Hiking With Dogs
I recently constructed a info graphic regarding the ethics of hiking with dogs. I am part of many different dog hiking and outdoor dog adventure groups, the biggest complaint that comes up over and over again is off-leash dogs.
Please leash up for the safety of others if not for your pup.
We understand the joy of having our dogs run free but not at the expense of their safety or the safety of other people, horseback riders, and other dogs. Ziva has excellent recall, want to know how I know?
I've been able to call her off of chasing a cat at a full on dead sprint when she was at least 100 yards away from me when she started and moving away even quicker. Our signal is I whistle (this signal means give me your attention a.k.a "look"), and then hollered out a very loud, "COME!" She promptly stopped, longingly watched the cat dash off to the safety of a blackberry bush, and then returned without another step in the wrong direction.
Dante? Not so good...he used to be but seems to be lazy recently so we're back to practicing.
When we allow our dogs off-leash while out hiking it is in an area where we can see people coming so that we have time to call in the dogs and leash up.
- Is it a busy area? Are their other hikers around?
- Is it hunting season? Is your dog wearing any easily seen colors like orange?
- Do you have a clear view of the trails or area? Will you be able to see people coming and have time to leash up?
- Is your dog micro-chipped and wearing his identification should he happen to get lost?
- WHO IS WATCHING YOUR DOG? Don't just assume your spouse, friend, or child is watching your dog. It only takes a second for a dog to disappear on some happy adventure!
- Does your dog come when called? Even the best of recall dogs have their moments so practice and make sure you can get your dog's attention when you need to. Some trainers teach emergency words that are only used in an absolute emergency, that way the word doesn't become ruined like the word, "come" which tends to be abused and over used.
Why Leash Up?
Having worked through re-activity issues with Ziva I can personally tell you that you can undue months of HARD WORK and threshold training if your dog rushes up to greet. The only way to work on threshold training and increasing a reactive dogs' tolerance is for that dog to be around other dogs and not be approached. When working with Ziva we took every excuse possible to visit busy dog places like the pet store, local parks, and just walking around downtown - always on the lookout for off-leash dogs however.
It was extremely beneficial to just have her practice ignoring other dogs, even badly behaved dogs. One exercise we worked up to (please don't just jump into this if you have a re-active dog!) was being near a dog that was, for lack of a better word...going crazy, barking, jumping, lunging, you name it. We'd stop, recognize the threat/dog, analyze the situation, and if we deemed it safe we would slowly bring Ziva towards the dog. If she reacted we'd back up until we had her attention again. The goal of this game was for her to keep her attention on us and not pay any attention to the other dog. This is an example of threshold training - we were slowly building up her threshold.
However during this time it is important that you have your pups trust. Ziva trusted myself and the hubby to handle the situation, and we were careful to always set her up for success. Sometimes we'd get within 10-20 feet from a barking dog behind a fence. Sometimes 100 feet or more was needed for Ziva to be comfortable and able to ignore the other dog.
If however rushed, we can't control the situation as well. I mean think about it from Ziva's stand point: A dog is running up to greet her. She immediately sees a threat to her personal safety so the brain kicks in and says, "Fight or Flight!" Being on a leash, and not naturally a scaredy cat...She stands her ground.
First her hackles raise and lips curl. Second stage she begins growling. If the threat continues she starts snarling loudly and lunging.
Now you try to hold back a nearly 50 pound little gal who is all muscle and knows how to use her weight.
Way to go dumb as dog owner for letting your dog be off-leash, you just ruined our walk and destroyed all the threshold training we've been working on.