The Dog Divide — It's a Ruff Issue to Tame
Whether you hike with dogs or not, we all share the trail. We need to try to consider other perspectives.
by Loren Drummond
“He’s friendly,” they shouted at me as their dog, a goofy young Lab, barreled towards me and my nervous dog, Lula. We keep her leashed for exactly these kinds of unexpected encounters, be they wildlife, folks who might be afraid of dogs or pups like this giant goofball whose attention she will definitely not enjoy.
Dogs on trail: Bring up the topic in a room full of hikers, and you’ll see people on both sides of the debate get their hackles up. (If only we could bring the same fire to the subject of trail funding, amiright?)
The problem with dogs is not dogs. It’s us. And it’s a problem complicated by the sheer number of factors in play: safety, laws, wildlife, ecology, etiquette. And, perhaps most of all, our very human emotions.
Dogs are family, and we love them like family. Let’s be real, though; dogs are tough to trail-proof. Our beloved furry friends can act like goobers, demonstrating behaviors and reactions that confound us. They pull, jump, chase and bite. It’s hard to admit, and it can be embarrassing to manage in the tight confines of a trail.
For some people, an encounter with a dog can be stressful or scary. They may be afraid of dogs, and a chance encounter can be hard when they’re just looking to unwind in nature. All of us come to the trail (and to conversations online and off) with these stored-up experiences and charged emotions. And when we hit the trail, feelings flare up in all kinds of situations — when you see someone disregard the rules or when a passing hiker makes a cutting remark about your dog.
But does it have to?
Our feelings often get us into this mess. Maybe they can get us out too. Whether you hike with dogs or not, we all share the trail. We need to try to consider other perspectives.
Try this: The next time you’re part of a tense encounter involving dogs, try to find empathy for the folks on the other side. Try to see how love or fear or being new to an experience might color what’s going on. I know it can feel like everyone is ignoring the rules or behaving badly. But as you hike, notice all the people (and pups) trying to do the right thing. Smile. Say thanks. Take care of each other.
I’ve found that talking to people can make these situations just a little easier. Maybe all these little conversations, these tiny acts of consideration, will add up to a better collective trail experience for all of us.