Should I Let My Dog Off-Leash While Hiking?

Should I Let My Dog Off-Leash While Hiking?

Zoe Gates, an ethics columnist from weighs in on hiking with a four-legged friend and the importance of leashing.

Dear Backpacker,

I love to hike with my dog, who is very well-behaved. I keep him leashed on busy trails, but on a recent hike, I let him off-leash despite signs indicating that leashes were required. We didn’t see any other hikers or animals for the whole day, and not holding the leash made it easier for me to navigate uneven terrain. Was I wrong to do this?

—Dog Dad

Dear Dog Dad,

I’m an obsessive pet owner myself, and because of that—not in spite of it—I can answer emphatically: Yes, you were wrong. It’s great that you leash your pup on busy trails to respect other hikers. As you probably know, some people, dogs, and kids don’t like being greeted by an unfamiliar pooch when out enjoying nature. But leash requirements exist for a whole host of reasons, and they’re still important even when there aren’t other hikers around. Let’s start with the one that might speak most to a pet parent like you: keeping your dog safe.


Treadiquette is a monthly column helping hikers calibrate their moral compasses. Have a burning question about ethics or etiquette on the trail? Send your predicaments to

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