I'm a 45 year old woman. My husband isn't interested in hiking with me, so I'm alone a lot. I have been bringing along my German Shepherd, who is 2 and not necessarily well trained (we're working on that) but he is a sweetheart, loyal, and wants to please.
Now, I'm thinking of him as protection for me as well as a companion. He's huge - about 140 pounds of muscle - and people along the trail don't know he's a friendly goofball unless they approach him and see his tail wagging and hear me say that yes, that's what he is. I've always been wary of dogs, even the ones that are supposed to be friendly, because you never really know how they'll react.
Question is, in the extremely unlikely event I am attacked by some creep on a hiking trail and my dog figures out this is a bad thing he needs to stop, what will happen next? Say, the dog bites the bad guy causing injury. The bad guy runs off - or in worst case, is injured to the point he needs medical attention. He says my dog attacked him. I tell the police that he attacked me first. What are the chances my dog and I will prevail, vs. the bad guy winning with me being prosecuted and my dog being put down?
I guess this is still better than being attacked with no dog to protect me, but it's sad to think he'd have to lay down his life for mine.
One thing that would factor into any legal proceedings is the degree of control you had over the dog. If the dog was running free and had had no obedience training and was only marginally under your control, I suspect that the legal outcome would not be in your favor. OTOH, if the dog had been through a rigorous course in obedience and was on a leash at the time of the incident, and you could prove all this, the outcome would probably be different. Cell phone cameras are a wonderful tool if one can remember to use one at the right time.
When I take my dog on a hike I always have her on a leash. She has been through several good obedience courses as well as snake aversion conditioning and will GENERALLY respond to my voice commands when off leash. But, bring a rabbit or another dog into the picture and all her learning is for naught. She is a golden retriever, smart and eager to please, but sometimes I think there is a second personality residing in her. One that seeks only to please: herself.
The mere presence of a dog makes an attack unlikely as you just won't appear to be an easy target.
A person who attacks you will likely have done that before. His/her reputation and possibly police record will be there.
The same applies to your dog. I will offer my experience from having had my dog accused of an incident in which she was not involved. My basic defense was my dog was that my dog was on a chain when I left and was on a chain when I returned home. When we walk she is always on a leash. No one has ever seen me set my dog off leash to run loose because I have never done it. Many have seen me walk my dog on leash, in parks and in my neighborhood. The end result was my dog was not taken from me.
I am aware there is some recent aversion to chains, but for me the alternative would have been to lose my best friend. A fence it could be argued would have allowed my dog to return. Kind of hard to argue a dog re-chained herself. FWIW, the chain is at least 50 feet long, allows access to sunny spots, shady spots, and her dog house is air conditioned with a unit like this.
Keep your dog on a leash, keep a can of pepper spray on your person, and if you really want to go crazy rig yourself with a video.
Here is the thing that puzzles me when people ask about self protection in wilderness areas - what are you really worried about here?
In many months of many backpacking trips, solo and with groups, women express this worry that some strange man will attack them on the trail. I have NEVER even worried about this, since I have NEVER seen anyone that wasn't merely a little odd - never been threatened, never been concerned. I don't carry a gun, pepper spray or any weapon whatsoever.
When I take my dog, it is because I think she will enjoy herself - I am there to protect HER. I take first aid items and booties in case she is injured, medication in case we do more miles than anticipated and she is sore, food she enjoys, and filter her water so she doesn't get giardia as some friends' dogs have. I do not allow her free range - if she did not come reliably to heel she would always and forever be on a leash. I do not want her to harass wildlife and bring it back to camp - a mad black bear is not going to be fun, and finding her half eaten by a lion would not be either - and I do not want her to bother pack stock or other people. And if she gets hurt? I know I'll have to figure out a way to carry her out.
If I were hiking in grizzly territory she would stay at home. If I were hiking in a national or state park she wouldn't be allowed, so she would stay at home (California state parks are strict about this, and people get tossed out of Yosemite all the time for bringing their dogs on trail).
She at best provides an early warning system. Odds are good that in the case of a large animal, she'd just get killed, and in the very extremely unlikely event some person assaulted us, they would club or shoot her first. I would never depend on her as a deterrent.
Mostly because, unless I'm in grizzly territory, there is very little to deter. Outdoors people are, by and large, some of the nicest folks around, except for some of the eccentric folk I've run into on the long trails - at times I've raised an eyebrow at someone who seemed a little forward, but, too, some hikers out solo for a thousand miles or so get lonely and a little weird for it. I just don't see a reason for so much concern that I'd train a dog for defense to take hiking - which is exactly what I would have if I were concerned. A very highly trained dog, that would not just attack willy nilly.
The only trail I'd worry about would be the Appalachian Trail... for animals there are other measures to take, such as bear canisters or bear spray. For people in the majority of wilderness areas - well, hm, have I heard of a single assault on the trail? I can list cases of giardia, cite a few lion or bear related injuries, cases where someone got hurt or lost. No assaults yet. Unless you count between people who are hiking together - I think there was one argument that came to blows.
You are far more prepared if you concern yourself with mitigating the more likely risks of incapacitation (illness or injury - hypothermia, broken leg, dehydration, stomach upset/nausea leading to vomiting leading to dehydration), navigation error - going off trail and getting turned around, or taking the wrong trail at a junction and ending up off route, or turns of the weather - research the general patterns of weather and preparing for the extremes likely when you go.
Protecting yourself from someone with a gun will not be possible. Protecting yourself from someone who is trying to lay hands on you or waving a knife is another thing - but a trekking pole, a big stick, a pot of boiling water, a big rock, or whatever else is close to hand is pretty effective. If you're so worried, take a self defense class. That will work no matter where you are, even in places you are much more likely to encounter such an assault - like an urban setting. Thugs are not generally found that far off road.
Unless, of course, you are hiking where there are illegal marinjuana farms. In that case it is easy to fix - hike somewhere else.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I replied to your other post giving pretty much the same advice as Lori. Take your dog for companionship, not protection, hike your dog's hike and keep her on leash. The big thing I'm going to miss now that I'm hiking without dog is the advance warning when somebody is approaching from behind.
The big dangers out there are not people nor animals, but accidents. You can take precautions against those by staying alert.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Loc: western Oregon
Hiking with a young and untrained German Shepherd will likely make you more of a danger to others than anyone is to you, especially if he is off leash. Your large sweet lovable dog with herding instincts could easily spook a horse or knock someone down. Be considerate of others, give yourself peace of mind and protect yourself by training your dog and hiking with him on a leash. Your best defense against attach is some basic self-defense training including how to recognize and avoid bad situations and learning how to fend off an attacker.
I'm actually not that afraid of people, though my post seems that way. Sometimes I think I'm maybe not afraid enough and do things I shouldn't. I've been walking through the woods by myself most of my life, and people are just horrified when they find out all the things I do alone . . . asking aren't I afraid of being attacked?
And sadly that does happen, though usually it is at inner city parks - that is, those little islands of greenery with trails through the woods that look deceptively idyllic. Not generally the places where I go.
But I have to admit there is one trail I walk on that freaks me out if I happen to be on it too late when it's getting dark. Daylight hikes don't frighten me at all. No idea how I'd handle camping alone. I remember trips with my husband when we wished we'd brought a firearm because we were approached by weirdos. This was in Red River Gorge, a place with people who kinda make you think of dueling banjos. It's not the backpackers that cause trouble, it's the locals.
Good point about the dog's training making the difference. If he'd passed an obedience course that would help a lot. I can't afford that right now so I'm training him myself. At 2 he's calming down and starting to listen better. He's a sweet dog with a great disposition and I think he'll eventually be a great hiking buddy.
A dogs presence may be enough. A large out of control dog is a danger to everyone. Obey leash laws. You are there to protect your pet, if nothing else consider the vet bills if Fido attacks a black bear and lives...
I have nearly blown away large friendly german shepards walking off leash ahead of their "person". They were being protective and would have died except for my knowledge and love of dogs.
Your mention of needing a dog and a gun to protect yourself from the dueling banjo types makes me think that you might be happier not going solo.
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.