Saturday, June 7, 2014

Commentary: Dogs in the Adirondack Back Country

Henderson is sure he heard something he needs to chase.A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column asking which back country behavior readers most hated (my choice is trail eroders). I got a lot of comments, but most of them were participants in a major brouhaha over dogs in the back country: whether they should be on leash or off leash and when, or even if they should be allowed at all. This got me motivated to write a column, your average dog being one of my favorite and most admired features of all the universe.

My canine ruminations got caught up in a different thread that built up at the same time around a column about the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. This comment thread was a debate about the meaning of wilderness and a challenge to our romanticized notion of wilderness as a pristine thing apart, a challenge that was most notably posed by William Cronon in his landmark essay The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.

The relevance to dogs is this: dogs are not “native” to the Adirondacks. They have no natural ecological place in pristine wilderness; they are highly bred constructs, walking four-legged artifices. But as Cronon famously asked, is the pristine notion of wilderness not itself an artificial construct, wrought of nineteenth century romantic idealism? Do we gain anything by considering wilderness apart from all things we deem not of the pure faith, dogs included?

Although this sort of philosophical approach calls to me (as always) it is only fair that I begin with the experiential. I have coexisted with family dogs in the Adirondacks for more than five decades. I was too young to remember much of George, a Shepherd/Collie mix with us at Blue Mountain Lake. But from George on dogs were a fundamental part of my Adirondack experience: Corky, in my teens; Berkeley during the college years; Henry, a regal Setter/Golden Retriever mix who was my first dog as master; Spencer and Andy, an ungainly, even ugly pair of mutts; Solo, the most noble Golden one could imagine; and now Henderson, a gorgeous, superbly intelligent and lightning-fast combination of Red Heeler, Collie and Lab. All of these dogs were in heaven in the Adirondacks with me and I with them.

When I was a child our dogs’ Adirondack lives were concentrated in the area of our rental cottage at Blue Mountain Lake.  As I passed into adulthood dogs were increasingly my companions on the trail, or off it on countless bushwhacks.

I must confess that taking the sum total of all that time I have spent with dogs in the woods, which comes to months and months, I can only muster up a fair day or so worth of hours that any of them were on a leash. I think it was a boy’s marriage of his concepts of wilderness and of freedom: the wild Adirondacks is a place to be free, to escape the rules and bonds of civilized life… if such freedom is due a boy, then it is all the more due a dog, an animal one howl away from the primeval, as Jack London’s Buck reminds us.

At the cottage there was really no need for a leash, but in the back country it was and is a different matter. Here’s the comment that started the big fight in my previous column:

I don’t mind people walking their dogs, but keep it on a leash. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost pepper sprayed somebody’s unrestrained dog because it ran at my kids, barking and snarling, while the owner yells “It’s OK, He’s friendly” from 100 yards down the trail.

 This comment provoked some strong reactions, as you might expect. So John Warren weighed in with this:

 You don’t have to be afraid of dogs to be concerned about a dog running at you on the trail with an owner trying in vain (or not bothering) to control them.

 I am not afraid of dogs. I’ve had them most of my life. However, people with dogs should recognize that if they can’t keep their dog off a hiker coming down the trail, or keep it from barking and snarling at them – which I’ve encountered many times, especially in more popular areas (though the last time was in the Dix Range) – then their dog should be leashed.

 It’s simply being courteous to not let your dog jump on or otherwise harass people you meet on the trail – whether or not YOU think it’s harassment, or just a friendly greeting.

Doggone it, Warren’s right, despite my having a personal history that sometimes contradicts his point of view. During my many years with dogs in the woods I thought of myself as a considerate hiker. I never allowed a dog to be off leash when in an alpine zone and if someone was approaching on a trail I would call my dog over and tether him. But of course such an approach could never be one hundred percent effective and more than once my dog greeted a hiker when not under my control. Over the years I’ve become more of a bushwhacker than a trail hiker, thus mostly negating human encounters (except of course for the horrifying risk of some day running into Dan Crane) but that notwithstanding I’ve rethought my previous trail largesse.

Here’s how I see it now. Taking William Cronon’s point I embrace the notion that I and my dog belong in the wilderness, that we can and ought to be part of it, as it is when we are at Lost Brook Tract or on any bushwhack of significance. My boyhood desire for a shared joy in an unfettered connection to nature burns stronger than ever. But trails are not wilderness, even trails through wilderness.   Dogs should be no more unfettered on a trail than I should; indeed I am not entitled to proceed down a trail in any manner I wish (I can feel a column on trail etiquette coming).

Bottom line: dogs should be leashed on public trails.

Photo: Henderson at Lost Brook Tract

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Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.




42 Responses

  1. Kathleen M Morrock says:

    I agree that dogs should be leashed on trails. We have always done so with our own dogs. I feel it it only common courtesy to do so.

  2. I was about to write a column about this myself after having recently had a trio of 3 “friendly” dogs rush me on a trail, with one growling and another actually taking my hand in his mouth (it was gently). They forced me to stop walking and I had to wait for the owners to catch up, all the while calling the dogs to come back to them – which the dogs ignored. If a dog will not respond to the owners verbal commands – then they should be on a leash. I did not enjoy that experience.

  3. adkmike says:

    On Ausable Club and AMR lands, dogs are not allowed at all. Hunting is not permitted either. It makes a great place to go hiking during hunting season – no gunshots.

  4. Bob Meyer says:

    as a former long time [mostly unleashed] dog/hike/bushwhack person, i must agree with Pete 100% on this one. 🙂

  5. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    Dogs have personalities, ranging from sweet, non-threatening and accommodating, to aggressive, overly protective and just plain foolish. In the debate between “nature” and “nurture”, dogs are largely the result of the interaction of both factors in varying degrees, which is why even good people can have dogs that can’t be trusted with strangers.

    At the same time, just as we struggle to be objective about our kids, so we are with our dogs, which is, unfortunately, why we can’t leave the decision to leash or unleash up to the owner’s discretion.

    There is another factor not mentioned here, namely that a friendly unleashed dog may encounter a more aggressive and assertive dog who is leashed, or, vice versa. Given all the possibilities for what can go wrong, leashing is the only safe choice.

  6. Jane Meader Nye says:

    I’m a dog person and dogs who summit before their masters always seem to know it and seek me out. I was thirteen when I first climbed Marcy in 1943 and I have to agree that today’s crowded trails are no place for an unleashed dog.

  7. Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

    On many occasions while hiking with friends in the Adirondacks, I have run up to another group, barking and snarling, while the members of my group have yelled “It’s okay! He’s friendly!” The memory of the sting of pepper-spray is still as fresh today as it was back in those days.

    So please, whatever you do, keep your bushwhacker leashed while on the trail.

    Oh, Pete, the risk of encountering me in the backcountry is probably pretty slight, unless you get out of the High Peaks area and bushwhack in the northwestern part of the Adirondacks. Although, I am planning on a bushwhack in the Jay Mtn. Wilderness this summer to check out Lot 8, so we might pass on the road on my way there 😉

  8. Joe says:

    I think the worst trail situations are the herd paths on trail-less mountains. If we banned dogs from trails wouldn’t more people go off-trail. Trail-less peaks would see even more use. Parallel paths would appear just a bit away from official trails – soon you’d notice the John’s Brook unofficial dog trail for example. Dogs and people would venture father off trails messing up the woods and freaking out the critters. Trails serve an unstated purpose – they keep people in a zone and limit their disturbance.

    Bushwhacking (take note of the word) is a questionable practice in protected areas anyway, in my opinion, and to make off-trail the only place you can take a dog off leash will have impacts you need to think about.

    Whether dogs in the wild are ok or not is a hard question. The dogs love it. But do the forest’s natives? That’s no so clear. Banning dogs would be a monumental cause celeb, but some areas do it anyway, like the AMR as noted above. And if you hike in both areas, you’ll know that wildlife encounters are far more frequent on the AMR than on State land.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Joe:

      Some interesting points. I have a few comments.

      I don’t think dogs should be banned from trails, just leashed. You are quite correct: trails serve a purpose of keeping hikers – of any kind – in a zone, mostly where they’re not lost.

      I’m on record favoring a change in policy that converts all High Peaks herd paths to official trails.

      Public land in the park being nearly 3 million acres I have never seen, nor am I aware of any study or research that shows, any significant damage caused by bushwhacking, dogs or not. Of all the things we might worry about, bushwhacking isn’t even on my radar. Indeed I strongly support it. I suspect lots of back country lovers, hunters, fishermen and the like would agree.

      And I must disagree about seeing more wildlife in the AMR. If you want to see more wildlife explore the central or western Adirondacks, especially near water bodies. I don’t think dogs are a relevant factor.

      Pete

  9. Gillian says:

    We’re long-time dog owners and dog lovers. We keep our dog leashed on the trail, partly out of consideration for other hikers and partly out of concern for the dog (my husband once hiked Giant three times in one day searching for an off-leash dog that had gotten separated from him on the trail). Late last summer, I was badly bitten by a neighbor’s dog. Though it didn’t happen in the woods, my reaction to loose dogs has changed radically. Our first time back in the woods, hiking up Pilot’s Knob, we ran into a couple with an unleashed German shepherd that rushed at us and our leashed dog. He’s often happy to meet other dogs, but the shepherd’s size and rapid approach definitely freaked him (and me) out. The woman suggested that WE were at fault – that if we just let our dog off the leash, the dogs could greet each other as equals and everyone would be happy. Meanwhile, I was standing 10 feet away from the very tense dog interaction (my husband was holding the leash), trying not to have a panic attack. Unfortunately, the end result of this is that I am no longer comfortable taking my dog out by myself … when you’re holding the leash, you can’t remove yourself from the situation. And you clearly can’t trust other hikers to be smart or considerate. So yes, I am that crazy lady screaming “Call your dog!” at you from way down the trail.

    • R.J. O'Connor says:

      I was camping with a friend on Big Shallow Pond, one of the Five Ponds, and we weren’t having much luck fishing, so we took a walk to Little Shallow, about a half mile farther on. We caught a few & headed back to our lean-to. When we arrived, a big dog ran at us, barking aggressively. It belonged to a teen-aged boy, one of three who’d moved in to our lean-to. They got it under control, but intended to share the camp with us. I said, “Nope, you’ve got to move on. That dog will bark all night.” The kid who owned him said, “No, no, Duke (or whoever) never barks at night.” I told him and his friends to move on, as the lean-to at Little Shallow was only a half-mile away, they could have it to themselves, and to get a move on while it was daylight. They reluctantly grabbed their duffel and left. Rip and I had supper & settled in for the night. Whenever I was wakeful during that night, I could hear the distant but clear, constant barking from the other lean-to.
      I could tell a dozen stories of dog encounters in the woods, from wag-tail friendly doggies to growling menaces. On balance, the experiences have been negative. I believe that most dogs will diminish the wilderness experience.

  10. Curt Austin says:

    We don’t have a dog right now, so I am against taking dogs on hikes. When we had a dog, we’d take it on hikes, and take considerable liberties regarding keeping it “under control”. If we got another dog, I’d be very tempted to go back to that position.

    Hypocrisy is difficult to avoid with dogs. Perhaps an expert on co-evolution could explain this behavior.

    But I do have a position I can apply consistently myself, and would impose on others if I could: some dogs are meant to protect their owners from strangers. There is no need for this protection on Adk trails. A snarling foofoo dog is one thing, but a Rottweiler is like pointing a gun at me. Leave it home, please.

  11. Paul says:

    “I never allowed a dog to be off leash when in an alpine zone”

    Pete, how do you keep the dog from walking in the path where you and the dog need to be to keep it from stepping on alpine vegetation when it is on a leash in these areas?

    I think it is basically impossible. I don’t think dogs should be allowed in these areas under any circumstances.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Paul:

      I agree with you. A perfect performance was not really possible. I stopped taking dogs up high peaks some years ago for that reason. I concur that dogs should not be allowed on High Peak summits

  12. CarolynADK says:

    The only way to be a considerate dog owner/hiker is to honestly assess whether your dog is truly “under control” off leash. “Under control” means that he is in your sight, comes IMMEDIATELY when you call him back to you, and can sit and stay on command until released, not matter what or who is in front of him – not just that he won’t attack someone and loves people! We as dog owners must understand that we take our other fellow hikers as we find them – welcome to friendly dog encounters, or terrified of every dog, and everything in between. It is our responsibility to not let our dogs impose on other hikers’ piece of mind or enjoyment of the trail.

    My last dog was proficient at an “off trail!” command, which meant he would sit in the brush on the edge of the trail as other hikers passed until we called him – and you can bet that we got lots of compliments on how well behaved he was from other hikers. My current dog occasionally has selective hearing if he thinks something or someone is very interesting – so he’s on a leash when we hike. Bottom line, know your dog, and respect others.

  13. Hawthorn says:

    Dogs should be banned from at least Wilderness areas. No matter what the leash law a good percentage of owners ignore it. I have never seen a dog under what I would consider good verbal control on an Adirondack trail–they are always rushing well ahead of their owners and ignoring commands. Frequently they jump on or at hikers. Many times I have encountered these animals and the owners always say something like, “I’m so sorry, he’s never done that before.” Yes, I’m a dog owner too.

    • John L says:

      I agree with you hawthorn. If you allow them at all, the rules will be flouted. Leave them home when hiking.

  14. Lily says:

    While courtesy to other humans is an important reason to keep one’s dog(s) leashed in the wild, it seems to me that protecting wildlife from a roving canine is paramount.

  15. Paul says:

    If you really care about wildlife you should not bring your dogs in the woods during this time of the year. Even on a leash. Let them have their young in peace. The more you leave them alone now the more you will see them later.

  16. Bill says:

    I started my woods roaming in the late fifties at six years of age. These woods were very large woodlots intermingled with dairy farms. I was never without my trusty companion. First Bootsy, then Sandy, followed by Max. It never occurred to me to leash my friends. I did not own a leash. Now I live in Pitcairn – on the northwest boarder of the Adirondack Park. My current companion’s name is Cruz. He is quite used to the leash. I own a couple of different lengths. The idea of using a leash came easily in this modern era. Could it be that the farm country of southern Saratoga County, now gone, was wilder than the Adirondacks of today, or were the people I ran into of a different mind?

  17. Carter Oaks says:

    Basic canine obedience is the responsibility of all dog owners. At a minimum that includes the “whoa,” the “heel” and the “down.” A dog that obediently whoas on command, that obiently heels on command and that obediently is down on command is a companion dog that would be welcomed anywhere. Don’t ban dogs from the wilderness. Ban irresponsible owners.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      You know, I just had a dog experience moments ago that reminded me that 99% of the time it’s not the fault of the dogs. It’s the irresponsible, uptight, neurotic, idiots who own the dogs that – directly or indirectly – are the problem.

      Sadly, we can’t ban or leash human beings. So the ones that drive me crazy walk free and unfettered…

      • Paul says:

        While visiting my parents their neighbors dog who bit my wife explained to her that the reason it bit her was because she was “running” by their house! Forget it. Rules have to take into account nit wits.

  18. gary roberts says:

    Yes dogs should definitely be on leashes when on trails and should be controlled by owners. Pooper scoopers should also be the responsibility of owners to keep our trials clean. Clean enviroment for all trail goers.

  19. dave says:

    Whenever I think about this topic, I inevitably end up asking two questions.

    First, what changed?

    When we first moved here we were surprised to learn how much local residents disliked trail leash laws. I still remember when we got our first puppy and we would ask local acquaintances what the leash requirements were on a certain trail… oh the looks we would get and the rants they would go on! We’d hear lots of stories about how things were more friendly back in the day, more free, more fun… when you could let your four legged best friend run around with you on a climb and not have to worry about negative encounters or people complaining about it. A lot like Bill describes above.

    Clearly somewhere along the line, something changed. What was it? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the dogs.

    Second question, what’s the difference?

    In the High Peaks area there are several privately owned (but open to the public) trail systems that are dog friendly. Leashes optional. They get a lot of use, but as far as we can tell they are devoid of the doggy drama and problems that are so common on popular state trails.

    Why is that? What is so different about these trails? Again, I’m pretty sure it isn’t the dogs.

    So, you used to be able to adventure in the woods with your dog without causing problems. And there are areas where you can still do so today without causing problems.

    What’s the deal?

    The only answer that I have is that this must be a numbers game. The more people you have using a trail the more likely you are to run into problems. You are more likely to run into bad/irresponsible owners and more likely to run into people who are just not tolerant of, or comfortable around, dogs. Or they are comfortable with dogs, they may even own one, but they are used to interacting with them in a much different, more restricted environment… such as leashed on a sidewalk around their neighborhood.

    Which in turn makes me wonder if, to a lesser extent, some of this is due to the fact that the way we interact with dogs seems to be changing. Dr. John Bradshaw has written some great material on this subject (his most popular book being “Dog Sense”), and the jist of what he says is that we no longer seem to allow (or want) dogs to be dogs. We treat them in ways, and expect them to act in ways, that are entirely contrary to their nature… and then wonder why they have behavioral problems!

    As for why the dog friendly trails in the High Peaks do not experience the same issues… the only explanation I can come up with is that they are self selecting. The people who are not comfortable around, or tolerant of, dogs probably avoid those trails.

    Ultimately, I do believe a leash is the right call in the environment we now find on the popular state trails. But mostly because, like Steve Hall mentions, I feel it is the safest place for the dog. In an environment where you have more hikers, more dogs, and less understanding… there are just too many things that can go wrong. A leash protects you and your dog in that situation.

    And it breaks my heart whenever I read about someone losing their pup on a mountain.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Dave:

      I think you’re right that it is mostly people that have changed. Values have changed. And yes, excellent point: people have changed how they interact with dogs too, for the worse.

      Our society is so defensive and protective these days. Playground equipment gets removed because it is unsafe. Schools fear litigation. People are more self-oriented. It’s not the dogs.

      I conclude that the right public policy is to leash dogs on trails. My own view? I couldn’t care less. I love dogs. A barking, growling dog doesn’t bother me in the least because I’m not taking him on my terms, I’m taking him on his terms. Animals understand that kind of thing.

      I’ve had two bad dog encounters in fifty years and in both cases I could tell before I did something stupid that the threat behavior they were showing was serious.

      Pete

      • Paul says:

        I agree. There are too many people these days who attempt to treat their dogs like they are some substitute for children or other human companions. Some people are appalled by the fact that I keep my two German Shorthaired Pointers in an outdoor kennel (covered with nice warm dog houses). However I have two of the most (I am biased) beautiful happy and super well trained dogs out there. They are far more healthy and happy than many of the “house” dogs I see. We had house dogs growing up and they were happy too. Some states have actually considered making it illegal to keep a dog in an outdoor kennel! These people know nothing about dogs.

    • John L says:

      Amen on the people treating dogs like people these days. John Steinbeck said his dog Charlie (as in ‘Travels with Charlie’) was a perfectly good dog and had no desire to be a sub-standard human being. People today should be as wise as that.

    • dave says:

      Just to clarify… I was in no way suggesting that it is a bad thing for people to treat their dogs like family members.

      To the contrary. My point was that people seem to want dogs to behave in ways that go against their nature… but it is very much IN the nature of dogs to live in tight family groups. To be close companions with, and to cohabit and interact with, the members of that family unit. So people who treat their dogs as family members or as close companions are actually doing right by the dog, and its nature.

      • Paul says:

        This is why I would never have only one dog. What is really in the dogs nature is for it to interact closely with other dogs. People are a poor substitute in my opinion.

        • dave says:

          Domestic dogs co-evolved with humans over tens of thousands of years. They have a very unique and very strong bond with us. Indeed, studies show that puppies – from the time they first open their eyes – will seek out and naturally gravitate toward humans, even over other dogs when given the choice!

          So I am not sure we can say humans are a poor substitute for a dog’s social interaction… I think it is more accurate to say that it is in a dog’s nature to need close interaction with BOTH humans and other dogs.

          • Paul says:

            I agree with that. But I do think that social interactions between dogs is very important. That has been my experience with my dogs. Yes, they do bond with me as well. I am the leader of the pack! But if I wasn’t around I think they could probably make due without me. Maybe not.

            There was a lot of breeding involved with where we are now with domestic dogs. Most of what we have bred dogs for is not utilized by folks that own them now. Companionship is only a small part of what we bred hem for. I am a bit sad when I see a sporting dog that doesn’t get to do what he or she was bred for.

  20. Billy says:

    I agree that in most circumstances leashes are necessary to be courteous to fellow wanderers and for the safety of the dog. I believe it is also the law for NYS-owned and maintained trails.

    However, I will say that I know and trust my dog more than any of the hikers I’ve ever encountered on the trail. That being said, I go to great lengths to be attentive to who else might be on the trail before considering letting my dog off leash, state-land or not. I DO NOT let my dog walk ahead of me, especially when I know there are other hikers, and I make sure to greet them first and then decide whether the leash would be the best choice based on the body language and reaction of the hiker. Further, I feel it is beneficial to socialize a domestic dog, preferably off-leash, with other humans and animals, so long as the conditions are safe and feelings mutual. In any case, respect for the fellow trail-goer should be paramount.

    However, every dog has a different personality just as humans do. Dogs pick up on body language and tension that humans may not anticipate, and dogs often react respective to their human counterparts. It’s a shame that the irresponsibility of a few (or many-I’m not sure) dog owners has led to traumatic experiences with humans, and has further resulted in dichotomous positions and conversations such as this.

    I will admit that I have made mistakes in the past. I used to let my dog go ahead of me on occasion so he could have a run and stretch his legs. I felt terrible when I arrived at the scene of a surprised and frightened hiker, apparently not a dog person, clicking his hiking poles toward my bewildered four-legged friend (to my dog’s credit, he waited for me to catch up – he sensed the uncertainty of the situation and kept his distance). Nevertheless, I learned my lesson and now my dog trails behind me when off-leash.

    Living and experiencing life with a dog is a BIG responsibility that should not be taken lightly. It is critical that humans and their dog companions reach socially acceptable understandings of how to behave in public, on and off-leash. If such understandings cannot be reached, then leashes are most definitely necessary (and I might consider staying home altogether!)

    Thank you for bringing Bill Cronon’s ideas and philosophical ponderings of Wilderness into this conversation. I am familiar and a fan. His ideas, I think, are relevant to most topics regarding ownership. Perhaps we will one day care for our own backyards as much as we do Wilderness, which would be a favor to both wild(er)life and humanity.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Billy:

      More good comments. Thanks.

      As Phil Terrie pointed out, Cronon gets misunderstood all the time. I think his argument is strong and gives us a better value-base with which to promote a strong environment, including our wilderness areas. I think his philosophy is uniquely relevant to the Adirondacks but am dismayed that some misappropriate it to create an errant version that devalues our wild lands.

  21. catskill weather says:

    so we travel into the great North eastern wilderness, prepared for all that this wildness may throw at us yet fearful and unaccepting of the fact we may run in to mans best friend.

    • John Warren says:

      Who is fearful and unaccepting?

      What nonsense. You don’t have the right to have your dog harass others. No matter if you are walking down the street or the trail.

      Be considerate of others on the trail or stay home.

  22. Hawthorn says:

    I was hiking a lot “back in the day” when dogs were allowed to roam much more freely on the trails and it was much worse than today for dog encounters. What is different is that today dog encounters are much rarer and probably therefore more frightening to some hikers, but in general today’s dogs on the trail are better behaved and under better control, but not perfect. I can remember carrying big sticks with us for hiking in certain areas near farms where you were likely to run into big, vicious dogs on the trail. It is better today, but still there is something about a dog in the woods that encourages bad behaviour, IMHO. I know my dog would be a total disaster on the trail.

  23. Mark Gibson says:

    Many fine comments here. Dogs are ubiquitous close companions of man for ages. The two species have acquired programming that binds them in work and play.

    Let’s face it – the problem on the trails is that there are too many people, not the few dogs one encounters. The loss of sense of wilderness on the ADK trails is owed to the large numbers of humans – these are crowded hills even off trail.

    The Canadian National Parks generally allow Dogs. My dog was allowed off leash throughout Banff on trails of all sorts. No big deal. Banff is wilderness too, surely, if not moreso, and the Canadians value it mightily but there was not a hint concern about dogs traveling off leash with their families.

    I hike my dog off leash if not in the eastern high peaks – which I almost never am since, if I want to be shoulder to shoulder with people I do not know, I can go to the mall. There are many fine hikes in the ADKs where you can have hours on the trail to yourself and that’s where we go, so our dog won’t offend and we can come closer to a “wilderness” experience.

    There are no leash restrictions in the Uinta and Wasatch wilderness areas near where I live in Salt Lake except in some areas very near town that carry lots of traffic. Some of these are off leash odd – numbered days, on leash even-numbered days and that works pretty well.

  24. Sherri says:

    I am a dog lover and owner. I am on disability & walk my dog every day. My dog is considered a service dog because she assists me with my PTSD. I can tell you from personal experience that 90% of all dog owners are poor pet guardians. They screw things up for the 10% of us who are responsible. I have always lived in a townhouse, apartment, or neighborhood with homes close together. I have always trained my dogs not to bark at people walking by or who are not on my property. I have also trained them not to bark at anyone outside when they are inside. It is all about common oourtesy. My dog heals without being told. If she ever walks ahead of me she is at the most 12 feet ahead of me & constantly looks back to make sure I am right behind her. SHE does not let me out of HER sight. If we are alone in a field & I see a rabbit, she will not chase it until I tell her to and she will only chase it to the edge of the thicket. Squirrels she will chase up a tree. She may bark just once at them to get them going (she is a Sheltie, a herder). I pick up my dog’s droppings as soon as she makes them no matter if it is in my yard or the woods. When hiking in an area where there are not many hikers (and only then) I do let her run off leash. The second I see or hear someone coming I call her & immediately put her on her leash right next to me. We stand still & let the others pass. I do not let her back off the leash until they are completely out of sight & earshot – that is what you call a responsible dog owner. This is how it should be. But I should not be punished for the shortcomings of poor pet guardians. I think there should be fines. If you start fining people for their dogs’ bad behavior (which is the pet guardians’ fault – dogs are only as good as their pet parents train them to be)they are more likely to keep their dogs in line.

  25. Kurt says:

    As many people have stated, it’s the dog owners that are irresponsible and create problems by allowing their dogs to misbehave. This is the case whether the dog is leashed or not. What leashing accomplishes is to keep a misbehaving dog closer to the owner, but the misbehavior continues, often moreso because their behavior is reinforced by being allowed to continue. In almost all cases, the dog’s behavior is a reflection of the owner. Yes, it would do us all good to ban certain people from the wilderness rather than dogs!

    I trained dogs for many years and can tell you that a well-trained dog off-leash is no threat to anyone. If a dog needs to be on a leash than it shouldn’t be on a trail. My last dog, all 100 pounds of her, never had a leash on in all her 17 years and never caused any trouble or created an issue for other hikers. Of course I always kept her close… many people probably weren’t even aware she didn’t have a leash on. On the flip side, I have come across an uncountable number of aggressive leashed dogs.

    I have traveled extensively across the country and in South America and the friendliest dogs were almost always off leash. That is still the case here in NYS, though I’m sure the vast majority of hikers with off-leash dogs do not submit themselves to the wrath of online opinionators. Actually I can’t recall ever coming across a LEASHED dog in South America… perhaps any aggressive dogs had a very short life span!

  26. Hawthorn says:

    This discussion reminds me of the arguments used by responsible gun owners–I am so skilled and responsible with my weapon that of course I should be allowed to freely carry it whenever and wherever I wish. Great argument, except that 99.9% of the world is not as skilled as you are and the same goes for their dogs! Plus, 99.9% of dog owners think their dogs are better behaved than they really are. As I stated earlier, without fail when I have had a big dog come charging down the trail and leap on myself or one of our party the owner comes shouting after with unheeded commands, and then profusely apologizes because, “He never did that before.”

    • Peter says:

      How many times have dog owners said ” never bit anyone before”. Dog owners say that over and over just so you don’t report them. I would rather meet someone on the trail with a gun than a dog.

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