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5 Trail Dog Training Tips

Hiking with our dogs can be one of the most inspiring and fulfilling things, but it can also be one of the most stressful things without proper training. The trails can certainly bring out the excited, unruly side of dogs, but can also provide amazing training opportunities where both you and your pup can grow in bonding and confidence together. Here are five valuable commands to learn when hiking with your dog!

This is a good basic to learn at home, and certainly comes in handy on the trail where there might be dangerous items (snakes, wildlife droppings, etc. lol) on the trail, wildlife that might trigger prey drive, or other hikers and their pets on the trail. A good start to this skill is handheld treats and telling your pup to "Leave It" when they reach for them. When they show signs of ignoring that hand full of treats, say "Yes" or click and reward with the other hand! You can progress to keeping your hand open and putting treats on the floor and rewarding when they ignore them!

Remember to only let your dog off leash in areas that allow it and only when your dog has proven that they have a solid recall, aka they come every time they are called. This is an especially important skill to learn so your pup can enjoy those off leash areas to the fullest. Practice can begin with the "Find it" and "Come" game! Throw some treats out on the floor for them to "Find it" and then call them with a very excited voice while backing away from them, luring them towards you. Be sure to reward them with a jackpot when they come to you and practice this on leash or long line until you feel confident it can be practiced off leash. 

This special trail command really comes in handy to practice good etiquette around other trail users. I like to assume that since I am bringing my dogs into a space where not everyone may be comfortable with them, I provide the first yield to everyone and take their lead on if they would like me to pass first or not. This creates an atmosphere where you'll get a lot of "what a good dog!" instead of making others upset about dogs using trails. :) When you see another hiker, biker or horse rider up ahead, find a good place to pull off the trail where your dog can get into a sit. Ensure there is enough distance to keep your pup happy and safe. Tell them "Off Trail" and lure them into a sit. They will soon learn that others up ahead mean an opportunity for treats!

This trail specific command really comes in handy on technical terrain, going downhill, or circumstances where you want to ensure you are between your dog and anything on the trail. Much like a heel, the start of this skill is taught by luring them behind you with a treat! It's especially great to practice this one on a singletrack trail as it will help you keep your dog in position behind you. At home, you could practice in a narrow hallway or by putting up a row of obstacles until they understand the position. Once "Behind" is mastered you won't have to worry at all about being pulled downhill! Woo hoo! This command also really helps others on the trail feel comfortable and happy with your dog. It will bring about lots of smiles and "Good dogs"!

Just like a heel, "Right Side" comes in handy on the trail to ensure you give others and your dog appropriate space to be comfortable while passing. Start by getting your dog into position with a treat lure and progress towards movement and speed changes. An automatic sit on your right side when you stop, similar to a heel is also a great skill to keep everyone safe and happy! 

Rocks, logs and trail obstacles sure make for cute photo ops! And did you know they can also help your dog gain confidence? Technical terrain that teaches your pup to climb and use good footing helps them think about their work rather than their fears. Always ensure your pup is safe and secure when asking for a "Place" on outdoor terrain. Then photo op and treat away!

I am not a professional trainer but I hope these tips will help you start your training journey together with your trail dog! They have helped us so much in our adventures!

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