly pit bull just happened to kill someone? Your privilege to own that animal will be swiftly removed.

    “Dog owners pay more in taxes and fees that keep those parks open.”

    USMarine, that’s just about the dumbest thing you’ve written. Prove it.

    January 27th, 2011 7:36 pm

  12. Michael Schuermann

    I think as much as dogs should be put on a leash in cities, they should be allowed to roam or “hike” freely in wide-open spaces. This proposed law is a typical no-risk-is-too-small-for-government-to-be involved variety.

    January 28th, 2011 12:23 am

  13. Kathy

    Wyomingite, by your logic, dogs everywhere should be banned. Your comments aren’t about whether dogs should be allowed to share the trails with every other living being already permitted to do so. You are way off topic.

    USMarine, I agree with everything you say. People who hike are for the most part responsible folk, who vaccinate and train their dogs to be good partners. Otherwise, they wouldn’t enjoy having them on the trail in the first place. There may be a few exceptions but that’s true about anything, anywhere and banning dogs on trails is absurd as a countermeasure.

    January 28th, 2011 9:39 am

  14. Wyomingite

    Kathy, I am simply countering the fabrications that USMarine has posted.

    “Your comments aren’t about whether dogs should be allowed to share the trails with every other living being already permitted to do so.” We’re essentially talking about humans, dogs and horses, correct?

    Humans generally don’t defecate on or near trails; they generally defecate off-trail and SHOULD bury their solid waste and pack out their toilet paper. Horses, of course, do defecate on trails and in non-wilderness areas, I think horse riders should clean up after their horses. Dogs, of course, defecate wherever they want and no one can convince me that even 90% of dog waste is picked up off trails.

    Humans and horses don’t chase wildlife, as do dogs. Humans and horses don’t kill wildlife (unless the humans are hunting), as do dogs. Humans and horses don’t bark, disturbing the peace, as do dogs. Humans and horses (generally…!) don’t run up and smell your crotch, as do dogs.

    I’m not suggesting that dogs everywhere should be banned. For the above reasons, dogs should be restricted to dog parks and areas specifically designed to accommodate them. Dogs have no place on public trails when those trails are located in city, county, state or national public lands.

    January 28th, 2011 10:12 am

  15. marni

    geez-li-weez…..can’t people just get over MANAGING everything in their path?….there really is NO good reason NOT to allow pups on the trails….they have a right (dogs, rights?) to be with their owners on a pleasant hiking trail, simply, because humans don’t have the say-all about every inch of space to hike, beach, park, pavement they put their mark on…..it’s appalling to me that we have to blab blab on and on and on about ALL the terrible stuff that COULD happen when coming upon dogs….frankly, I’m more afraid of uptight, self righteous, problem-seeking folks than any chihuahua, pit bull, or mangy dog any day…that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it…..Let them ALL BE FREE!…there’s not much left out there…thanks
    by marni wroth

    January 28th, 2011 12:04 pm

  16. Louie

    The way I see it, the real problem is with owners that don’t fully appreciate the appropriateness of their particular dog’s behavior and socialization. Some dogs stay on the trail and are friendly with other hikers. Other,not so much. A conscientious dog owner will know their pet well enough to judge the appropriateness of an off-leash walk in a public space. My dog loves exploring at his own pace on a trail. But, not every dog should be allowed off leash. Too bad we can’t formulate a regulation that deals with the real issue rather than penalize the rest of us. Foremost, people should be able to use trails without unwanted interaction with unruly pets.

    January 28th, 2011 1:30 pm

  17. Suze

    I’m a dog owner; he’s ALWAYS on leash unless we’re in an enclosed dog park!
    When we’re on trails and other areas where there are dogs off-leash, we honestly don’t enjoy the walk. Many people say their dogs are friendly, but often, it’s not the case. Let the dogs be on the trails, just insist they’re ON LEASH. It’s safer for everyone. Not all people are dog-friendly.

    January 28th, 2011 2:40 pm

  18. Diane De Martini

    Wyomingite:100% wrong! Kathy:100% right!

    January 28th, 2011 3:02 pm

  19. Kelly

    What a shame to see even more restrictions on where dogs are allowed. Already dogs are banned on hiking trails on most state parks. This was one of the primary reasons I voted against the additional tax that was proposed to support state parks last November. I applaud the Sonoma County Regional Parks policy of allowing dogs, on leash, on hiking trails. I’m sure use by people, horses, dogs, bikes, etc all take their toll, but the more people are able to use the parks, I believe the more support there will be for funding them. I do support leash laws, as I think this mitigates many of the concerns about dogs previously discussed and it is safer for your dog as well. I hope for MORE places to hike with my dog, not less.

    January 28th, 2011 3:22 pm

  20. Wyomingite

    Louie’s the only reasoned dog owner that has posted here: “Foremost, people should be able to use trails without unwanted interaction with unruly pets.”

    I agree and propose a friendly amendment: Foremost, people should be able to use trails without unwanted interaction with unruly pets, including not having to listen to dogs barking, not having to see dogs chase wildlife, not having to see step in dog feces, and not having to deal with dogs running up, invading one’s personal space and sniffing one’s crotch or butt.”

    Of course, this isn’t going to happen unless dogs are restricted to dog parks and areas specifically designed to accommodate them. Dog owners are a special interest group and should be treated as such, e.g., they should have privately owned and operated areas to run their beasts. Dogs have no place on public trails when those trails are located in city, county, state or national public lands.

    January 30th, 2011 2:21 pm

  21. Brian

    I pay for the parks and I should be able to bring my dog on a hike

    February 13th, 2011 10:53 am

  22. Adventureweiner

    I am a dog owner and I hike with my dogs all the time. I do get frustrated sometimes becasue of some trails being closed to dogs. However, In Washington State, the trails closed to dogs are almost always in National Parks. I agree with the need to protect our precious resources so, although tempting sometimes, we do not try to sneak our dogs in there. I wouldn’t be happy if they started to close the existing trails to dogs though.

    LEASHED dogs are allowed on almost every other trail. I see so many dog owners not following the rules and letting their dogs run off leash. They think that because they “have thieir dog under conrol” that they are above the law. Just because you can call your dog back to you doesn’t mean I appreciate it running up to my leashed dogs on the trail. ANY dog off leash can startle people when it comes running around a corner.

    I also see some of these people let their dogs run off the trail and dig around or roll around in the creek. Both things cause environmental degradation. That is why dogs are required to be on leash there!

    Bottom line, if leashed are required it is for a reason. Just do it!

    February 13th, 2011 11:14 am

  23. Wyomingite

    Brian, just because you’re a tax payer doesn’t give you the right to bring your dog or your camel or your tiger or your rat on a hike.

    Adventureweiner, you said it all when you said “I see so many dog owners not following the rules and letting their dogs run off leash.” How many dog owners are letting their dogs crap just about anywhere and not picking up their feces?

    USMarine states “There are 60 million registered dogs in the US and an estimated 80 million unregistered. With the US pop at 308 million that makes a dog for every 2 people.”

    I don’t know what his source is and I don’t know if there are 140 million dogs or not in the U.S. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s correct.

    If there are 140 million dogs in the U.S. and the average weight of a dog’s daily feces is 1/2 pound, there’s approximately 70 million pounds of dog feces PER DAY that do not go through some sort of waste treatment and 25,550,000,000 (yes, that’s 25.5 BILLION) pounds per year of dog feces that do not go through some sort of waste treatment.

    As a friend of mine said about picking up dog feces, “I haven’t yet met a woman I’d do that for.”

    February 14th, 2011 11:04 am

  24. KB

    I just moved to the Bay Area from Boulder, Colorado. This area could learn a lot from Boulder. I cannot believe how unfriendly it is to dogs… Boulder is also an innovative, eco-friendly, organic, extra crunchy city and we have learned to balance ecological concerns beautifully. Dogs are allowed virtually everywhere. My dog stays on the leash, but if guardians want to have their dog off-leash they must get a special permit and training. This mainly allows the city to get quite a bit of extra revenue to maintain trails etc. I cannot believe such a progressive and innovative area is so close minded and behind the times in this respect. Disappointing.

    July 12th, 2012 12:21 am

  25. Amy Luna

    I didn’t see anyone comment on the issue of poison oak. Many dogs will play in poison oak while on the trail and I have had many unleashed dogs then come up and rub against me because their owners did not have them trained well enough to prevent this behavior. One year I had to miss a couple weeks of work and endure terrible pain because someone’s unleashed dog gave me a terrible case of poison oak.

    I’ve also watched dogs attack and even kill small wildlife in California parks. I’ve also seen countess dog owners not pick up their dog’s poop, which is damaging to the ecosystem.

    I’ve also seen parents’ look of horror on their face when an unleashed dog runs up to their child’s stroller and pokes its head in. We wouldn’t except the parent to remain calm if a stranger they didn’t know came that close to their infant.

    So, I don’t agree that the dog owners can be trusted to managed their pets.

    I think animals should have to obey the same laws as people. Take only pictures, leave only footprints, not poop or dead animals they’ve killed or maimed.

    And if a person came up to me and rubbed poison oak on me or sniffed my private parts that would not be acceptable, so why do we tolerate this behavior from dogs?

    I like the last person’s comment. All dogs on leashes, unless you’ve demonstrated through training and a permit that you have a dog that can obey rules, not scare anyone, not pollute and not destroy the ecosystem.

    Your dog does not have the right to compromise another person or animal’s health and safety, anymore than you do.

    February 7th, 2013 2:12 pm

  26. Shannon

    I’m depressed because I can’t find a park where I can walk with my best friend/protector/scout, so now I’m supposed to walk alone? More people have done damage to me that any dog. It’s the wild? They’re leashed anyway. So we take away the land and so where do they go now? Either confined to a leash now, just around the camp area, but not on the best parts. Seems to defeat the purpose of enjoying nature and being with someone with a better sense. We’re a democracy, we’re supposed to have freedoms, but we keep on taking our freedoms away and nowadays I’d cross the border and accidentally break a rule.
    Pretty soon they’re going to keep them off the sidewalks. Denver used to be a great dog city, but it lost it’s charm when it started confining them to spaces. I have common sense, I’m a good dog owner, my dogs are friendly and have even been helpful on trails, but I really miss the good old days.
    I agree with the soldier and I’m a vet. People are more dangerous than dogs. How much space do we need and need to constrain and prohibit every other living thing? I’m not even a hippy.

    May 14th, 2013 3:19 pm

  27. Shannon

    Most of these people sound like they have OCD, are micromanaging everyone, and must have control over everyone and everything at all times….they sound like nags and very uptight. Just live! Pecking Order! Now you insult cats. My horse is superior to your dog. Do you even pick up your own horse feces? We’re treating the national parks like it’s the city and our dogs came from the wild. Have happy micromanaged lives together and enjoy loosing your precious freedoms. Every time I go overseas I remember the precious freedoms and things that the U.S. started banning because we’re so paranoid about being sued. The parks are too boring and lack seesaws, my niece looks ridiculous and too tall for the required booster seat. Not that I break the law or even swear, or drive around drunk or anything, though I strongly prohibit it, but I was looking at this beautiful stairway overseas and thinking “how beautiful this is, but in the U.S. people would fear of building this because someone would fear getting sued.” I’m even politically correct.

    May 14th, 2013 3:32 pm

  28. Mari

    Wyomingite seems to have a huge obsession with dog poop. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go to off leash dog parks and try to avoid trails where dogs are off leash just simply because dogs are dogs and aren’t always necessarily going to get along but that Wyomingite seems to be a dog hater to me. Just stay away from me and my dog with your hateful crap spewing out of your mouth.

    August 1st, 2013 1:05 am

  29. Hiker Joe

    Wyomingite is the only commenter here who used 100% reason. Mari and others used feelings to support their positions. Amy Luna, who I attended college with, made important points and also talked about her fear.
    I’m really curious about how dog owners will react to me sniffing their crotches, running up to them and yelling in their faces, and crapping near them. Point is, unleashed dogs are an imposition on everyone else around. There’s no excuse for an unleashed dog. If your unleashed dog invades my space, I’m going to react just like you would if I invaded your space: A violent application of force, whether it’s a stick, boot, knife, or bullet. Your dog has zero right to be on me in any way. Don’t like that? Keep him on the leash and off of me.

    August 22nd, 2013 8:01 pm

  30. mini Dire Wolf owner

    I stumbled upon this trying to find legitimate data on the reasoning behind banning dogs from state parks and I find a lot of angry people in both camps.

    Hiker Joe, I wonder if your posturing also occurs with people? Even though I whole heartily agree with you on leashes, I do not know if a “violent application of force” is the answer.

    However the prize goes to Wyomingite. Identifying statistics from web results from Google does not really make you an expert. Here is the link to the PDF you are citing for many of your points. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/17/2/pdfs/10-1070.pdf.
    However here is link to rebuttal of Chomel’s paper. ‘ http://www.animalmedcenter.com/news-and-press/article/the-risks-associated-with-sleeping-with-your-pet-are-overblown-and-exaggera ‘ . The important thing in this study is number of actual cases versus the number of actual pets, which is glaringly absent and extremely low.

    Back to my original reason for coming to this site. What data and research substantiates the need to keep dogs out of the ecosystem? Man has had very long history with canine, many of those years in the wild. The have played an important role in protecting and assisting in keeping mankind alive. It is laughable to label dogs as a predator. Kind of calling the kettle black if you ask me. I have two miniature huskies and yes, they would chase wildlife, as they do when Raccoons and Opossums come looking for food near our house. They also chase our four cats, but (gasp) they all sleep together on the bed. However, I never take my dogs off their leashes and ensure that I always bring poop bags with me, as well a bottle of water, treats and anything else to make our little nature journeys enjoyable. But I realize that not everyone enjoys my little furry kids as much as I do, and always make sure distance is kept between me anyone that is not sure, or fearful of them.

    So I am asking, what real evidence do we have that dogs disrupt the ecosystem and wildlife habitats? If we were truly responsible, we would cordon of these areas from everyone and everything.

    March 4th, 2014 4:56 pm

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