With all the nice weather this summer, hiking and other outdoor activities are common particularly with those who have dogs. Many people understand that a beautiful day can only be made better if you decide to share it with your dog! However, you should make sure your dog is well-behaved to ensure a safe and enjoyable excursion.
There are several things to do before you even head outside with Fido:
# 1. Make sure your destination of choice allows dogs. (Many locations including state and national parks do not!) The Washington Trails Association has a Hike Finder search application (http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/map) that allows you to sift through all the trails in Washington state and filter out certain locations based on distance, elevation, kid- and dog-friendliness, etc.
#2. Prepare your pooch with all the necessities he may need on your hike. While smaller dogs may need more help from you to carry their things, larger dogs can be trained to carry a canine backpack so they will be in charge of their water, any treats, poop bags, first aid kit, etc. The pack can also be filled with heavier materials for the larger dog who just has too much energy in order to make a moderate hike that much harder for him! Just be careful not to overdo it. Dogs need to build up their exercise regimens just like people or they can get injured. Ultimately, they shouldn’t carry more than 10-20% of their body weight in a pack at any given time. In the beginning, it can also be helpful to associate the pack with a treat whenever they’re wearing and ignoring it.
#3. Know your area. Be aware of where your heading. Some locations may have poisonous plants/insects/etc. For the dog who experiences the world through his mouth and wants to eat everything he sees, knowing the most common poisonous plants and berries can be a life saver! It can also be helpful to know basic canine first aid just in case he gets clipped by a sharp stick or some other such minor event.
Now that you’ve prepared you and your pooch well, you can begin the outdoor adventures! Hiking can be a great opportunity to work on training your dog in a different environment. Just be sure to lower expectations a bit for behaviors that have never been practiced while out hiking. A sit in your living room is completely different than a sit in the middle of the forest!
The following are several suggested behaviors to practice while out in the forest:
#1. Recalls. Your living room at home is incredibly familiar to your dog and so is much less likely to distract him compared to the great outdoors. Remember to up the value of the treats or other reinforcement you’re offering in anticipation of his high distractibility! If kibble will do for recall reinforcement at home, don’t expect the same boring kibble to cut it while Fido is surrounded by all the new sounds and smells of the forest. Ultimately, working on recalls in a variety of places will slowly build to a very reliable behavior!
#2. Loose leash walking. Whether you have your dog physically on a leash or not (and make sure you check into the rules for your particular destination), your dog should be expected to walk calmly at your side when asked, even if just for a moment. However, the great many distractions of the forest are so much harder for your pup to ignore than the same old boring street you walk down everyday, so again lower your expectations for what qualifies as a successful behavior. Instead of requiring a calm walking behavior for 100 ft like he can do at home, only ask for 10 ft, or even just a step or two, then release him to enjoy the smells around him. These “life rewards” can even be much more motivating to a dog than the same old chicken treats. If your dog learns to expect more fun investigating the world if he does what you ask first, he won’t expect the fun to end every time you request a behavior from him. (This same idea can be followed with the recall! Once he’s gotten used to a basic recall, try recalling him from a scent he’s really interested in, and once he successfully returns to you, release him back to enjoy the scent again!)
#3. Leave it. Many dogs have a tendency to put many things in their mouth regardless whether they’re edible or not, or even if they’re poisonous. (We’ve all either experienced or heard from others how a dog stole a huge amount of chocolate off the table and immediately got sick, but shortly thereafter tried to steal more food completely forgetting his recent experience!) The leave it cue can be of great benefit for those dogs that like to eat whatever they can find. Starting small by walking several feet away from a bowl with perhaps only the remnants of something that smells good in it, reward them for focusing attention on you instead of on the bowl. When they will consistently look at you instead of straining to get to the yummy smells in the bowl, you can start to add the leave it cue. (Remember not to add the cue until they are reliably looking at the item then ignoring it to look to you; if someone asked you to dance the tango, you’d be pretty lost if they kept demanding “Tango! Tango!” if you had no idea how to do it.) You can slowly build up to walking closer and adding larger and higher value treats to the bowl as long as Fido is consistently responding to your “leave it” cue by looking away from the food. Eventually he should be able to ignore the most tempting of foods or smells by a simple request of “leave it”.
The summer is a great time to develop your relationship with your dog through outdoor activities, just be sure to plan ahead to prevent anything from ruining your day!