Our trails are in need of better etiquette

Our winters in the mountains are awesome. Awesome and long. I love the snow, but honestly I think the pay off for eight months of winter is the glorious wild flower season, hiking in altitude, and warm summer nights.

Living between two huge mountain ranges, we literally have thousands of miles of trails to hike and enjoy. Again, our payoff for the long winters!


Almost daily, I work with people that have not had good success hiking on trails with their dogs. Either their dog doesn’t do well, or the on coming dog doesn’t do well. This has gone on for as many years as I have been in business.

Since my dogs and I hike in remote areas, I don’t experience a lot of what my clients do. I choose to hike remote for a variety of reasons, the first being that I have three border collies, and I don’t think it is right for one person to have a herd of dogs on a public trail, it puts everyone at a disadvantage, and it’s overwhelming. And I think trail traffic would be very stressful for at least two of my dogs. The second and maybe third reasons being, I also have children, and when we go out, it is to share the time with my dogs and family, in the mountains, at our own pace, sans conflict, just hangin’ with Mother Nature. These are some of my most favorite memories.


So, this past week, I had free time to check out the trails in town, and around town, where there seems to be the most tensions, problems, and conflicts. My son and I walked the trails in the morning and evening, I did leave my dogs at home so I could get a good sense of what was going on without the emotional attachment of my own dogs. Just a trail user who was observing casually.


We came across very responsible trail users (thank you!), with and without dogs, ran into a few friends (so good to see you all!), and experienced some of what our clients have been up against. The time hiking with my son was awesome last week, but even he was noticing the ‘grab bag’ of behavior out there, from human and dogs alike.

These are the areas we saw as lacking good common sense, good responsible dog ownership, and common courtesy. I will say that out of eight hikes, five were perfect, absolutely perfect conflict free hikes, with only minor stuff. Three made me never want to go to those areas ever again because of the rude human behavior, and dog park like mentality, even though we were miles into the mountains.

TRAIL HEAD/PARKING AREAS – I just about lost my crackers on a couple of our evening hikes. We drove into the trail head parking areas, and dogs were running around while their people were talking or loading up their bikes.When my son and I got out of our car and were loading up our gear, we had dogs come over into our space, and circle our car. No person bothered calling their dog back.

Trail heads are not dog parks. If you and your dog are not showing self control when you get out of the car, it isn’t going to get better as you go along the trail. Start with self control in the car, and when you are in the trail head area, your dog should stay int he car until you are ready, or by your side, or on a leash. Parking areas with moving cars, and other trail users are not a safe place to run around. PLEASE make better choices, be more respectful, and keep your dog safe.

NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO MEET YOUR DOG – We had a few dogs come into our space, get a bit pushy, and block us. If we would have had our dogs with us, this would not have gone well.

Not everyone is going to want to have as intimate a relationship with your dog as you do, in fact most don’t. On trails there are hikers, bikers, elderly, children, some babies in backpacks, and other animals. Your dog should not be determining who they are going to meet and greet, and who they determine is friend or foe, your job is to keep them with you.

TRAILS ARE NOT DOG PARKS – We saw quite a few dogs without people. The dogs were happily exploring the trail and surrounding hillsides and meadows, a couple chasing small prey, sans people. We only had one dog that growled at us as we were walking up the trail, so we stepped to the side and let him pass. When we did come across their people, they were completely disengaged with their dog. No communication, no interaction, no apparent relationship. Trails were being used to freely exercise their dogs without the concern of others.

Trails are not dog parks. You and your dog are guests on a trail, whether it is in the front or back country. If you take your dog on a trail you have a specific and EXTRA obligation to have them with you, either on or off leash (depending on how much training you have done). Trails are multi use, horse packers, llama packers, mountain bikers, bird watchers, etc. You should feel obligated to be respectful and kind to those around you, so everyone can enjoy their day out and about.

POOP – We saw a plethora of poop on in town trails, and trails that went to our local schools. We saw less poop when we went higher into the mountains. And we had some trails with no poop at all.

If you are in town, seriously, pick up after your dog, and drop the bag into a trash can. Eliminating (pooping) is a biological function, they have to do it, don’t be surprised and caught off guard when it happens! It’s part of what a healthy functioning animal does. BUT, this means you need to be watching your dog,  and be close to your dog to see that it is happening. Which also means you cannot let your dog run all over the place like a dog park, and run away from you where you cannot see them. Which means you have to be responsible.

So, it kind of goes hand in hand, or hand in bag, or bag on poop. In heavy use, densely populated dog areas, it is imperative to clean up. Seriously, if all the poop on the trails in town were human poop, they would be closed as a ‘biological hazard’.

If you are in the back country and your dog poops, please kick it off the trail and let Mother Nature turn it into fertilizer.

STRESSED OUT  DOGS – We met and saw dogs who were not prepared to walk on a narrow trail and come head on to people or people with dogs. These dogs were definitely on guard, and not enjoying themselves.

If your dog needs space in order to feel safe, choosing narrow trails that are high volume for hikers and other users is not fair to your dog. Choose trails with switch backs so you can see who is in front or behind, choose wider trails or less populated trails. Just because your friends are going to a certain hiking area doesn’t mean it is right for you and your dog. If you are going to bring your dog, you need to take what they can handle into consideration, and what you have done in order to help them be successful.

Be safe, enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer, and be responsible ~ Nancy

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Sherry says:

    YUP! In total agreement and that is why when we get ready to hike Hyalite this week – it will be without the dogs. Too much traffic and while Epic would be fine on leash hiking (and would love it) I know the trail is heavily used all summer and too many other opportunities for issues with other people’s dogs.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Sherry, what would it be like if everyone was on the same playing field, everyone received the same information, and everyone understood who they were hiking with. In truth, I believe dog parks have been a detriment in many ways. It has taught people HOW to let there dog run and disengage, and engage with what the environment has thrown at them. The reality is , a TEAM functions as a team, and whether you are at home, at a barn, or on a trail, you are working together,. It bothers me that the disrespectful, and careless people get free access to trails…

  2. Ha – I should print this and post it at the trail heads for everyone here!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Please do, post away, copy, pass along. Social Norms predict that if people see other people doing something they will follow suit. Wouldn’t it be cool if people on trails saw people being responsible with their dogs. Social norms would indicate that the BAR HAS NOW BEEN RAISED!

  3. Abby says:

    Great post! We are constantly in search of remotely used and empty trails, and we are extremely cautious about letting our dogs off leash (if we ever do). Would that more people could read this and follow your guidance when hiking with dogs!

  4. You are lucky with all those trails and nature, but stiløl more people and dogs than around here. Love that picture of the dogs in the mopuntains. You are a good team. By the way, dogs in Norway can not run loose in nature from 1 April to 21 August, because of the nesting birds and animals.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Bente, we are lucky, but at the same time, I wish it was safer. We have 52,000 people, and 30,000 dogs. So a lot of people, a lot of dogs, and not a lot of guidance from the city or county, so people make up their own rules. It would be awesome to all be on the same playing field.

    2. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Abby, social norms are powerful. The more people do in the way of trail etiquette, social norms predict that others will follow along. I think the problem right now is that we have SO MANY off leash and out of control trail users, that that is what everyone is following as an example. So set the bar high!

  5. 1christie says:

    Nancy for Mayor!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Christie, I met your Mom at the farmers market, she is wonderful! We talked about property and other things, you are so lucky to have family so close….! Mayor, HA! You are funny funny funny! I just want fairness on trails and the back country!

  6. Sharon says:

    I may not have read this closely enough, but where are you????? What state? Montana? I only guess that because of the person that posted this lives there…I think. Thanks.

  7. gauchoman2002 says:

    Well written, and I’ll offer a hearty amen to all your suggestions. I feel like so many of these problems could be resolved with just the tiniest bit of personal responsibility and empathy for others. We’re so entrenched in this “me first” narcissistic culture that people seem astounded that they have an impact on other folks using the same hiking trail or parking lot.

    1. Sharon says:


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