Author: Emila Smith
If you’re going hiking and intend to take your pup off-leash, you must ensure she isn’t a risk to other hikers and animals.
Hiking trails attract people from all walks of life, and while some may not mind your adventurous buddy running around off-leash, others are for the idea that dogs should never be let loose in public places or should at least have a retractable leash on. This is why you must ensure that your pup is well-trained to walk off-leash before letting her have some freedom during her daily walks or while on the hiking trail.
This article gives you tips that can make it easier for you to train your pooch to walk off-leash. This way, the next time you let your pet run loose, they won’t get lost or end up being a risk to other humans or animals.
But before we get right into it, you should know that not all dogs should be let loose during walks or while hiking.
1. Know your dog’s temperament
You should be aware of your dog’s temperament, as off-leash hiking isn’t for every dog. Some breeds are prone to wander or chase prey when they are let loose. It can be challenging to train dogs such as terriers to walk off-leash as they are natural hunters.
Other categories of dogs that should always have a hiking leash on include:
- Unneutered dogs
- Aggressive dogs with high prey drive
- Dogs with strong scent tracking behavior
The off-leash training
The foundation of training your dog to hike or walk off-leash is teaching them an excellent recall. A recall is when your dog responds to your call even when they are a distance away. For instance, if you ask them to come, they should do so immediately, even when they are in an area with many distractions.
Another important aspect of off-leash dog training is socialization. If your dog is not properly socialized, then she shouldn’t be off-leash. Poorly socialized dogs are nervous in unfamiliar territories, and they are also aggressive around other people and animals.
Here’s how you can socialize your dog and train them on a reliable recall before you have them walking off-leash.
2. Socialize your pet
How well socialized your dog is to the outdoors will determine if you can make them a reliable off-leash dog.
Is your pup-friendly towards other dogs, humans, and animals? If they aren’t, don’t expect them to be nice to other dogs or hikers when you go hiking.
It’s important to socialize your dog when they are still young. The first year of your pup’s life is the ideal time for socialization as during this time, they are the most receptive. So, if you want to have a hiking buddy, start taking your pup on hikes when they are a few months old.
Unfortunately, not all dogs are properly socialized at a young age. If you have an adult pooch who you want to teach how to behave around others before you go exploring, here are a few socialization tips you can use.
- Frequently take your dog for walks so that they get exposed to new sights and sounds
- Host people over to teach your dog to associate with new people
- Slowly introduce your dog to a dog park where they can interact with other animals
- Always be calm and relaxed even when your dog acts up during socialization
- Ensure you take it slow, as socializing an older dog takes a lot of patience and repetition
- Give your dog lots of praises and treats when they react in a friendly way to other dogs or humans
3. Recall training for your dog
Most dog owners have a big problem with recall as dogs get easily distracted. Some dogs will also respond positively to recall at certain times and act as if they have never had recall training in other situations.
Recall becomes even more difficult when your dog is on a hiking trail. In such a situation, most dogs would rather chase a squirrel or smell a tree than come to you when you call.
So how do you work on a reliable off-leash recall for your dog?
Here are tips you can use during off-leash training to ensure you have a solid recall.
Photo by Ben Curry on Unsplash
- Start with short training sessions
Recall training sessions should be short. It would be best if you started with 60 seconds training sessions, then later you can work your way up. Besides, several short daily training sessions are more effective than one long session of training. With time, as your dog’s attention span increases, you can make the sessions longer.
In the beginning, the training sessions should also be done in an area with little to no distractions. Your home would be a great place to start. As your pooch gets better at recall, you can move the training to more diverse environments. For instance, dog parks and beaches are excellent recall training locations as your dog can explore off-leash and get accustomed to different distractions. You can also incorporate the recall training in your pup’s morning walks or during your afternoon time in the woods.
- Associate the ‘come’ command with good things
Your dog should associate recall or the ‘come’ command with positive things. Every time your dog comes when you call them, give them something that motivates them such as:
- A treat
- Lots of praise
- Their favorite toy
After rewarding them, release them to go and play some more. Don’t get into the habit of using the ‘come’ command only when you want to put your pet’s leash on, as she will associate the command with the leash.
Recall should also never mean punishment or scolding. Even when your dog takes her time to come after you call, don’t punish or scold her. If you do, your pup will associate the punishment with the recall command. It would be best if you also refrained from calling your dog when you want them to do things they don’t like, such as dressing up, going to the vet, or having a bath.
- Practice, practice, practice
Before you go hiking, practice your dog’s recall in a safe area. Taking your dog for short off-leash walks will do. You can also visit a dog park during off-peak hours and practice the ‘come’ command. You can also use the ‘go’ or ‘fetch’ command to have your dog get something in an area with many distractions and observe if they quickly come back when you recall them.
Another way to reinforce recall is going hiking with another off-leash experienced dog. Practice some leash-free walking with the two dogs in between play sessions. Let your dog follow the experienced dog’s lead when it comes to recall training. Hide and seek games can also help with recall practice.
Keep on practicing until you’re confident that your pup’s recall skills are reliable.
Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash
- What to do when your dog doesn’t come during off-leash recall training
If your dog often wanders away when you give the ‘come’ command, use a long training leash instead and nudge them towards you when you give the command. Also, don’t keep repeating the ‘come’ command if your dog isn’t paying attention. Wait until they are less distracted to give the command.
You should never chase your pup if they don’t come after the command, doing so only makes her think that you’re playing a game. Instead, walk away if she doesn’t respond to the command and have her chase you.
You can also use a chase game to motivate your dog to learn the ‘come’ command. Excitedly sprint away from your dog as you give the command and let them chase you.
Another way to encourage them to learn the command is to use a partner during the chase game. Let one person hold the dog before giving the ‘come’ command. Let your partner run away from the dog as you release the dog and give the ‘come’ command. Remember to give your dog a treat once they run after the person.
4. Don’t forget to carry a leash during training or when hiking
Don’t forget to carry your leash even if you intend to have your dog off-leash while hiking. Having a center ring collar also makes it easy to leash your dog in case of any danger. Keep the leash in your hand for immediate access in case it’s necessary.
It’s also courteous to leash your dog when you come across other hikers or dogs. Not everyone likes dogs, and even though your dog may be friendly with other dogs, some dogs and humans may not be so friendly.
In closing, in addition to training your dog for off-leash hiking, ensure your dog also has an ID tag or a GPS tracking collar just in case they get lost while hiking. Further, consider all the dangers your pup may encounter during a hike, so you go prepared. Carry plenty of water, a dog first aid kit, and a reflective vest for your dog, and always keep an eye on them.