Trail Etiquette 101: Training Tips for Off-Leash Adventures With Your Dog

Trail Etiquette 101: Training Tips for Off-Leash Adventures With Your Dog

Every dog owner loves being able to enjoy the outdoors with their dog. When hiking with your dog, there are many things to think about while picking a trail: Is there access to water? How popular and busy is the trail? Are dogs allowed and do they have to be leashed? What type of terrain will you encounter? And the most important question — are you and your dog ready to take on a trail? Before hitting the trail with your pup, here are some general tips to help your training skills meet your adventure-seeking goals.

1. Build your dog’s recall skills. Your dog must be on leash if you do not have voice control over them, and in some wilderness areas, a leash is required regardless of your voice control. We can’t stress enough how important a solid recall is to your success in the backcountry. To help you and your dog get ready for bigger and better adventures, we recommend working up your recall to everything — both good things and bad. For tips, check out our post on recall training.

A great way to work on recall in a safe manner is to go on a hike with one of your dog’s friends (and preferably an owner you like as well) and work on recalling your dogs when they’re with each other. The dogs may be used to playing together the whole time, so switch up the rules. Have them work for you and add some loose-leash walking or heeling between play sessions. Your dog can learn that even if their bestie is right by their side, they can still engage with you and work for you.

2. Respect others’ space on the trail. If you are hiking with your dog, pull over for people going up or down (if they need to pass you). Not everyone is comfortable with dogs, especially families with children. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and just pull off the trail (on dirt or gravel, if possible) and put your dog in a sit-stay. Safety tip: If you live in rattlesnake country, toss some dirt or gravel into the area before stepping off trail to ensure there are no surprises.

Having your dog in a sit or down-stay is a great way to add settle work into your hikes and keep your dog engaged with you. Ask them for a down and wait for them to truly settle before you start moving again. Placing treats on the ground between their front paws will help your dog not stare at everyone going by, which can get them more amped up. This also reinforces the duration of the behavior; you don't want your dog chomping at the bit to stand up and then get what they want. Wait it out so they can learn to truly settle when you ask them for a sit or down.

3. Don’t allow your pup to say “Hi” to every person or dog. The trail generally isn’t an appropriate place for dogs to socialize and play with new friends. Try to find a wide-open space to pull off from the trail and let them safely play without risking a run in (literally) with other hikers or dogs. Be considerate of sensitive ecological areas and respect “Leave No Trace” ethics when going off trail.

To help your dog learn that not everyone needs a greeting, limit their interactions to a handful of people or dogs on your hike. When you pass someone they should not greet, celebrate with treats and play after you pass. By adding a celebration after the fact, you not only reward your dog for having the impulse control to not say hello, you are also making yourself more fun and reinforcing your relationship with them in the environment, and this is half the battle with a solid recall.

4. Always have a leash handy. Find a small leash that fits into a pocket or pouch and always have it in your pack for your dog or other dogs you may encounter. It’s never bad to have a backup!

To help your dog learn that leashes happen and it’s not a bad thing, randomly leash them up on your hikes. Have them walk nicely with you for a little bit and then let them off leash without making a big deal out of it.



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.

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Amber Pickren, Gentle Canine