Reader Participation Day: Do Dogs And National Parks Mix?

Last week we had a story about enjoying national parks with your dog, and some "Bark Service" products from Eastern National.

The story made clear that not everyone is a "dog person, that some folks are afraid of dogs, and that it is the responsibility of park officials to provide a safe, enjoyable environment for all visitors, even if they aren’t “dog people.” These rules are in place not only to protect your dog, but to protect you and other visitors as well as the environs of the park.

But not all dog owners are always responsible in terms of keeping their dogs on leases, or cleaning up after them.

So, what should the Park Service do? Should it continue to embrace dogs, and levy fines were necessary, or ban them outright beyond parking lots?


Okay, here risk of being bombarded from all sides: I am a dog lover and dog owner, but I do not feel they belong in national parks for the reasons noted above (some people are not dog people, dogs make messes, not all dog owners are responsible), but also because domestic dogs really disrupt wildlife habitat, behavior, and lives. Even if dogs aren't actually loose and chasing wildlife, merely their presence--scent, urine, feces--cause disruption.

Should it continue to embrace dogs

Embrace dogs? In most every park dogs are confined to parking lots or front range campsites. When hiking/camping outside the parks where dogs are allowed, I have found human behavior- towards both humans and animals - to be far more offensive than that of dogs.

Let dogs in the parks. Require they be on a leash. If owners don't clean up after them, fine the owners. Don't punish all dog owners because someone fears dogs or a few aren't responsible in handling them. Hmm - you could substitute a lot of things for the word "dog" in that last sentance.

This is a major "pet peeve" of mine (sorry). We regularly bring our dog into our local NPS unit - C&O Canal - but always on a leash. In a suburban/exurban park like the canal, bringing dogs seems fine to me, as long as they are restrained. I don't think it is appropriate, however, to bring a dog (leashed or otherwise) into parks where they may cause problems with park wildlife (especially bears).

The problem is that, based on my experience, those of us who keep our dogs on a leash are the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of dogs I encounter on the canal are off leash, and I've NEVER seen anyone enforce this rule (I visit the park nearly every day). Most of them usually are fine, but certainly not all. Several years ago, at another park (not NPS) while carrying my very young child in a Baby Bjorn, we were surrounded by three very agressive dogs, barking and scaring us all until (several minutes later) the owners showed up and managed to rein their dogs in. I've grown up with dogs and am not intimidated by them, but this was a very intense situation. Of course, dog owners invariably say that their "sweet" dog would never hurt anyone, until they do.

In addition, I have on numerous occassions witnessed dogs off leash chasing deer, foxes, squirrels, etc. Parks should be one of the few places where wildlife gets a break from "civilization," but we keep imposing ourselves on them.

So bottom line for me, in some NPS units dogs are fine, but for Pete's sake keep them on a leash (and enforce this)!

I have no problem with dogs in national parks -- as long as they are (1) people-friendly animals and (2) kept leashed at all times. It's the irresponsible owners (who let them run free, get into fights with other dogs, chase wildlife, threaten or attack children, etc.) who are the problem. Some of the worst incidents I've seen are people who bring agressive dogs into the park and lose control of the animal (leashed or unleashed) and those who let their dogs run free and the dogs attack other people and/or their dogs which are leashed. Those irresponsible owners who take their pets off leash should definitely be held accountable. If they can't honor the basic leash rule in public places, then they need to go buy their own private land where they can let their pets run wild.

Anyone who favors dogs in National Parks should hike on US Forest Service lands if they have not done so already. There they will see most dogs running loose in spite of leash laws and they can camp in the dog poop. Some of the dogs you will see are truly frightening and the owners seem to have no voice control. I have a dog I would love to take hiking with me but totally agree with it being prohibited on National Park trails. Of course now that backpackers are allowed to carry concealed guns in parks any aggressive dog on a public trail might end up shot.

Roger Siglin1, an incident of an aggressive dog being shot and killed happened just recently at a national forest site near Asheville, North Carolina. The dog owner had let his 3 dogs run free without leashes (said it was by accident) at a national forest waterfall site with leash law in place. Out of the owner's sight, the 3 dogs surrounded a parent and his 2 young children, began barking and growling, hair on the back raised. To protect his children, the parent took out his (legal) gun and shot once to ward them off, then shot again and killed the most agressive (per the parent) of the three dogs. It was a highly unfortunate incident for all involved. The dogs' owner said none of the unleashed dogs was aggressive. The parent and children felt like they were surrounded by a growling pack of strange dogs running loose. The incident was investigated by law enforcement and deemed the shooter was not at fault.

Every dog owner I meet illegally on the trails tells me their dog is a service dog. Right. My mother-in-law trains service dogs and tells me there is no reason to take a service dog on a rugged, backcountry trail. If they continue to misuse the system like this, they will cause trouble for real owners of real service dogs. In our Park, those with legitimate service dogs are required to obtain a special permit. I have never seen anyone comply.

Dogs are predators. Dog owners do not clean up after them, and usually don’t carry water for them. Dogs sweat through their feet, so hot trails are dangerous, and most dogs’ feet are not tough enough for rocky trails. When a dog runs off, Search and Rescue has to go after them at personal risk and taxpayer expense.

In short, keep the dogs out of the backcountry.

Canyongoddess, Some dogs are predators - some humans are predators. SOME owners don't clean up after their dogs (or themselves). Some owners don't carry water - for themselves or their dogs (is their special water for dogs?) and most dogs feet are indeed "tough enough". My golden has done a half dozen 14ers and I even saw a Dachshund doing Mt Bierstadt without ill effects. In fact I have seen more humans suffering from bad feet than dogs. By your logic we should ban humans from the backcountry.

For a perspective from another country, look at how New Zealand's National Parks treat dogs in national parks:

I wonder how bear spray would work on a dog?

I just wish people would keep their dogs off the boardwalks in the geyser basins in Yellowstone, let alone anywhere else. It's scary to have to edge by a big, energetic, unleashed dog on a path you can't step off of that's only three feet wide.

But people do that all the time, endangering not only other people, but their dogs, too.

Bear spray works very well on a dog.

This will always be debated for many reasons. I have dogs that I clean up after, leash and spend a great deal of time training and traveling with. I plan to camp with my 2 sons and our dogs this summer. I love Rocky Mountain National Park but will choose the National Forest because there is not one trail available to walk my dogs. I wish you could see the need for families with pets that travel. I am not asking for the use of all trails just a 1-5 mile walk near the camp grounds designated for dog use. It's only common sense to recognize that I am the average family visiting the parks. Yes, bear spray would work and it is wise to carry it for animals and people that attempt to harm you! We always consider it our first line of defense in any dangerous situation. As for dogs being predators, my dog is afraid of the frogs in our Koi pond. I think she would starve to death before killing anything. On the other hand, I think we have a lot of human predators. I have seen more children being unsupervised in the parks than dogs. We have more than 30 years experience visiting the National Parks and I would like to continue but I do travel with our dogs and they are family!

I'm a dog lover and a motorcycle rider. For the sake of others, I do not expose either of my indulgences to others in the National Park. Motorcycles are loud and can be heard far into the backcountry and dogs are simply a nuisance in the backcountry and elsewhere, mostly because of their owners lack of respect for other people. It is a shame the irresponsibility of others, but that is the way it goes. Yes, there are responsible dog owners, but most all will let them off leash when the coast is clear. I've had them come at me on trails, in campsites and elsewhere because they are out of their element and become very over protective of their owners. Here in the smokies, we encounter hunting dogs that have been let loose miles from the park. They are emaciated and will follow you for days. Talk about a nuisance!

Having worked in parks for many years I have observed many things about dogs:

* They love to be outdoors

* They love to run free

* They are much stronger than any leash you can buy

* They don't always want to come when you call

* They are fast

* They poop proficiently

* Many of them are smarter than their owners

* Some dogs are not as mean as their owners

* Some dogs and their owners are really nice

I like what Yellowstone says about pets. Go to their website and look it up. Not only do they give you information about where pets are allowed and where they are not, but they give you good, solid reasons why. Over the years I have had some of my most heated exchanges with guests who had dogs off their leashes. One lady told me and another ranger recently that she likes to go to one particular park near ours to walk her dog off-leash because she has only once seen a park police officer over there! It didn't matter that the park and the county both have leash laws that she is breaking. She wanted to brag about it to two law enforcement rangers! (I did notify the ranger in the other park to be on the lookout for her) Unfortunately this is a prevalant attitude about almost anything these days. "If I don't get caught it's ok". No it's not; it is still illegal. And I can't tell you how many times pet leash violators have told me I should be looking for real crimes being committed and leave the pet owners alone.

Some parks have begun to have special "pet or doggie" days. This could be a good idea. One or more days a year when pets can be taken on the trails with their owners. Post it on the park's website so all future visitors can see when that will be and can plan not to be in the park if they don't like pets or not take their children if they choose. Just one idea that works in some areas.

I am not against pets in parks. I just think they should be limited to front country areas like Yellowstone does and I wish pet owners would be more responsible (some are) and law abiding.

Do dogs belong on national park hiking trails? We met Lucy the Jack Russell Terrier, Howie and Robbie, a couple of Welsh Corgis, and others on the trails of Acadia National Park, and found pets and owners all responsible.

Read our recent blog post about how Acadia is one of the few national parks allowing pets on hiking trails, and what's allowed and what's not, in the Northeast's only national park: