Outdoor Safety & Ethics

General Information

Should I Bring My Dog?

Many hikers enjoy taking their dog along on the trail, whether for a day hike or backpacking. National forest guidelines require that the dog be on a six-foot leash at all times when in a developed recreation area and on interpretive trails.  There is no leash requirements in the general forest areas.

If you plan on bringing your dog with you to the national forest familiarize yourself with trail situations that can be hazardous for a dog, for the hiker, or for other trail users. Update all vaccinations and provide flea and tick control for your pet.  Also, make sure your dog has identification tattoos and/or tags in case you are separated while on your hike.

Be sensitive to other visitors who are uncomfortable around a dog they do not know, especially larger dogs. Unless your dog responds well to voice commands and is comfortable around people keep it leashed, out of courtesy, to other forest visitors while in parking lots and busy trailheads.

Can my dog handle the challenge of the trail?

Dog Aerobics!

Most likely, you would never hike to the top of Signal Knob without conditioning yourself for this rigorous 10-mile hike. Yet we expect our dogs to naturally stay fit even though they may get only a short walk once or twice a day.  Dogs, like people need to build up their endurance before they join you on a lengthy trail. You might want to take several short hikes to slowly build up your dogs endurance, especially if you want it to carry a pack. A dog that does not get much exercise on a regular basis will tire quickly and be susceptible to dehydration.  Also, all trails have a rocky surface. A dog that is used to walking on rugs at home and grassy surfaces when outside may soon be limping with damaged paws. There are a variety of booties available that can protect the dog's feet from injury.

Combating Dehydration 

Many hikes have no water sources along the trail. Dogs can easily become dehydrated, so offer water to your dog before you start. Bring extra water with you and offer it to the dog frequently. A dog that is panting is rapidly losing water. Never rely on finding a spring or a stream as a water source for your dog. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms and treatment of heat stroke or heat exhaustion in dogs.

Avoid Giardia spp...What's that?

Giardia spp. are parasitic protozoans (single celled organisms) found in the intestines of many animals, including dogs.  Sometimes called "Beaver Fever", Giardia is transmitted from host to host by ingesting cysts in contaminated feed or drinking water. Cysts may also be found in streams or other water sources. 

If your dog drinks from a native stream or pond watch for symptoms that can appear within 1-2 weeks of ingestion.  Dogs can carry the disease and show no symptoms or dogs might have mild recurring diarrhea, to acute explosive diarrhea. Other signs associated with giardiasis are weight loss, listlessness, mucus in the stool, and anorexia. These signs are also associated with other diseases of the intestinal tract, and are not specific to giardiasis. Giardia can infect humans. If you think your dog may have been infected see your vet. 

To avoid the risk of your dog being infected by Giardia  take plenty of clean water for your dog so it won't have to drink from native streams.  A leash comes in handy to keep dogs from drinking from streams.   

Encountering Wild Creatures

A dog that chases squirrels in a park may try to chase wild animals in the forest. Most wild animals will graphic of dog walking towards skunk outrun the dog, but if the dog runs far enough it may become lost. A bear may run over a hill then turn and kill the dog with one swipe of its five-inch long claws. A bear with young cubs may attack immediately. A sick fox with distemper or rabies may be unable to run, but can still bite. A skunk will do what it does best.

Coyotes are on the increase, mostly near farmlands in the valley, so they are rarely seen on trails. However, a coyote would not hesitate to kill a small dog that is well away from its owner. Hunters have reported seeing coyotes stalking small beagles.

graphic of striped skunk

A rattlesnake will usually coil up facing the dog, and make a loud buzzing sound. If the dog challenges the snake it may be struck on the face or front paws. If the dog steps on the snake before it coils, the dog may be struck on the hindquarters. A dog with a large dose of venom may die before you can get it to a vet.

Small wasps called yellow jackets make their nest in abandoned rodent holes. They will consider a dog sniffing around the entrance to be a threat. Many wasps will attack the dog, stinging where its fur is thinnest (nose, eyelids, lips, ears). Unlike a honeybee, each wasp can sting multiple times. If you go near the dog, the wasps will sting you. The wasps will follow you both at least thirty feet, sometimes trapped in the dog's ears and your clothing. Besides the pain, there is a risk of severe swelling in your throat, which is a reaction to the histamine in the wasp venom. This can be life threatening.

There are plenty of ticks on the Lee District. Check yourself and your dog carefully for ticks. A bite that develops a large red circle or a "bullseye" of concentric circles may be from a tiny deer tick. Deer ticks sometimes carry diseases, so you should consult a doctor in the next few days.

Other Trail Users

Most of the trails on the George Washinton & Jefferson National Forests are open to horse and mountain bike traffic, so you and the dog must be prepared to meet these trail users.Your dog may run ahead on a steep and rocky trail, round a turn, and startle a mountain biker or equestrian, causing the rider to be thrown before you have a chance to intervene.

Trail etiquette requires hikers to yield to equestrians. On a narrow trail, even a dog that is held close on a short leash can unnerve a horse. Encourage your dog to remain calm and to sit as horses pass.

Other dogs hiking the trail make act aggressively toward your dog.  This can result in injury to both animals. Ensure that your animal responds well to voice commands. Keeping it restrained with a leash will work to avoid conflicts of this type.

Backpacking with Your Dog

At night, your dog is probably best kept inside your tent. Most animals will not attack your dog. However, bears, raccoons, skunks, etc, will be attracted by the odor of the dog's food. Be sure to feed the dog well away from your tent. And be sure to hang the dog's food (and all other food and scented items) high in a tree that is well away from your tent site.

Summing Up

All these situations are less likely to occur if your dog is on a six-foot leash, because the dog moves at your pace and you will see the situation before it becomes a threat to the dog, to you, or to other trail users.

If a six-foot leash seems too restrictive, consider using a reel-type of leash, that extends to fifteen feet. You can let the dog range ahead within your field of vision, but can quickly rein it in when needed.














Bear Safety

 Information about bear safety

Leave No Trace

 Leave no trace