Training the Ultimate “Crag Dog”

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Training the Ultimate “Crag Dog”

A well-trained dog is up for any outdoor adventure.

In my experience, one of the best commands to teach your adventure buddy is “on your bed.” This is a great skill for “crag dogs” – pups that will stay put while their people are rock climbing. While I focus on climbing in this post, this command is applicable to any outdoor activity where you don’t want your pup to wander, such as camping or fishing.

My husband and I have climbed all over the world, allowing us to meet crag dogs across the United States, as well as South Africa, Thailand and more. To my surprise, it seems everyone’s take on what makes a good, a well-trained crag dog is generally the same. The following is an overview of feedback we’ve received, with a focus on attributes that help keep everyone safe.

Crag dog

First off, for any outdoor activity, you want a well-socialized, stable dog with good, basic manners. Your dog should like people, dogs and kids. Your dog also shouldn’t react to things that pop up or surprise them, such as suddenly encountering other dogs and people on a switchback. It’s not that your dog isn’t allowed to be startled; their response needs to be appropriate and you need to be able to call them out of it. I personally have thanked my lucky stars that my dogs have a solid recall. A couple years ago during summer, we had some very close encounters with bears, and it was a good thing that part of my own startle response is to immediately call my dogs!

In addition to having a well-behaved dog, there are some specific skills you will need to practice for safety with a crag dog. There is a lot going on at a climbing crag, such as ropes going up and coming down, a potential rock fall, people that could fall and swing, and so on. Having voice command over your dog is imperative. You can’t run over and grab a collar as you are belaying someone.

To be a crag dog, your pup

  • Needs to come when called
  • Can’t beg or get into packs for food
  • Can’t play with other dogs or people while at a crag
  • Must be comfortable being handled or told to do things by other people
  • Needs to be able to stay calm and not engage in a busy environment
  • Needs to be OK being away from you, especially if you’re climbing a multi-pitch route

It’s not fair to expect other people at the crag to manage your dog while you are busy. Do keep in mind that the way other people interact with dogs may not meet your approval. For instance, if your dog steps on someone else’s ropes or gear, they might just shove your dog off of it. And when expensive safety gear is involved, it’s especially important to follow proper crag etiquette to prevent sharp claws from digging into ropes and debris from getting into cams and other hardware. Be proactive and communicate with people at the crag. Ask if they would prefer your dog to stay by you. Though they might love dogs, always ask and never assume.

A skill that I use as a foundation for my dogs is the command, “on your bed.” When climbing, I make sure to always bring a bed or blanket for my dogs. That way when I am at the climbing crag, it’s clear what I want my dog to do. As with any skill you teach your dog, it takes time to work up to having them perform these tasks in new, fun environments. I recommend practicing these skills at a crag on a weekday when it’s likely to be less busy. It’s also best to go to a crag that has enough room to put some distance between you and other climbers. You might need to start with a tie-out by the bed and climb near your dog to help reinforce staying by you and going to their bed. A great way to help reward them while they are on their bed is to give them a treat that takes a while to eat, like a Z-Bone. This way, they get to enjoy a high-value chewy that lasts while you climb, and you don’t need to chronically manage your dog.

How to Train the “On Your Bed” Command

To train “on your bed,” you’ll need a high-value treat, such as PureNZ jerky, Z-Filets or Lil’ Links, to keep your dog’s attention, and a “target,” such as a blanket, towel, or dog bed.

  1. Show your dog the bed and the treat.
  2. Ask for a “down” and toss the treat between their front paws so it appears to come from the bed and not you. Eventually they will offer the down on their own to get the treat faster.
  3. When your dog is in the down, move around the bed and occasionally offer treats for maintaining the down-stay.
  4. If they break the down-stay, reset them on the bed with the “down” command. Use treats to reinforce the behavior you want.
  5. Use a release command, such as “free,” so your dog knows when it’s OK to get off of the bed.


Photos courtesy of @climbingcollie and @gentlecanine.




About the Author

Amber Pickren, Gentle Canine

Amber Pickren, BA, CPDT-KA, is the owner of Gentle Canine in Durango, Colorado. After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology, Amber found her passion working with dogs and has never looked back. With a specialty in behavioral issues, she has been training dogs since 2004 and easily handled over 10,000 dogs in the span of her career. Amber and her husband Matt share their life with dogs Lilly, Imogene, and cat Dyno. They love getting out into the mountains and enjoy rock climbing, trail running and hiking with their four-legged adventure buddies.
Amber Pickren