You are advised to keep quiet on many topics – don’t talk about religion at work. Avoid politics at the family gathering. Among those topics guaranteed to create heated, divided conversation is whether to leash your dog in the backcountry. What are the rules and recommendations for off-leash dogs on Mount Hood?

Clearly, there is one definitive answer – what are the laws governing the land that you are on. These differ from land management agency to land management agency. Generally Nation Park land is pretty restrictive – limiting pets to improved areas. However National Forest and BLM land are much more dog friendly.

In areas where dogs are permitted off-leash – should you let your dog be off-leash.

The rules on Mount Hood

I recently got into a discussion on this topic in Mount Hood National Forest. If you look at the rules of the underlying land managing agency the guidance is very clear:

Yes, but all dogs must be within sight of the owner and in complete voice control.  Developed areas may require leashes.  Every year dogs run off unexpectedly from their owner and are sadly permanently lost in the Forest.  Avoid the heartache and keep your dog on a leash at all times.

Mount Hood National Forest Website

However, many in the discussion insisted that the rule is that dogs must be leashed.

Clearly, many folks have had bad experiences with dogs in the backcountry. For me, the key phrase is “complete voice control”. The majority of dogs I meet off-leash in the backcountry are not under complete voice control. Some are. But the majority are wandering around – more interested in the oncoming dogs or hikers. And this is where the problem is. For many folks – yelling that your dog is friendly is not particularly helpful. Many other dogs are not happy being approached, especially if they are on a leash and many people just don’t care for dogs, period.

To get a more detailed answer on this topic I approached the National Forest Service, The local ZigZag Ranger station, and also Bill Westbrook, the ZigZag Ranger.

Thank you for contacting the USDA Forest Service. Regarding your email, I contacted an area expert and was advised:

Typically speaking, Forest Service off leash dog regulations (especially in the general forest areas) is tied in to state regulations. So, it depends on the state. However for developed areas – there is a 6 foot leash regulation.

Dominic Cumberland, USDA Forest Service, Office of Communication

Yes, our website is correct in that statement. As someone who talks about leave no trace principles on the regular, I would encourage folks to always leash their dogs. This would be following the principles of traveling on durable surfaces, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of others.

As far as defining developed sites, these would be sites with improvements (examples: bathrooms, picnic tables, sites with day use, or all of our campgrounds.)

I hope this clarifies dog users of our public lands.

Visitor Information Services, Mt. Hood National Forest

Conversation with Bill Westbrook – he echoed the above and emphasized off-leash dogs should be under complete voice control. I asked him if there were plans to change the leash laws. He echoed this was really a state and county decision. I asked whether he had reports of this being a problem within MH National Forest and he said he was not aware of it being reported as an issue.

What’s my recommendation

Sleeping Bag
Hunter resting at the end of a day

I hike extensively with Hunter on Mount Hood. My general rule is to keep him on a leash. There are many reasons for this. Even thou he is a friendly dog, he can get distracted by small wildlife, I like to keep him under complete control and I think it’s generally safer for him to be on a leash. There are a couple of rare exceptions to this rule.

Sometimes I think he is safer off-leash – for example on certain river crossings – if I think his leash will be an impediment I’ll let him cross some streams off-leash. This is pretty rare as if we are stream crossing he normally has a harness with a handle on and I think this is a better option for his safety. At night in the tent, he is off leash, and sometimes in the evening around a campsite – but generally, in this instance, he’s puckered out and resting.

Here are some other tips for hiking with your hound.

Overall it’s the owner’s responsibility to make the right choice – even though off-leash dogs are permitted in Mount Hood National Forest, my recommendation would be to keep them leashed.


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