BEST TRAINING TIPS FOR HIKING WITH YOUR DOG
Hiking can be a great way for humans and hounds to bond. It’s an extended trek in the great outdoors: a dog’s natural element. It allows you both to get back to nature and tap into your caveman and wolf-like instincts. However, before you take that first step, you’ll need to ensure your dog is ready. A hike is no small undertaking, and if humans need to train for it, then dogs definitely will. The nature of the training will be different, of course—one will be pure strength training and the other will include disciplinary elements. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t throw your doggy in the deep end, or else you’ll be in doggy doo. Let your doggy first match you.
Image: Stylish Hound
First things first: hiking isn’t great for doggos either end of the ageing scale. If you have a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed pupper or an older, slowing dog, we would advise against taking them hiking. Secondly, you should consider your dog’s activity and fitness levels, their breed, and their recall and responsiveness to commands. It also wouldn’t hurt to get your vet’s opinion before bringing them along for a hike. Thirdly, if you want to prepare your dog for future hikes, that’s what this post is all about. Read on for our best training tips for hiking with your dog.
Hopefully, your dog would have been leash trained by now. But if they haven’t been, you’ll certainly need to familiarise them with the concept of a leash. When first introducing the leash, allow your dog to get a good sniff, and make sure you’re not holding the leash as they do so. Dogs rely on their noses more than any other part of their body, and without your intervention, they can acclimatise to the leash on their own terms.
Once the dog is used to the leash, pop it on your dog in an indoor environment. You’ll want to ensure they’re used to the leash before taking them into the wild blue yonder. To eliminate distractions, walk quickly, and use a command (e.g. ‘heel’) to encourage them to keep pace with you. Hold a treat out on the side you want them to walk. This will be the doggo equivalent of a carrot on a stick and they will be better motivated to keep to a consistent side.
Image: Stylish Hound
If your dog starts to pull, stand your ground. Also, use treats to guide your dog back to the correct position by your side. As you dispatch the treat, pair it with the same verbal command you chose earlier. This will forge a positive association in your dog’s mind between the treats and the desired behaviour. Pro-tip: the further along you get into your training, the greater the distance should be between treat distribution. This will motivate your dog to work even harder for their treat.
Recall is an extremely important skill, especially if you intend to let your dog walk off-leash. The sign of a strong scope for recall is a dog who will respond to and come when they hear their name, even when distracted. To build the recall skill, call your dog’s name whilst dangling a treat in front of you. Similar to the above tip, you should gradually phase out the dispatching of treats during this exercise.
Like anything, practice makes perfect, so you should hone this skill often, increasing the difficulty as you go. Once your dog has become a recall pro in close proximities and quieter situations, try calling them from further away (gradually building the distance) and introduce new distractions. A great place to try this would be the park, which often has a fair amount of background noise and activity. When leaving the park, don’t use recall, as this may forge a negative association. When making your exit, just grab the dog and go.
Image: Stylish Hound
Another important thing to hone is emergency recall. To differentiate this high-stakes command from regular recall, use a different word such as ‘halt’ or ‘freeze’, use a hand gesture (to cover situations where your dog may not be able to hear you), and use the tastiest treat you can think of to up the incentive. We’re talking something stinky and pungent like meat or cheese.
When teaching this command, lead with the hand gesture so that your dog learns the visual cue above all else. If your dog is not grasping the emergency recall skill, we recommend a long leash so that you still have a modicum of control over your dog as you work on long-distance skills.
You shouldn’t attempt off-leash training until your dog has mastered leash training and recall. That being said, off-leash etiquette will be essential if you intend to bring your dog hiking. Don’t muddy the waters. Use different commands for the same actions to differentiate between on- and off-leash walking. The dog needs to learn that these are two separate behaviours.
Similar to building the recall skill, off-leash training should start in a contained space free of distractions. Call your dog’s name and reward them with a treat when they respond favourably. Gradually build the distractions, be these toys, other people, or other dogs. Be aware of your dog’s typical responses to other people and animals and ensure not to put anyone in danger. Also only let your dog off the leash in areas where the leash laws allow it.
Ready, set, go?
Once your dog has been leash trained, thoroughly versed in recall and crucial commands (both on- and off-lead variants), and mastered off-leash training—and once your vet has deemed your dog physically fit enough to hike—then your dog should be ready to get their hiking booties on. Also, use your own intuition. You know your dog best, and you know if they’re truly ready to join you.
Image: Stylish Hound
Even once your dog has mastered their training, it doesn’t hurt to continue practising it. After all, practice makes perfect, and it certainly can’t hurt to hone in on these special survival skills. This will give you better peace of mind, which your dog will detect, allowing them to forge even more positive associations with this sacred bonding activity between human and hound.
Now that that’s out of the way, who’s up for a hiking adventure? We can’t wait to see what’s on your hiking bucket list. Grab the dog leash, pull out that map, and let’s get going!