Off-leash dogs on Idaho trials.

I recently participated in a couple of friendly arguments about issues with dogs on trails. Most of the conversations were nuanced, and I don’t want to oversimplify the issue, but there seem to be two basic camps with strong opinions about off-leash dogs on trails; those who think dogs off-lead aren’t a problem and those who do.

Annie Spratt - Unspalsh
Annie Spratt - Unspalsh

What does Idaho law say about dogs on trails?

Before we get into opinions, what does the law say about dogs off-leash on Idaho trails? It depends on the kind of trail.

Public Lands: Trails on public lands don’t require a lead, but BLM notes that you should keep your dog under control when passing children, horses, or other dogs.

National Forests: Many trails in National Forests do not require leashes on trails, but you should expect to be required to have them on a 6-foot leash in developed recreation and camping sites. And dogs off-lead should be under your "verbal control" at all times.

City Trails: Rules will vary from town to town, but trails within city limits are subject to ordinances, and most cities in Idaho require dogs to be on a leash within city limits. There are exceptions for dog parks and other areas that might be designated as leash-free.

There may be instances where you are encouraged to keep dogs on a leash in areas where they are usually allowed to roam, in areas where dangerous wild animals have recently been spotted.

Benjamin Fay - Unsplash
Benjamin Fay - Unsplash

The problem with off-leash dogs on Idaho trails

If your dog is outright aggressive and a danger to people and other dogs, most of us would probably agree that it’s best they are left at home. What about dogs that are people-friendly but reactive to other dogs? This is where the conversation gets interesting. The group I was talking with never did reach a consensus, but the discussion seemed to favor an agreement that dogs who were nervous and potentially reactive around dogs should be kept on a leash at all times. Fair enough.

Are friendly dogs a bigger part of the problem?

Interestingly, the topic of friendly dogs turned out to be the epicenter of the biggest debate.

Most people who owned an all-around friendly pooch didn’t see a need to have their pet on a lead and thought they should be entitled to have their dog off-leash at all times, except for designated leash-only areas.

With that in mind, I can tell you from experience that most off-leash dogs, friendly or otherwise, are NOT under their owners' verbal control. In my 30-plus years of hiking Idaho trails, I have crossed paths with only one man fully in control of his two German Shepherds. They were running about 20 yards in front of him, and as soon as he spotted us hiking toward him, he recalled his animals, and they immediately ran to his side. As we passed, I asked if they were friendly and okay to pet, and he replied, 'Absolutely! They just get rambunctious, and I didn’t want them accidentally knocking your kids over.' Very thoughtful.

If your off-leash dog doesn’t verbally recall, then you don’t have it under control.

In my experience, most off-leash dogs are not under verbal control, and they’re usually left to their own devices to approach you, your kids, and your animals as they see fit. And typically, I don’t think most owners care if their dog is all up in your space whether you like it or not. I’m not saying this is a big deal for me. I will eagerly pet every single dog that comes into my orbit.

But when someone is walking a reactive dog on a lead and your free-roaming dog won’t back down, even after you ask them to, that’s when the fights start and words fly. 

Chewy Invez - Unsplash
Chewy Invez - Unsplash

Is there a solution?

Like most first-world problems, I don’t think there’s an easy solution here. Some of the people in my group said that if your dog is reactive, it should be left at home. Others said that the off-leash dogs were the problem and that if they don’t recall on command, they have no business being off-leash no matter how friendly they are. 

IMHO - CONTROL is the operative word

Whether your dog is friendly, aggressive, or reactive, you are responsible for your dog and it should be under your control at all times. If that means you keep them on a lead, so be it. If your dog ignores your recall command, I don’t think they meet the definition of ‘controlled’ and maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to roam free. 

What do you think?

I couldn’t come up with any one-size-fits-all solution that satisfied everyone in my group, so I'm hoping that you have some ideas that we didn’t think of.  I’d love to know what you think, so be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments. 

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