It depends on the jurisdiction. Some land management agencies require dogs to always be leashed or caged, while others will allow dogs off-leash as long you have them under your command.
Must Dogs Be Kept Leashed When Boondocking?
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) do not require dogs be kept on a leash when boondocking on open lands, where dispersed camping is allowed. They only require that you maintain control of dogs at all times. However, the BLM and USFS does require dogs be kept leashed on developed campgrounds or other improved areas.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which overseas water bodies and fishing areas, doesn’t specifically mention leashing dogs, but reserves the right to impound dogs that are left “unattended”.
The National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers require dogs be kept leashed everywhere.
Note that state laws will apply over federal jurisdictions. Also, if your dog were to injure someone, they could pursue legal remedy from you.
Bureau of Land Management
Open Lands, Dispersed Camping
The BLM does not require dogs be kept leashed while boondocking, or camping outside of developed areas.
Developed Campgrounds, or Other Improved Areas
However, the BLM requires all dogs to be kept leashed, no longer than 6 feet in length, when in developed campgrounds other other improved areas. Moreover, dogs are not allowed at a swimming area (except for “seeing eye dogs” or “hearing dogs”). As codified under CFR Title 43, Subtitle B, Chapter H, Subchapter H…
- Part 8365.2-1 Sanitation…
On developed recreation sites and areas, no person shall, unless otherwise authorized:
(c) Bring an animal into such an area unless the animal is on a leash not longer than 6 feet and secured to a fixed object or under control of a person, or is otherwise physically restricted at all times.
- Part 8365.2-5. Public health, safety and comfort…
On developed recreation sites and areas, unless otherwise authorized, no person shall:
(b) Bring an animal, except a Seeing Eye or Hearing Ear dog, to a swimming area.
U.S. Forest Service
The USFS does not require dogs be kept leashed when camping in dispersed areas.
Developed Campgrounds, or Other Improved Areas
Dogs are required to be kept leashed or contained on all developed campgrounds, recreation areas, or other improved areas. As codified under, CFR Title 36, Chapter II, Part 261, Subpart A…
- Section 261.16. Developed recreation sites.
The following are prohibited:
(j) Bringing in or possessing an animal, other than a service animal, unless it is crated, caged, or upon a leash not longer than six feet, or otherwise under physical restrictive control.
National Park Service
The National Park Service allows dogs in parks, but must kept leashed at all times, in all areas. The only exception is for the purpose of hunting in areas where hunting is permitted. As codified under CFR Title 36, Chapter I, Part 2…
- Section 2.15. Pets.
(a) The following are prohibited:
(1) Possessing a pet in a public building, public transportation vehicle, or location designated as a swimming beach, or any structure or area closed to the possession of pets by the superintendent. This subparagraph shall not apply to guide dogs accompanying visually impaired persons or hearing ear dogs accompanying hearing-impaired persons.
(2) Failing to crate, cage, restrain on a leash which shall not exceed six feet in length, or otherwise physically confine a pet at all times.
(3) Leaving a pet unattended and tied to an object, except in designated areas or under conditions which may be established by the superintendent.
(4) Allowing a pet to make noise that is unreasonable considering location, time of day or night, impact on park users, and other relevant factors, or that frightens wildlife by barking, howling, or making other noise.
(5) Failing to comply with pet excrement disposal conditions which may be established by the superintendent.
(b) In park areas where hunting is allowed, dogs may be used in support of these activities in accordance with applicable Federal and State laws and in accordance with conditions which may be established by the superintendent.
(c) Pets or feral animals that are running-at-large and observed by an authorized person in the act of killing, injuring or molesting humans, livestock, or wildlife may be destroyed if necessary for public safety or protection of wildlife, livestock, or other park resources.
(d) Pets running-at-large may be impounded, and the owner may be charged reasonable fees for kennel or boarding costs, feed, veterinarian fees, transportation costs, and disposal. An impounded pet may be put up for adoption or otherwise disposed of after being held for 72 hours from the time the owner was notified of capture or 72 hours from the time of capture if the owner is unknown.
(e) Pets may be kept by residents of park areas consistent with the provisions of this section and in accordance with conditions which may be established by the superintendent. Violation of these conditions is prohibited.
(f) This section does not apply to dogs used by authorized Federal, State and local law enforcement officers in the performance of their official duties.
Army Corps of Engineers
The Army Corps of Engineers requires dogs to be kept on a leash at all times, in all areas. As codified under CFR Title 36, Chapter III, Part 327…
- Section 327.11. Control of animals.
(a) No person shall bring or allow dogs, cats, or other pets into developed recreation areas or adjacent waters unless penned, caged, on a leash under six feet in length, or otherwise physically restrained. No person shall allow animals to impede or restrict otherwise full and free use of project lands and waters by the public. No person shall allow animals to bark or emit other noise which unreasonably disturbs other people. Animals and pets, except properly trained animals assisting those with disabilities (such as seeing-eye dogs), are prohibited in sanitary facilities, playgrounds, swimming beaches and any other areas so designated by the District Commander. Abandonment of any animal on project lands or waters is prohibited. Unclaimed or unattended animals are subject to immediate impoundment and removal in accordance with state and local laws.
(b) Persons bringing or allowing pets in designated public use areas shall be responsible for proper removal and disposal of any waste produced by these animals.
(f) Any animal impounded under the provisions of this section may be confined at a location designated by the District Commander, who may assess a reasonable impoundment fee. This fee shall be paid before the impounded animal is returned to its owner(s).
(g) Wild or exotic pets and animals (including but not limited to cougars, lions, bears, bobcats, wolves, and snakes), or any pets or animals displaying vicious or aggressive behavior or otherwise posing a threat to public safety or deemed a public nuisance, are prohibited from project lands and waters unless authorized by the District Commander, and are subject to removal in accordance with Federal, state and local laws.
Bureau of Reclamation
Dogs are not required to be kept leashed on Bureau of Reclamation lands, fishing sites, or campgrounds. However, they do reserve the right to impound dogs that are “unattended”. As codified under CFR Title 43, Subtitle B, Chapter I, Part 423, Subpart C…
- Section 423.35. Animals.
(a) You must not bring pets or other animals into public buildings, public transportation vehicles, or sanitary facilities. This provision does not apply to properly trained animals assisting persons with disabilities, such as seeing-eye dogs.
(b) You must not abandon any animal on Reclamation facilities, lands, or waterbodies, or harass, endanger, or attempt to collect any animal except game you are attempting to take in the course of authorized hunting, fishing, or trapping.
(c) Any unauthorized, unclaimed, or unattended animal on Reclamation lands may be:
(1) Removed in accordance with Federal law, and applicable State and local laws; and
(2) Confined at a location designated by an authorized official, who may assess a reasonable impoundment fee that must be paid before the impounded animal is released to its owner.
(d) The following animals are prohibited and are subject to removal in accordance with Federal law, and applicable State and local laws:
(1) Captive wild or exotic animals (including, but not limited to, cougars, lions, bears, bobcats, wolves, and snakes), except as allowed by a permit issued under subpart D of this part 423; and
(2) Any pets or animals displaying vicious or aggressive behavior or posing a threat to public safety or deemed a public nuisance.