Training your dog to hike with you

Yay! you’ve taken an interest in hiking with your pup, but not sure if they’re ready to take on the great outdoors? Well, training is key for a positive experience for both of you. I’m a firm believer in putting in the hard work in the beginning so that 6 months and beyond you will have a great time bringing your pup along on all your adventures!

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Starting out

Before you even begin hiking with your dog, there are some must-do’s.

1) Talk to your vet – Please don’t start hiking with your dog before talking to your veterinarian if you are unsure if they can handle the hikes. If you’re unsure on your pups physical condition or have any questions talking to an expert will always be your best bet! Your veterinarian is trained on assessing the health of your dog. With a combination of your understanding of your dog’s temperament, activity level, and training and your vet’s expertise on your dog’s internal health, the two of you can ensure that your dog is healthy and hike-ready.

2) You must have your dog leash trained – This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people try to start hiking with their dog before their dog even knows leash etiquette. You don’t want to end up on your face because your dog saw a rabbit and yanked you down to the ground. Your dog should know what is expected of them when on the leash! This will help both of you enjoy the hike more with-out getting frustrated with your dog pulling you around.

3) Recall Commands – Awesome, your pup is now trained to be on leash but let’s face it, if you want to get into harder longer hikes that are real backwoods training off-leash will greatly benefit you, especially if the hike contains some serious incline where holding a leash is dangerous to you and your pup. Working on recall is very important for this scenario, you need to be able to let your pup go without them running off chasing wild animals or bothering anyone else. Spend the time in the beginning mastering recall so when you do have to drop your pups leash for intense rock climbing you know you and your pup will be safe! Obviously, if there are a lot of people around try to keep your dog on-leash for the sake of other hikers.

4) Know your local leash and dog laws – Every area has different restrictions and requirements for dog owners. Know what rules you are required to follow, and please follow them. Remember, you represent all hikers who hike with their dogs when you are out there on the trails!

5) Pick up or bury your dog’s poop! – No one enjoys seeing a giant turd on the trail or even worse stepping in it! Please be responsible and dispose of your waste and your pups waste properly.

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How far can or should my dog Hike?

There is no hard and fast rule, just as every hiker is different, so is every dog. There are many factors that will decide how far your dog can hike – health, age, breed mix, and temperament all play an important role. It is your responsibility to make sure the level of hiking you’re doing is appropriate for your dog. You must be aware of the signs of fatigue and injury and monitor your dog closely. Remember, your dog will naturally want to please you and keep up with you – and will continue to hike with you well past the point of comfort and enjoyment. Your dog will injure himself trying to keep up with you, it’s your job to make sure this does not happen.

When starting out it is vitally important that you build up your dog’s endurance. Some dogs may be capable of hiking all day, but just as you need time to adjust to physical fitness so does your dog. If you’ve been hiking for 10 years and cover 50miles a day, be considerate of your pup not being up to your level from the beginning, but no worries, with enough training and patience, your pup will gladly concur that 1000mile trek with you!

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Communication – The key to successful dog hiking.

When out hiking with your dog, it is vital you communicate with him. Using your voice is by far the best way you can train, control and encourage your dog. If your dog is getting it right, praise them! If your dog is getting it wrong, tell them. Your training of your pup with commands is incredibly important so spend the time to teach your dog and use the commands often!

Useful commands to teach your dog

Leave it – There are lots of strange things out there on running trails: leftover food, animal pieces/feces, etc.. You do not want your dog to pick something up that could be dangerous to them or just plain gross. Train your dog to leave objects alone when commanded. Remember, this command should be a permanent command. (In other words, if you tell your dog to “leave it” it should be “leave it” permanently, not “leave it” temporarily.)

Heel – Basic leash etiquette will get you a long way with hiking. Regardless of whether or not you let your dog lead while you hike, your dog should know how to do a tight and a loose heel. This helps you keep your dog in close proximity, in case you need to keep them away from something dangerous or keep them from shoving their nose at another hiker who doesn’t like dogs (wait, there are people out there that don’t like dogs?!).

Street Crossing – Some trails do cross busy streets and you should be mindful of that. It is important that your dog has some sort of command as to when it is ok to cross the street and when they should not cross the street. You do not want your pup to run out in front of a car because they didn’t know that they needed to stop at the intersection. Teaching your dog a specific command like “Cross” can help teach your dog to stay out of the street unless directly told to do otherwise. This will be helpful for both hiking and normal activity with your dog.

Emergency Recall – This command is especially important to hikers who live in areas that do not require leashes. Your dog needs to have a single command that means: “Drop EVERYTHING and come back to me IMMEDIATELY.” This should not be a word that you use in life. Things like “Come” or “Here” will be confusing to your dog. Do you mean “Come” when you said to your friends, “I’ll come this weekend?” Use a word that only means the emergency recall. Words some owners use include; Pronto, Stat, Vamanos. It is important that your dog knows that this command means business. You never know when this command will come in handy, so make sure that you frequently refresh your dog’s memory of this command.

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Important tips to keep in mind:

1) Many people are uncomfortable with unleashed dogs – Even on many hiking forums, people frequently complain about unleashed dogs. Often, unleashed dogs bark at or approach individuals who might be uncomfortable with dogs. While you know your dog and their temperament, remember that the strangers around you don’t.

2) Reactions of other dogs – Unfortunately, not all other dogs are as well-trained as your dog. And don’t forget that many dogs have innate behaviour flaws, like leash reactivity, anxiety, or a general dislike of other dogs. You cannot predict how another dog will react if your dog approaches it. And to be honest, you cannot predict how your dog will react if another dog behaves poorly. The very last thing you want is a dog fight that could have been avoided by simply leashing your dog.

3) Wildlife – Many dogs have a high prey drive that allows them to take great pleasure in chasing birds, rabbits, or any other wild animal. Not only is this stressful for the wildlife, which has every right to be there, but it could pose a potential threat to your dog. There are plenty of dangerous animals out there that could cause harm to your dog very quickly. It doesn’t take much for a snake to bite your dog, or for a rabbit to run across the trail. Having your dog leashed prevents accidents that wildlife can facilitate.

4) Paw Health –  Another important consideration is the health of your dog’s paws. Constant hiking on sharp rocks and pebbles (looking at you Pennsylvania hikers) and frequent exposure to hazards like glass, bald face rocks, sharp twigs, and natural wear and tear can cause damage to the pads. The care of your dog’s paws is important to all dog hikers so consider using a protective wax, or having your dog wear boots can help protect his paws.

5) Hydration – Make sure you carry sufficient water for your dog. Just as you would for yourself make sure your pup has frequent access to fresh water. I try not to let my pup drink out of streams and puddles because you have no idea what kind of parasites linger in those waters and you don’t want your pup to end up sick from drinking dirty water so try to keep a plentiful supply of clean water for both of you!

6) Safety – If it’s feasible, try to carry a first aid kit to treat him if he is injured. Know the quickest routes to anyone who could help, have a plan for getting there, and be prepared to carry your dog if necessary. Safety planning is something all hikers need to consider, but becomes so much more important when hiking with your dog – they rely on you entirely to be responsible for their welfare, don’t let them down!

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Overcoming Problems

My dog is easily distracted and wants to stop and sniff everything…..

Dogs want to be dogs, especially when hiking! Given the chance, some dogs will want to keep stopping to sniff and mark. It is down to you to decide how much you want to allow this to happen.  The main thing is to train your dog to keep moving forward. First off, use your voice! Watch your dog, when you see him going to stop tell him No! Let’s go! Keep your voice sounding excited and chirpy to encourage him along. Praise him lavishly when he keeps going. Eventually, you’ll be able to catch him when he’s just starting to think about stopping, and soon it’ll stop being a major issue. When you first start doing this it’ll seem a bit relentless, but persistence and consistency are the keys to success. Be encouraging when he’s moving, firm when he tries to stop. When you decide to allow a stop, give him a command (eg. OK sniff!). Use this every time you allow a stop. If your dog stops and you decide to allow it, use the sniff command – this reinforces to your dog that he’s only stopped because you have allowed it. When it’s time to go, again use your voice – give your ‘go’ command. Remember to sound excited and encouraging.

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