Imagine you are starting on hike along the North Shore Rugged Trail. You park at the Smelter Wharf, walk around the salt pile, and head past the trail sign. Just as you come to the top of the rise you see a couple sitting on the rock, blocking your way in the middle of the path. As you approach closer the man turns, casually pointing a shotgun at you while still blocking the way. Seemingly unaware what he is doing you stop, and ask him to point the gun elsewhere. He gruffly says that there is no issue, the gun isn’t loaded. It seems obvious that you will need to find another way around. But you really don’t want to turn your back on anyone holding a gun, even if it isn’t loaded.

Now imagine that instead of a shotgun the couple have four mid to large sized dogs who run up and block your way, barking and growling. You ask them to take control of their dogs and they tell you not to worry, their dogs don’t bite, despite their current behaviour. What do you do? Start pushing through the dogs, risking a bite? Ask the people to control their dogs? Or turn around and try another path?

Well the second scenario happened to me this past weekend and the people with the dogs were indignant when I asked them to restrain their dogs. I suggested that they should have their dogs under control and preferably on leads. The man told me they were allowed to have their dogs off lead and to “go read the f***ing sign”. Eventually the woman grabbed the dogs and pulled them back so I could pass. He remained on his rear end bitching about the inconvenience. She was muttering about how the dogs just didn’t like me. Well I suspect that the woman was more embarrassed by the situation and her partner’s reaction than she wanted to let on and the dogs were picking up on her emotions, which made it worse.

Well that ruined a pleasant hike as I ran through the whole scenario in my head while hiking the trail. And then a couple of hundred metres ahead my route was blocked by another barking dog. In this case the owners came up and grabbed the dog apologizing for her behaviour. She was a German Shepherd, pretty much full sized, but obviously still a puppy.

It seems that nine out of tem times when I come across a dog off lead on the trail there is no issue. The dog walks by ignoring me, or runs up tail wagging looking for a pat on the head. I’m happy to accommodate them.

Dog owners don’t understand that everyone doesn’t see their pets as friendly and non threatening when they run up to people and start barking and growling. I grew up with large dogs and learned to be cautious with a strange dog, or even a familiar dog in a stressful situation. Put four dogs together as I faced while on the trail and you have a pack, and anything can happen. But of course the owners are not likely to be the ones getting bitten. Someone who is afraid of dogs would have been terrified.

I had a similar situation a year ago along the North Shore Rugged Trail. I was walking along the trail and a large dog came up running, barking, growling and blocking my way. I didn’t move. Eventually the owner, someone I knew, came along with the customary – oh she doesn’t bite. No apologies or promises to keep their dog under control. Just a suggestion that there was no need to be cautious. I dare anyone else to be in that situation and take a step forward or turn their back on the dog.

Despite what the owner of the four dogs said, dogs are required to be on lead when on the North Shore Rugged Trail. It’s on the fading sign. If you want to let your dog run, it’s okay with me, but have them under control.

It’s really not about dogs being off lead, it’s about common courtesy and taking responsibility for your actions and those of your pets. And that includes your dog’s poop.

Dogs can be as dangerous as a shotgun. It all depends on the owner. I hope people will not stop hiking the North Shore Rugged Trail to avoid a few bad actors. Perhaps bear spray is to be recommended. My sense is that soon enough someone is going to get bitten, but it’s not going to be me.

But it Was Still a Gorgeous Evening on the Trail (Parry Sound in Colour)