Dogs make everything better, especially hiking. You can bet that at the top of my agenda every weekend is exploring the trails with my dog, Hope. I always get a kick out of watching her in her element. Unapologetically scenting, leaping over tree stumps, and chasing squirrels. If you asked me what I’d rather be doing at any give moment, the answer is most likely hiking with my dog.
Before setting out for an adventure, it’s important to plan ahead. We select our gear according to our trail. We choose our trail according to our physical and mental abilities. Most importantly, we make sure that both humans and dogs have brushed up on our communication skills. Staying fluent in the below life skills prevents our best adventures from turning into our worst. Consider these obedience and training tips before your next hike with your dog:
Hiking with Dogs: Carry a Bait Bag
Fanny packs, AKA bait bags, are an essential part of the pet parent’s wardrobe. Fill your bait bag with high-value foods that your dog LOVES. Remember to pick your dog’s favorites, not things you think he should like. Start your hike by letting your dog know that you brought the bank, and it’s open for business. You can do this by giving a click then treat for good behavior.
I like to pay out for attention behaviors as soon as we hit the trailhead, and then periodically reinforce my dog throughout our hike. Attention behaviors like coming back to you and making eye contact help keep communication lines open. Open communication is essential to staying safe while out on a trail. By intermittently click/treating your dog for good behavior, you’re ensuring that he continues to check in for withdrawals from your bait bag bank.
Hiking with Dogs: Speak Up
If you’re like me, you’ve been embarrassed by your dog in a public place. Yes, even the best dog trainers know what that’s like. The best dog trainers, however, understand that it is the human’s responsibility to set the dog up to succeed. Part of setting our dogs up to succeed is to advocate for them. When hiking that means avoiding situations that distress our dogs, and creating situations that bring out the best in them.
Lots of other trailblazers LOVE dogs. That means when they see your dog, they’re likely to want to kiss her right on the nose! Some dogs thoroughly enjoy such forward displays of human affection, but most do not. Know your dog’s limits and speak up for her. It’s OKAY to ask people to give you more space and to decline requests to touch your dog. Rehearse what you will say to passersby, so that you’re ready to use your voice to keep you and your dog safe.
Hiking With Dogs: Reliable & Ready Recall
Hiking is all about freedom. That’s why my favorite way to hike with my dog is off leash. Untethering my dog is empowering and entertaining, but it certainly has its risks. I won’t allow my dog off-leash unless she has learned a reliable and ready recall. Recall refers to a dogs ability to come when called. Not sometimes. Not just when he hears the treat bag. No, a dog with a reliable and ready recall will turn on a dime, mid-chase, and return promptly to your feet.
Speaking from experience, the only training approach that results in a reliable and ready recall relies on positive reinforcement. Punishment-based methods may work for a while, but they gradually erode your dog’s trust in you. Nobody wants to go hiking with someone they don’t trust. Be sure you take the time to teach and practice your dog’s recall before you hit the trails. Check out Cold Nose College’s Rocket Recall for more guidance.
Hiking with Dogs: Attention! Attention!
I mentioned that my opening ritual for every hike is to click/treat my dog for attention behaviors. Looking at you. Sitting at your feet without having to be asked. Opting to leave a stinky, good smell to return to your side and “check in.” These are all great behaviors wherein my dog freely offers me attention without my prompting. Dogs that frequently repeat these behaviors are easier and more enjoyable hiking companions.
These attention behaviors are different than being told to “look at me,” “sit,” or “leave it.” Because the dog freely and frequently performs them without having to be told. These default behaviors can save your dog’s life. Not to mention they’re pretty impressive to watch in action. Work on them up in your everyday so that you can enjoy them on your next hike. If you aren’t already reinforcing default behaviors in your dogs, check out my upcoming post about them on Confessions of a Dog Mom.
Hiking with Dogs: Play Well with Others
Like most things in life, hiking is more fun with friends. Even better if those friends have dogs! This is where it’s important to remember that our idea of fun may not be the dog’s idea of fun. Not all dogs enjoy hanging out with their paw-rents’ friends’s fur-children. For the dogs that do enjoy socializing with other dogs, remember to safely manage interactions. Just like with humans, quarrels can erupt even among the best of friends.
It’s a good idea to introduce new dogs on neutral territory, prior to committing to any trail. Parallel loose-leash walks in wide open spaces are a great way to get your dogs used to each other. If one or more of the dogs decide they’re not really feeling their new furriends today, that’s OKAY! You can opt to head out on the trail “together” at a distance or divide and conquer by exploring different trails. Prioritizing your dog’s needs will keep you both out of harm’s way and make for the best of memories while hiking with your dog.