Should My Dog Hike Off-Leash?

Should My Dog Hike Off-Leash?

One of the most controversial things hikers discuss is hiking with dogs off-leash. It’s a never-ending issue that many hiking Facebook groups are constantly trying to tackle, but there’s one tried and true way to know whether or not it’s a good idea to let your dog loose on the trail (and also many pros and cons, too).

The Best Answer to Letting Your Dog Off-Leash

The best way to determine whether it’s safe for your dog to wander off-leash is by the trail rules and regulations. If the trail says that all dogs must be on a leash, the answer is: your dog CANNOT hike on the trail without one.

The hike may seem easy to you and your pup, but there are often other reasons why the leash rule is in effect. Some of these reasons include:

  • Protecting native wildlife & plants from your dog
  • Protecting your dog from native wildlife & plants
  • Protecting the trail & trail conditions
  • Avoiding losing your dog in the wilderness
  • Weather conditions

It’s best to keep your pup on a leash if the trail itself has rules against it. There’s always a reason why.

Off-Leash Hiking Tips

There are trails out there that allow you and your dog to roam freely, but there are a few things to keep in mind when you let your dog off the hook.

Every dog that hikes off leash should be well trained. This means your pup knows that when you call, they must come back. Most dogs that hike off leash know to hike behind their owner and follow their lead instead of rush ahead of the group. Training your dog is essential before letting them out into the wilderness.

Any dog that is easily distracted by wildlife is not a great candidate for off-leash hiking. The sight of a small chipmunk could send your dog into a frenzy that puts them in danger of hurting themselves on rocks or cactus.

Stay up to date on rabies and other wildlife diseases sightings in the area. In some areas there are large animals that carry diseases that can be transferred to your pet. If you plan to let your dog hike off-leash in remote areas, be aware of any rabid animals that have been spotted in those areas before letting your dog wander.

You still need a leash. It’s never a good idea to go on a hike without a leash, even if your dog is ready to hike without one. There are always reasons why you might need to attach yourself to your dog on the trail. Other wildlife can show up, a gun shot in the distance could startle them and send them into panic mode, other people on the trail might have a fear of dogs, etc. It’s just good manners to always carry one in case of emergencies!

Always carry a first aid kit for your pup. If your dog has the chance to trek along without you, the first few times they might be a little more confident in their trailblazing abilities than they really are. From stepping in cactus to running into a rock, your dog can get injured just like you. Always carry a first aid kit that works for both you and your dog when you hike off-leash!

Always Be 100% Sure

The most important thing to remember is that you should never let your dog off-leash on the trail if you are unsure about their ability to come back to you.

If your dog is skittish, afraid of people or loud noises, or just shy in general, you will need to build up their confidence off the trail before you take them on the trail and expect them to behave.

The outdoors has too many new smells, places, and stressors to keep your dog focused without having some kind of training to help guide them.

Remember to always be safe, smart, and keep it wild.


This blog was thoughtfully written by Erin Maxson. You can find her on Instagram @arimax14 and her dog @the_downwarddog

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