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Hiking with Dogs

Essential Canine Skills for Hiking Success

Essential Canine Skills for Hiking Success

Do you want to have fantastic hiking adventures with your dog, but you don’t know where to start?  Getting out in the wild can be challenging enough without an over-enthusiastic dog contributing to the stress.  In case you missed our “Hiking With Your Dog 101” seminar last night at Kriser’s Natural Pet, let’s review the list of foundation skills that are essential for enjoyment and safety out on the trail:

Essential Skills for Hiking Success:

       Recall

       Sit

       Stay

       Hand Target

       Give Attention to You

       Leave It

       Follow Your Directional Cues

 Here is Roo responding to my directional cue to advance down the rocks ahead of me.

Here is Roo responding to my directional cue to advance down the rocks ahead of me.

Now, before you grab your dog and your leash and head to the mountains to start running through this list with your dog, let’s start a little more simply.  Practice each of these individually (5 minutes at a time, with breaks) at home, in your own backyard, first.  Just like you learned to ride a bike in your driveway and not out on the highway where there are higher stakes, your dog should learn new skills (or brush up on rusty skills) at home first and then take it out to the more challenging environment.  Start small and reward your dog when they respond correctly to your cues.  Be positive – when you are out on the trail, you want your dog to LOVE coming back to you instead of chasing the wildlife.  So be happy, positive, and encouraging at home too.

When you think your dog is ready for a bigger challenge, you can head to the trail.  But keep in mind that when you are adding more challenges to the environment (like the presence of animal scat and other hikers with or without dogs) you should plan to reduce your criteria a little bit and work back up to the goal behavior.  For example, even if your dog can do a 3-minute sit stay inside the house, perhaps start with a 15-30 second sit stay while other hikers are passing by, with enough distance to help your dog be successful and make good decisions. And be ready to reward BIG for great responses!

These training foundations are just one aspect of preparing for happy, safe hikes with your dog.  Don’t forget about conditioning & stretching, pet first aid, proper equipment, and trail etiquette; these are all components that make the trail a pleasant place for everyone involved.  Look for future blog posts on each of these topics, or contact us to get one-on-one help with preparing you and your dog to hit the trail together!

  

Two Seminars Coming Up In Fort Collins!

Summit Dog Training is partnering with Kriser's Natural Pet in Fort Collins to offer two different seminars in July.

Monday, July 18th will be Hiking with Your Dog 101 from 6-7pm.  Come learn about a variety of equipment options, foundation skills, and safety tips that will make hiking with your dog an enjoyable experience for everyone involved!

Monday, July 25th will be What to Expect When You Are Expecting . . . A Puppy! from 6-7pm.  If you are thinking about adding a puppy to your family in the near future, this seminar is a great way to get lots of info in one place!  Topics include house training, puppy chewing, basic manners, and more!

For both seminars, please RSVP to amber@summitdogtraining.com to reserve your spot.  You can also sign up online.  The cost for each seminar is $5, and 100% of the proceeds from these events will go to benefit Animal Rescue of the Rockies.   

lorystateparkhikingwithdogs

Weekend Adventures & Helicopter Dog-Parenting

Weekend Adventures & Helicopter Dog-Parenting

This weekend we escaped to the mountains for a few days, trading in the 95+ degree days that Fort Collins experienced for cool mountain breezes and remnants of snow.  Of course, the dog came along, as did our adventurous friends Charissa and Tyler and their two pups, Dylon and Chip. 

fort-collins-backpacking-dog-osprey

We set off Friday night after work, drove two hours all the way through Rocky Mountain National Park, found our destination trail head, grabbed our packs and three leashes and hit the trail.  The plan was to hike 5.5 miles to a lake that first night . . . but as adventures are prone to do, it didn’t work out exactly the way we had intended.  

Eventually we were wandering around in the dark on a service road looking for the next part of the trail.  Definitely a great thing to do past 11:00 PM when we’re worn out, starting to get cold, and the dogs have just scared us half to death with an inquisitive incident too close to a gushing river culvert for comfort. 

We give up the search for the trail and find a campsite. Not perfect, but serviceable for the night.  Thank you, to whatever organization owned the dump truck and backhoe that provided us shelter from the wind and a barrier in case of early morning travelers on the service road.

 Crazy kids.

Crazy kids.

The next day we continued the search for the trail, and finally decided that it was obscured by the rushing river and with three pups it would not be safe to attempt a crossing.  An alternate plan was decided on, and we made a camp, in a beautiful spot directly under the continental divide. 

The dogs romped in the swamp and streams, we sat in the sun and played cards, we all took naps in the middle of the day (can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten to do that!), and generally rested and enjoyed being out in the fresh air.  It wasn’t the 20 mile hiking loop that we had planned.  But this was perfect.

 Being trail dogs is rough sometimes.

Being trail dogs is rough sometimes.

On the way back to the trail head the next day, Roo and Dylon enjoyed some off-leash scurries through the woods and brambles along the trail.  After a while, Roo started to venture further from the path to the right - in the direction of the river (and the very steep embankments leading down to it).  At this point, I started feeling a little bit like a helicopter parent: constantly worried about where he was, nagging, continuously asking him to check in with me. . . none of which thrilled him very much, and it wasn’t very relaxing and peaceful for me either!  Eventually I just put him back on leash for a bit so that I wasn’t constantly fussing with him.

Reflecting on this after our trip concluded, I have connected a few dots about this situation that have shed some light (although not excused) my downslide from relaxed off-leash moderator into overbearing dog-mom.  And I thought, “If I’m seeing this response in myself so easily, when I generally trust my dog off-leash and know the disadvantages of constantly fussing without a good reason, how easy it is for my clients to default to this type of communication with their dogs?”  

As far as I can tell, my micromanagement of my dog in this situation boils down to the emotion of fear, residual from the near-mishap that occurred in the dark on Friday night.  The horrifying images and feelings that come to mind when thinking of the “what-ifs” of that scenario are still uncomfortable, almost a week later, so it makes sense that not quite 2 days post-incident my brain would still be especially prone to anxious or fearful responses connected to some of the same stimuli.

This has been a helpful thing for me to remember, and recognize how it so easily infiltrated my attitude when interacting with my pup.  Without addressing the underlying emotions of anxiety and fear that we have with our dogs (in whatever scenario, due to whatever history), these emotions will have a significant impact on how we communicate, to the point of undermining our training goals. 

I am doing more thinking and researching on the impacts of emotions (good and bad) on our communication style, and how this can affect our experiences with our dogs, and plan to write more about this topic soon.  But in the mean time, I want to leave you with a challenge: if you find yourself being a “helicopter dog-parent,” look at the scenario.  What underlying feelings are causing you to feel the need to control every step your dog makes?  These feelings could be completely legitimate (“my dog is too friendly with kids and we’re walking by a playground and I’m scared he’ll jump up”), and I’m certainly not telling you to turn your dog loose without a second thought.  But just think about it.  You might just realize, like I did, that your anxiety is residual from a previous scenario and not directly because of the situation at hand.   

 Good boy, Roo.  

Good boy, Roo.  

 

Adventuring with Your Dog: Expectations

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Adventuring with Your Dog: Expectations

Each adventure you embark on with your dog has the potential to be fantastic.  Idyllic.  Instagram-worthy.  Like strolling through the Shire on a warm, sunny day. 

 Well, as close to the Shire as you can get in real life, anyways.  Lory State Park, Colorado.

Well, as close to the Shire as you can get in real life, anyways.  Lory State Park, Colorado.

But in order to promote this harmonious, peaceful picture, here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin:

1. Adventures with dogs are often messy. And wet.  And muddy.  

 Roo's favorite part of any adventure is the "getting as filthy as possible" part. 

Roo's favorite part of any adventure is the "getting as filthy as possible" part. 

Going in with this understanding and expectation will greatly reduce your dirt-induced stress and increase your dog's enjoyment of the experience.  To mitigate this aspect of dogs on adventures, I recommend proper, mud-durable apparel for you, and appropriate drying equipment (like towels) or containment tools (like crates) for back at the car.  Unless, of course, you have a super-cool and awesome dog-mobile and don't care if your dog finger-paints with mud on the back seat, in which case I think we'd be good friends ;).  

2. Dogs often have a different idea of "fun" than we do.  To many dogs, finding every unique smell on the trail or running helter-skelter through the brush is intoxicating; to us, stopping to allow our dog to sniff at every little stick or leaf or running hither and thither after who knows what isn't exactly what we had in mind when we left the safety of the backyard.  The important thing with these competing motivations is to find a middle ground where both ends of the leash can be satisfied.  Ideally, this is an understanding between you and your dog that permits them to run around unleashed to their heart's content (leash-laws permitting), but when you say "Rover, come!" they are back at your side in a split second.  Leading up to this point is a lot of dedicated recall work - stay tuned for a future blog post on that!  If your dog isn't able to run unleashed, teaching a consistent "check-in" behavior on-leash is a good next step.      

3. Work up to it.  The first time you take your dog out on an adventure, whether as a puppy or as an adult dog, don't be surprised if all of the cues your dog knows so well at home suddenly seem to be forgotten.  Dogs are not great generalizers anyways, but the added distractions and allurements of the new environment complicate things even further. As you increase the level of distraction in the environment around you and your dog, you should be ready to reduce your criteria somewhat (i.e. don't expect a perfect 3 minute down-stay beside a busy trailhead when you have only been practicing in your backyard) to set your dog up for success.  Increasing your quality of reinforcement is also a good idea as you start working in new places.  Just because your dog works for kibble at home doesn't mean that will be reinforcing to him when there are squirrels all around!  Eventually, the goal in training is to be able to reduce the frequency and the value of the reinforcers, but at first, we make sure that the reward is appropriate to the behavior we ask for.

4. Remember, adventures are about having fun for you and your dog.  If either of you are struggling, take a break, take a breath, and try to find the good things your dog is doing (even if they seem very, very small) and start from there.  

Stay tuned for future posts about specific skills that are useful for every canine adventurer to know to promote a safe, fun experience for everyone on the trail!

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