Happy Hikes With Your Dog
Hiking with Manchester Terriers
Not Just a Walk in the Park
You and your Best Friend Forever (aka your dog) have explored all the walks in your immediate vicinity, dog parks and play dates are old hat and now there they sit, right in front of you. Tail wagging and eyes sparkling – where are we going to today?
People vary on their definition of what a hike is compared to a walk. Typically walks take place in a “civilized” environment, near a town in a park. Most walks aren't going to gain very much elevation, or if they do steep hills won't be involved very much. Hikes can involve hills or scrambles as some may call them and the terrain that you're travelling over may bear no resemblance to the well-groomed trails that parks have to offer.
Taking your dog on a longer, more challenging hike is a great way to get exercise for both of you and one thing is guaranteed, after a few hours hiking interesting new territory your pal will definitely sleep ALL night without disturbing you for a 2:00 a.m., yes I'm still here moment.
Essential Voice Commands
If you'd like to do some real hiking with your dog, start preparing them early by adding some new commands to the basics of Sit, Down, Stay and Come. Dogs are very capable of learning over 100 words and putting them together in sequence to perform the action that you want them to do. I'm not talking complex sentences here -- open the fridge, get me a beer, and open it, is going to be a bit challenging for most dogs – but the words Over, Up, Around, Wait and Forward can make any hike more pleasant for both of you.
- Over – We've all watched agility trials where dogs race around an obstacle course trying to beat the clock. Hurdles are an essential part of any such course and initially I assumed that dogs would automatically jump over an obstacle they encountered. My two Manchester Terriers quickly showed me otherwise and I ended up on more than a few hikes with their leash (or worse 20 feet of Flexi-lead) impossibly tangled in a tree that I had stepped over while they decided that under – or else around, was the preferred angle of approach. Combining low obstacles that offer two or more easy routes, with the verbal command “Over” each time they jump the obstacle reinforces to your dog that jumping over was the desired behavior. Reward that behavior with praise or a treat and the word will quickly form part of their hiking vocabulary.
- Up – The bigger the dog the more you need to add this command to your dog's vocabulary. While most times we don't want our dogs to jump up on something, anybody who has ever struggled to lift a wiggling 75+ pound Rottweiler or similar breed up to the next level of the hike – or the back of a pickup truck – will tell you that “Up” is an essential command for certain situations. Begin training your dog early in life for this command, puppies are curious and more than willing to jump all over things. Pat somewhere sturdy that your pup can't easily step on to and encourage the puppy to see what's going on, using the word up. Reward the pup's jump to see what's going on and practise lots until they know that no matter what the height “Up” means they are to try to jump to a different position.
Reward Good Behavior
- Around – This command seems fairly straightforward to our human minds but since it involves a maneuver that may not be the most natural one to your dog it can take a bit of training to accomplish it properly. Holding a treat in your hand, lure your dog to walk around you by making a sweeping gesture around your body. As your dog walks around you, repeat the word around and when they have completed the circle around you reward the behavior with the treat. Repeat this exercise until they will respond to the around command by going around whatever it is that they are facing, a tree or other obstacle, automatically.
- Wait – I usually hike with a 20 pound terrier's leash attached to the hip strap of my backpack. I wouldn't recommend this unless your dog is thoroughly trained to wait when they are told to. Wait is a practical command that is also beneficial when you want to get out a door ahead of your dog, or put down their dog dish without having half their supper eaten before it hits the floor. All dogs should learn that when they hear “Wait” they are not to do anything else until a further command is given, even if it is only the release from their wait position.
- Forward – Towards the end of some of our longer hikes, the terrier I mentioned before has the annoying habit of pausing uncertainly at the edge of the downward slope that he pulled me up a couple of hours earlier. Encouraging him to go Forward gets him over the edge ahead of me and lets him know that I have no intention of picking him up so that I can give him a hand through this sudden challenge. Two legs are never better than four when it comes to climbing either up or down steep and often slippery slopes.
Hand Commands Will Save Your Voice
All commands you give your dog can easily be translated into gestures that your dog will quickly learn are commands. Dogs are used to communicating with each other in a variety of non-verbal ways and so most dogs are quick to pick up on what your gestures are really telling them you want them to do. Remember to use the same gesture/word combination to reinforce training in the early stages and your dog will be a star pupil in no time.
Training Makes Hiking With your Dog Fun for Everyone
The American Kennel Club® offers a Canine Good Citizen® program that rewards dogs who have good manners at home and in the community. Owners must be responsible and their dogs display basic good manners for dogs. The majority of dogs do not respond well to an over-eager dog running towards them off-leash, even when the owner is in hot pursuit calling “It's okay, they're just excited and friendly.” Dogs DO recognize things like a “let's play” bow but that eager running towards another dog is an early attempt to show dominance that neither an alpha dog or a fearful one appreciates.
A leash should always be present and attached to your dog no matter where you are hiking. While you may feel that you're completely alone on your hike experienced walkers and hikers will tell you that is simply not the case. Depending on where you are the woods are teeming with unexpected wildlife and depending on your dog breed if they are unrestrained they may be more than willing to either A) chase that wildlife until either they're lost or they've caught/brought to ground what it was that they were chasing; or B) run back to Mom/Dad with some larger animal (momma bear) in hot pursuit. You may think that a leash restricts your pet's enjoyment too much but it can be a lifesaver for both of you – just ask the jogger I heard about last week. While out jogging in a forested area near a city his off-leash dog was tempted by the deer that went flashing past them. The dog ended up between the cougar that was chasing the deer and quickly became an alternate prey. Conservation offers called to the scene pointed out that it was fortunate that the dog was big enough to fight off the large cat successfully and the owner summed the whole thing up by saying “Next time I'll make sure I use the leash.”
When hiking in dense brush always expect the unexpected.
Enjoy your next hike!
The last thing you need to be sure of is how your dog will respond to other dogs they meet on the trail. One of our Manchester Terriers is definitely NOT good with other dogs. His puppyhood was not a happy one and he has ended up very fearful and outright aggressive to any dog that he feels may possibly come too far into “his” space. His fear quickly communicates itself to his litter mate (an alpha male with the scars to prove it) and many times I have ended up with two snarling canines attached to leashes that unfortunately were clutched in MY hand.
Canine Hiking Accessories
I have always found it amazing the number of dog owners who tell me (as they came to retrieve their out-of-control dog that started the whole snarl fest) that I should train my vicious dogs better before taking them out. Since my husband and I are both well aware of how our dogs look to other dog owners -- they are both under 20 inches tall but admittedly they are black and tan -- we make sure that when other dogs are spotted approaching us on the trail our dogs are submissively settled in a down position under a firm “STAY” command. For the most part the comments we get now are positive remarks on how well-trained our dogs are.
Happy trails to both you and your dog.