Best Training Tips For Hiking With Your Dog

woman hiking with dog rocky mountains

Photo Credit: @aswild79 Avid Runner and Hiker in the Rocky Mountains

While there are so many benefits to hiking with your dog being a great form of exercise for both you and your dog, an awesome bonding experience, and allowing you to appreciate the beauty and grounding powers of nature, it is important to be prepared before you head out on the trail. 

Being in nature exposes you to certain risks you might not encounter in your neighbourhood, meaning that it’s essential you have your dog under your control. Along with proper training, it’s you’ll also want to ensure that your dog has the fitness level required to take on a hike.

If you have an older or younger dog, hiking isn’t the best option for them. Consider your dog’s breed, current activity level, and check with your vet to see if your pup is suited for joining you on the trail. Before you head out, it’s important to ensure that your dog knows these commands, so take time to teach them or practice these skills to keep them, yourself, and others safe.

woman hiking with dog stanley glacier bc

Photo Credit: @aswild79 Avid Runner and Hiker in the Rocky Mountains

Leash Walking

Keeping your dog on a leash is obviously the best way to keep your dog under your control. Plus,  it’s important that your dog be a leash walking pro as most trails require you to keep your dog on a leash.

If your dog isn’t used to leash walking, it’s best to start indoors to get your dog accustomed to being on a leash before you even introduce the excitement of going for a walk.

Just allow your dog to sniff the leash at first and then allow them to get used to the feeling of wearing a leash without you holding it (supervised, of course, for safety reasons!).  Think of a cue for your dog to follow at your side, such as “heel” and use a  treat held on the side you want your dog on to entice them to the proper spot. 

Start with walks in the house before heading outside, walking quickly to cut down on distractions.  For outdoor adventures with your dog, we recommend our All-Mountain Leashes, which have a traffic handle to make it easy to guide your dog when necessary.

grizzly bear all-mountain dog leash

Troubleshooting Tips:

  • Don’t Let Your Dog Pull: Stand solid and don’t allow your dog to pull.  If they do, use treats to guide them back to the right spot, using your cue word at the same time.
  • Keep Things Going: Gradually increase the distance between treats to keep your dog engaged.

Recall

If you’re planning to let your dog off-leash, recall is an extremely important skill for safety, and you want to ensure that your dog will come to you, even if they might be distracted on the trail.  Start by calling your dog’s name while holding a treat out to encourage them to come towards you. Gradually fade out the treat to increase recall.

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Training Games to Increase Recall:

Chase: This game requires two people.  Have one person hold the dog while the other runs away excitedly so your dog will follow, pairing with come or your other recall word.  Once your dog has learned the come command, have someone hold your dog and call your dog to you.

Keep in mind that if you’re trying to call your dog and they aren’t responding, running away from them can actually entice them to follow you rather than you going after them as they think they’re being chased, which can be helpful when your dog just isn’t listening.

Hide and Seek: If you’re alone with your dog, hide and seek is an awesome way to engage your dog’s brain while also being a great way to practice their recall - even if they can’t see you!  Instruct your dog to stay and hide, calling them to come. Increase the length that your dog stays for to progress the difficulty of this training game. 

Regular Practice: Because there can be so many more distractions in the real world, it’s important to regularly practice this skill to ensure that your dog comes when you really need them too. 

Work on increasing the distance that you call your dog from, and work up to introducing them to new distractions (calling them in an open field is going to be much easier than at a busy dog park!).  Also be sure that you don’t call your dog to leave the park, as recall shouldn’t be associated with something negative.  Instead, collect your dog when it’s time to go.

Emergency Recall: Because you can get into more dangerous situations while hiking, such as encountering wild animals and treacherous terrain, an emergency recall can really help to give peace of mind that your dog will return to you when you really need them to. 

Begin working on this once your dog has mastered regular recall.  Because this is an emergency command, ensure that you’re using a high-value reward here like meat or cheese. Ensure that your emergency recall has a different word like “freeze” or “halt” and an associated hand signal in case your dog isn’t able to hear you.

Use the hand signal first so your dog begins to associate it with the cue. If your dog is having trouble with the signal, you can have them on a long, loose leash to maintain control over them and help them to begin with distance work.

Off-Leash Walking

Just like on-leash walking is an important skill, ensuring that your dog has good manners while walking off-leash is essential if you plan to give them a bit of free reign while hiking.  Because of this, it’s important to ensure that your dog has mastered on-leash walking first.

Knowledge of heel, recall, emergency recall, and look can also be helpful to know before beginning to practice off-leash walking. Because you don’t want your dog to lose their skill of heeling when on a leash, be sure that you have cue words to differentiate when you’re letting your dog off-leash for a little bit more free reign. 

Begin with practicing off-leash walking in a safe environment, such as a fenced-in park, and work on calling your dog regularly with rewards for checking in to reinforce this behaviour.  Gradually work in increasing distractions like toys, other people, and other dogs.  

Understanding your dog’s tendencies is really helpful for ensuring that off-leash behaviour is successful. Know what is going to distract your dog, and work on calling them frequently when approaching high-risk distractions and then rewarding them to increase the desired behaviour. 

When hiking, you also may want to have a cue to encourage your dog to heel while still being off-leash should people come to pass you.  When hiking, using a harness like our Kootenay All-Terrain Dog Harness can make it easy to leash your dog quickly if needed.

Even if the hiking trails you frequent require you to keep your dog on a leash, this is still a great skill to learn for your active pup; being able to let your dog off-leash can help them to get more exercise, participate in skills like fetch and agility training, gain confidence, and socialize with other dogs more naturally.

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Photo credit: @griztheadventuretoller adventure duck toller extraordinaire 

Socialization

Even if you’re keeping your dog on-leash while hiking, ensuring that your dog is properly socialized is an important part of being a dog owner, and is necessary for hiking, especially if you’ll be passing on narrow trails.

The easiest way to socialize your dog is when they are young, allowing your puppy to meet new people in a positive way, allowing different people to hold and interact with your new furry family member. 

As your dog grows, ensure that you vary your walks to allow them to meet new people and dogs and explore new environments, slowly exposing your dog to new experiences like visiting a pet store, dog park, or going to a family member’s house.

If your dog acts nervous, shy, or overly excitable, these can be signs that your dog isn’t properly socialized and needs to continue to be gradually exposed to new experiences.  Ensure that you stay confident and calm in these situations. 

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time exploring the outdoors with your dog, you’ll also want to make sure that you’re exposing them and allowing them to get comfortable in a variety of environments, including urban, bodies of water, and forests so that your dog is able to feel confident and happy to explore on your hikes.

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Leave It

While nature is beautiful, many things on the trail can be dangerous to your pup if they’re especially curious, which is why the “leave it” command is so important, especially if you’re planning to let your dog off-leash.  Because there are so many things that can be really enticing to your dog, it’s great to use a high-value treat when training your dog to “leave it”:  think peanut butter, chicken, or cheese. 

Begin by holding the treat in your hand and keeping it covered, instructing your pet to leave it.  When your dog stops trying to get the treat, reward them with it.  You can begin progressing by slowly opening your hand, moving the treat to the ground, and leaving the room after instructing your pup to “leave it” for a more difficult test.

Stop & Wait

If you’re planning to let your dog off-leash while hiking, the “stop & wait” command can be a great way to level-up your dog training.  Rather than calling your dog back to you when they’ve gone too far ahead of you, this command instructions them to wait until you catch up. 

The “wait” command can also be helpful in teaching your dog to wait for food or wait at the door to your home or the car door. In fact, using the door is a great way to begin teaching the “wait” command, as you’re able to use the cue and shut the door to stop your dog should they still try to go out.  

Reward your dog when they stop and hesitate.  When teaching your dog the “wait” command, it is often helpful to approach your dog to give the treat rather than calling them to you, as they can anticipate the release and may move too soon.  Once your dog has mastered “wait”, you can move onto using a release word such as “okay” or “free” to allow them to explore again. 

Off

Because “off” instructs your dogs to get their paws off something, it’s a great cue to have to keep them from jumping up on people or furniture.  But, it can also be helpful when hiking to encourage your dog to get off something that may be potentially unsafe. 

To teach the “off” command, you actually need to allow the unwanted behaviour to happen - whether it’s jumping up on the kitchen counter or couch -  and then prompt your dog with “off”, providing a reward when they obey, of course!

Stay

While stay is similar to the “stop and wait” command, knowing “stay” is great should you need your dog to stay put whether they’re behind or in front of you. You can also teach your dog to sit or lay down during the “stay” command for even more control.

A good dog training exercise for  the “stay” command, it to ask your dog to sit while you are holding a treat and introduce the “stay” command.  Gradually increase the length of time before a treat is given along with your cue to release the stay.  Begin adding small distractions like walking away from your dog to strengthen the behaviour.

THINGS TO REMEMBER 

Like any training exercise that you do with your dog, consistency is key - not just for you and your dog, but anyone else who interacts with your dog such as family members or dog sitters. Taking the time to regularly practice and reward your dog for staying on track with these skills is important to ensure that they respond when you need them too. 

Plus, practicing training with your dog is a great way to build the bond between you and your dog, develop confidence in letting your dog off-leash, and is also a great brain booster for your dog as they engage in practicing and learning new skills.  You may also want to consider pairing visual cues with your verbals cues in case it is difficult for your dog to hear you on the trail.

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This also allows you to continue to learn more about your dog’s tendencies, cues, and body language, which is essential for hiking as it can help you anticipate what your dog is going to do and avoid any potential trouble.  Plus, when you’re confident in your dog’s behaviour, you’re going to be relaxed, which will improve their behaviour and make your hiking experience even more enjoyable.

Looking for more tips for hiking with your dog? Check out our Top Tips for Summer Hiking in the Time of Social Distancing or prep for expanding your seasonal hiking with our 10 Essentials for Winter Hiking with Your Dog.