The other day I was hiking in northwest Georgia on a great trail that I’ll tell you about one of these days. It was a spectacularly scenic hike, and I look forward to sharing it with you.

But one thing happened on my hike that made me a little nervous. That thing was an encounter with a family and their unleashed dog.

There’s a prominent sign right at the trailhead which says that dogs are welcome as long as they’re on a 6-foot leash. But the group coming toward me on the trail (a dad, a mom, three kids and a very large dog – but no leash) apparently wasn’t too concerned about that.

I’m kind of naturally cautious around unleashed dogs that I do not know, and I didn’t know this one. It was running far ahead of its people, charging down the trail toward me at full speed. It stopped about 10 feet in front of me and lowered its head and pulled back its lips just a little bit. I heard it growl softly.


“Good afternoon!” I called to the family as they approached. “Think you might be able to leash your dog?”

“Oh, he won’t hurt you,” said the mom, and I heard the dad tell the oldest of the kids (who was maybe 10 years old?) to “go grab his collar.”

The youngster ran ahead and, as instructed, grabbed the collar of the dog. But the dog didn’t like that too much and tried to pull ahead again, almost pulling the child over.

“Don’t worry,” the mother repeated. “He won’t hurt you.” And at that exact moment the dog growled softly again.

I stood still. The child, meanwhile, held onto the dog until the family caught up. Then the dad grabbed the collar somewhat more forcefully, and the family squeezed by me on the trail.

As they passed, the mother said, just loud enough for me to hear: “Only a real jerk would worry about our dog. He’s friendly.”

I couldn’t resist replying.

“Well, you may know he’s friendly,” I said. “But I do not.”

That earned me another comment, which (since this is a family publication) I will not repeat here.

And that was the end of that.

But I found myself reflecting on the encounter as I continued my hike. Pretty soon, I started to wonder what an actual dog might think about such things, so when I got home, I sat down on the sofa and invited our resident expert on All Things Dog to join me for some conversation. That, of course, is Ellie the Mini Schnauzer. I didn’t have to ask twice. She loves to hop up on the sofa and talk about things, and if a dog treat happens to be involved then so much the better.

“So,” I said. “Ellie. What do you think about leashes? Are leash-related matters secret in the World of Dogs, or can you speak of them openly?”

You talk with your dog, too, don’t you?

Anyway, she was silent for a moment as she considered. Then she said:

“Well, secret they are [doesn’t Yoda talk that way?] but you are trustworthy and so I can tell you a few things.”

She paused again and then added, “If there are squirrels nearby, then the leash is definitely a hindrance. After all, it is difficult to a pursue a fast-moving squirrel while tethered to a slow-moving human,” she added, “though we Dogs do our best with what we’ve got.”

“I grant that squirrel chasing would seem difficult when leashed,” I agree, “though I have little personal experience in that area. But what I am really curious about is how you feel about being leashed when we’re out hiking on a trail somewhere. Care to comment?”

“On the trail, eh?” she says. “Don’t trails often have signs that say leashes are required?”

“Yes, many of them do,” I say.

“Well, that seems reasonable,” Ellie said, “and that should be that. In fact, the Dog High Council encourages all People to use leashes whenever they take us for a hike or a walk.”

“Really?” I say. “I’d think you’d want to run free and feel the wind in your ears and all.”

“Oh, wind in the ears is exquisite,” Ellie says. “But here’s the deal. We Dogs don’t want you People to be worried when we encounter one another on the trail. Me, I’m a cute and adorable little thing, as you know, and I wouldn’t hurt a fly. But the people we meet while hiking might not know that. They might be concerned that I might not be cute and adorable but might, instead, be aggressive and fierce and prone to do scary things like growl or bite.”

“In other words,” she adds, “it’s the old ‘you-may-know-she’s-friendly-but-I-can’t-be-sure’ thing.”

I pause to write that down and then realize that it’s essentially what I said to the folks I met on the trail.

“So,” Ellie continues, “the bottom line is that walking your Dog on the leash makes everybody feel better. You don’t have to worry about me taking off after some squirrel, and other folks using the trail don’t have to worry about me at all. It’s a win-win for all concerned.”

So, there you have it, folks, straight from the World of Dogs.

Use the leash. It’s the courteous thing to do.