Happy Trails: Guide to dogs on public lands and trails

Many dog owners hike the area trails. Rules for dogs on public lands and trails keep the dogs safe and healthy. Courtesy Margaret Alexander

Every hiker and mountain biker has an opinion about dogs on trails — horses, too, for that matter. Equally true is the wide divergence of opinions.

So, pity the poor policymakers for rules regarding dogs on public lands and trails. Hike a popular trail, and you’ll encounter dogs on leashes, dogs off-leash, dogs under voice control, dogs with no control, oblivious owners, anxious leash-holders, short owners of big dogs, tall owners of little dogs, dogs with no social skills, owners with — well, you get the picture.

Bad dog encounters are extremely rare. Most folks seem to understand that if things do go wrong, civil behavior usually irons out any problems. All dogs need to stay on the trail to avoid disturbing wildlife that nest and feed close by.

One alternative to avoid conflict is a dog park such as designated areas in Santa Fe’s Frank Ortiz Dog Park, Salvador Perez Park, Villa Linda Dog Park and the Sierra del Norte Dog Park. The Ortiz Park even has a dedicated crew of cleaner-uppers. Beyond old-fashioned consideration, responsible pet ownership, and civil behavior, local jurisdictions do have some rules.

Trumping everything else are the rules posted at trailheads for everyone’s behavior — people, dogs, horses and bikers. Reading them can prevent potential conflicts. If rules are not posted at the trail, here are some guidelines:

City of Santa Fe

• Dogs on trails must be on a leash under 8 feet in length, held by a person with physical control.

• While dogs may be off-leash at dog parks, there are detailed rules.

Santa Fe County

• No leash laws on trails, nor are there any designated dog parks.

• Close to Santa Fe, the La Tierra Trails are entirely in the city’s limits, while the southern Dale Ball Trails are in the county; the northern Dale Ball Trails are in the city. Arroyo Hondo Open Space is in the county; La Piedra, Burn/Juan, and Sidewinder Trails also are in the county, as are U.S. Forest Service lands.

Los Alamos County

• Dogs must be leashed within 100 yards of the trailhead; after that, under leash or voice command. Los Alamos has the most comprehensive and detailed ordinance of any jurisdiction.

• Los Alamos has designated dog parks in East Park and in Overlook Park, but not, ironically, in Rover Park.

• The county’s ordinance is at pains to describe what is not “dangerous” dog behavior.

San Miguel County

• Dogs must be on leash or under voice command.

Sandoval County

• Dogs must be on a leash when on trails. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management require owners to control their dogs so that wildlife and people are not harassed. In picnic areas and campgrounds, as well as trailheads, dogs must be leashed. In Sandoval County, they must be leashed on trails, too.

A final note:

We may all believe that we have voice control over our dogs, but few of us really do. A rabbit, a horse, a bike or some imperceptible human trait or apparel can set a dog off into the land of unpredictable behavior.

On the dog side, some owners forget that their pets are wearing fur coats and need water on even short hikes. The bed of a pickup is no place to haul a dog.

Leashes help wandering dogs from getting lost and left in the woods. Many of us are out on trails because of our dogs. Keeping them safe and healthy is the least we can do.

Margaret Alexander is a board member of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.

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