You love the great outdoors, and you especially love bringing your dog into the wilderness with you. Certainly, you would never do anything to hurt the wildlife – that could ruin the area for future generations. The problem is, you and your dog may be damaging the wilderness you love without even realizing it.
While dogs are permitted inside many state parks, national parks, and national forests, they are usually required to be on a leash that is no longer than 6 feet long, even on trails and at camp sites. It may not seem fair to keep your dog on a short leash, but there are actually very good reasons dogs aren’t allowed to run free.
#1. Dogs may frighten wildlife…
Even if you’re certain your dog won’t kill anything, just the presence of dogs can stress out wildlife. Dogs are predators, and when they’re off leash they chase and frighten animals to the extent that they’re learning to avoid popular trails. If you enjoy seeing wildlife on your hikes, you’ll have better luck if you – and everybody else – keep your dog on a short leash.
#2 . …Or even kill it
Even if you think your dog isn’t a killer, many pet dogs will kill wildlife given half a chance. Off-leash dogs are confirmed to have killed: fox pups, tortoises, bighorn sheep, deer, domestic sheep, and countless smaller animals. Set a good example for owners of dogs who might hunt wildlife and follow applicable leash laws when hiking with your dog.
#3 – Dog poop is hazardous waste
If you refuse to scoop your dog’s poop, you may be convincing yourself that it’s a natural fertilizer and you’re actually helping the environment. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The EPA puts dog poop in the same category as herbicides, insecticides, toxic chemicals, and acid drainage from mines. It contains many bacteria, worms, and other pathogens that can make wildlife sick.
#4 – Dogs can become prey
Large wildlife can injure or even kill your dog. Bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and even deer will attack dogs. Hunters may also kill dogs, usually unintentionally, though they may also shoot to protect themselves from the perceived threat of a dog that appears vicious. Steel-jawed traps are still allowed in some forest lands, and that’s an encounter you certainly don’t want your dog to experience!
#5 – Your dog may become lost or injured
You may assume your dog will follow you wherever you go, but it’s surprising how easily your dog can be separated from you. They may chase after an animal, get distracted by some novel scent, or slip off the side of a trail. Dogs often need to be rescued from national parks because they’ve become lost or injured.
If you still want to bring your dog on a hike, you should keep them on a short leash, make sure you bring enough water for them, check them for ticks afterwards, and make sure their paw pads are tough enough or you have booties for them to wear – most dogs’ feet aren’t suited for hiking unless they’ve had a chance to get used to it. Using basic walking etiquette, following the rules, and educating people who refuse to follow them can help keep the wilderness a beautiful place to visit.