It's an emotional subject. Like most such debates, neither side is wrong. It's a matter of perspective, and mutual respect and common sense go a long way. Everyone digging in and taking a hard line -- "all dogs should be leashed at all times" or "I never leash my dog ever" -- is the reason these threads always devolve into passive-aggressive Internet pissing matches.
I'm a dog owner and prefer to have her off-leash whenever possible. She's OK on a lead, but it's much more enjoyable for both of us for me to maintain my normal pace while she sniffs flowers, runs back and forth, etc. She's always stayed within 20-30 feet of me (as herding breeds are wont to do), but I've also invested hundreds of dollars and more than a year in constant training. She used to bark at strangers. She used to bolt up to other dogs and try to play. She used to chase wildlife and would only listen to recall commands when there wasn't anything more interesting to do. I put in the effort to correct these behaviors, and now she's more respectful on a trail than 99 percent of humans.
Even with my legitimately trained dog, I still keep a leash connected to her pack and bundled in one of the pockets or make her wear a Ruffwear Quickdraw
. This makes it easy to call her to me and physically restrain her whenever we approach a person, dog or wild animal. I realize I don't own the backcountry and that her presence could be annoying or even threatening to some trail users, and I try to be cognizant of that. She's free to roam again once we're a safe distance past. If we're on a crowded trail where this would be a never-ending nuisance, she simply stays leashed. I mostly avoid such areas with her.
Do I ignore leash laws a lot of the time? You bet. I also make an effort to visit areas, such as the Holy Cross Wilderness and the Weminuche Wilderness, where only voice restraint is necessary. These are blanket laws catering to the masses because the authorities don't have the resources to actually police the problem. It's easier to make leashes mandatory and punish good dog owners than it is to develop and maintain a more reasonable system, like the Voice and Sight Tags in Boulder. I can sleep at night knowing I do everything I can to ensure my dog doesn't harass other trail users or leave any more trace than a human visitor. That's good enough for me.
I'm sure I'll got torched for saying anything negative about CFI on this forum, but my experiences with trail crews has been largely negative. Even when the rules are being obeyed, they come across as preachy -- especially about dogs. A recent example occurred on Huron Peak. I was in a large group (yes, less than 15...) that was moving slowly and stopped to take a break right below where the work area. A few parties wanted past, so we moved to the edge of the trail. One of the CFI crew members yelled from 300 feet above, "GET BACK ON THE TRAIL. GET BACK ON THE TRAIL. GET BACK ON THE TRAIL." The same guy said as we approached him later, "Come on, guys. This is what we're here for. It's not that hard to just stay on the trail." He was a total ass about it, especially considering my party consisted largely of first-timers who didn't know any better, but I couldn't really argue with his point. I kept my mouth shut and moved on. The kicker was that about half the trail crew was eating lunch sitting in the tundra 10 feet off the path.
On the way down, one of the other crew members patronizingly thanked me for having my dog on a leash. Cool, fine, whatever. Then she asked if I'd been packing out my dog's poop and launched into an unsolicited spiel about how damaging dog feces is to the alpine environment. (Half the reason my dog wears a backpack is so she can carry her own bagged poop.) It took considerable restraint, but I was able to just roll my eyes and walk away. Most of them are volunteers, but if they're already being taught what to lecture hikers about, a little customer-service training wouldn't hurt.
“There are two kinds of climbers: those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest.” - Alex Lowe
"There have been joys too great to describe in words, and there have been griefs upon which I cannot dare to dwell; and with those in mind I say, 'Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.'" - Edward Whymper