HIKING WITH YOUR DOG
Hiking with your dog can be one of the most pleasurable experiences you have together! Ask most dog owners what their reason for getting a dog was and their response will probably include “wanting a walking partner”, “someone to encourage me to get out in the fresh air”, or “a dream of off-leash walks in nature together”. All of this is possible with advanced preparation and planning for the situation.
The first step to getting your dog hike-ready is build their value in staying close to you. Whether you plan to keep your dog on leash, on a long line or let them run off leash, building desire to be near you keeps everyone safe and your walk more enjoyable. No one wants to be hanging onto a freight train or frantically calling their dog every few minutes. Build this desire to hang out with you through games and training at home first, gradually building up to environments that have more distractions.
In addition to growing value in proximity to you, make sure your dog has a super strong recall. If necessary, engage the services of a positive, force-free trainer to help you build this important skill. A dog that runs off is a danger to himself, possibly to other hikers, and for sure to the wildlife you have come out to enjoy.
On a hike you need to expect the unexpected - bikes, horses, wildlife, etc. - so invest time in building up your dog’s optimism around novelty and his ability to disengage from it.
Once you’ve done your training and you feel confident your dog will choose you over the environment, your next consideration should be whether or not your dog will actually enjoy the situation. Dogs used to the city may be nervous in a woodland setting. Set them up for success by starting with short, casual walks to introduce them to hiking. If your dog is uncomfortable around other dogs or people, hiking in a group or on a trail where others are likely to be may not be fair to your dog. Consider leaving your dog at home for these hikes and finding quieter areas for the two of you to enjoy on your own.
A further consideration before hiking with your dog is his fitness level. If the majority of your dog’s outings consist of a stroll around the block you will need to build up his stamina before a hike. Remember that trails involve terrain and elevations that are different from a city walk and your dog will need conditioning for this just as much as you will. If you intend your dog to wear a pack while hiking then include this in his conditioning. Having a lot of energy does not mean the dog has a lot of stamina; train for this. Short-nosed breeds, dogs with pre-existing health conditions, dogs that are overweight or those that are in their senior years will need special consideration. Always watch for signs of tiring and turn back before injury or exhaustion. If your dog is over-tired the next day or has difficulty recovering then use this as information that he needs more conditioning.
In addition to fitness training, make sure your dog’s tick preventatives and vaccinations, including leptospirosis, are up to date. Ensure your dog’s identification tags are current and consider putting a GPS collar on him in case of the heartbreaking event the two of you are separated.
You’ve been working on your relationship, your recall is solid and your dog is fit; you’re ready for the trails! Make sure your equipment is in in good condition and fits comfortably. A long hike is not the place to try out new equipment. Pack water and snacks for both you and your dog and bring along basic first aid equipment like gauze and bandages.
A general guide is that trails rated as good for children are good for dogs too. Respect the rules of the trail including leashing, sticking to the marked trail and picking up your dog’s waste. Ultimately, be a good example to other dog owners. While out enjoying yourself together, practice the occasional recall, making it super rewarding for your dog. Play some hide and seek. This will reinforce your recall and ensure your dog is keeping an eye on you.
With the right preparation, hiking with your dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences the two of you will share.