If you are to be hiking, backpacking, camping and enjoying the outdoors with your dog, obedience is very important. There are so many places we cannot take our furry friends, and if we are allowing our dogs to behave in a manner that is destructive to the environment or that infringes upon the rights of others, we could lose the privilege to take them with us at all.
If you have a young pup and they are not proficient in basic obedience, don’t set them up for failure by taking them off lead too early. You cannot reinforce a command if the pup is not near you, thus they begin to learn that the commands don’t mean anything. You might end up endlessly calling your pup and getting frustrated in the process, while they are having a great time investigating the woods and being chased by you. They could also fall prey to other animals. Snakes, poisonous frogs, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and many other woodland creatures can potentially pose a danger to your pup. Here in our home state of Florida, most every body of water is inhabited by alligators. Every year dogs fall prey to them.
Basic Commands & How They Are Helpful On The Trail
Usually one of the first things we teach our dogs when we begin training, the Sit command is so useful when preparing to head out on the trail. I don’t know about your dogs, but mine are always so excited to get going. It is very important that everyone’s leads are fastened properly, that everything is secure and ready to go. I make my dogs Sit to be hooked up to their leads. They must also Sit while I gather everything and make any last minute gear checks. It makes for a more peaceful departure from the vehicle. This command is also useful for posing for pictures, which happens a lot while we are out on the trail.
A strong Stay can save your dog’s life, especially if you hike off lead with your dogs and they (or you) notice a snake, bear, coyote or other animal. Stay (unlike Wait which means you will eventually be moving) means to NOT MOVE until I come to you and release you. A clear distinction between Stay and Wait should be made, otherwise dogs will anticipate you releasing them, and may break position. Never call a dog out of a Stay. Always return to them.
Wait is a wonderful command that gets a lot of use around here. Wait means to wait for a second; that we will eventually be moving. It is helpful when going in and out of vehicles. If my guys tried jumping in the Jeep at the same time, everyone would go flying everywhere. They are too big. Remi is young and therefore should not be jumping in or out of the Jeep as it is too high. She is doing well learning to wait for me to lift her out.
I also use Wait when someone else is coming down the trail and we are letting them pass, we are at a trail crossing and mountain bikes or horses are coming, when I have to stop to adjust something or pick up someone’s poo. It is not as formal as Stay and doesn’t require me to release everyone individually. It’s basically pushing the Pause button.
Perhaps one of the most useful commands out on the trail is the Leave It command. There are so many things that need to be left alone out on the trail. Critters, poisonous plants, other dogs. The animals that live in the woods we are visiting do not need to be bothered by our dogs. In some areas, where certain species are protected, you can get in a lot of trouble by letting your dog harass the wildlife. If you do not have a dog that is very strong in their obedience, then they should not be off lead to begin with, but even on lead, our dogs may notice something before we do. Despite their coats, our dogs can suffer from contact with poison ivy and the like, especially on their tummies and inner legs where skin is more exposed. If you have a hairless dog like our Isy, you must be especially vigilant.
Tone is everything, and this command should be stern and deliberate. They should get from the tone of the command that you mean business. And where I wish Leave It were used more frequently–please forgive what will likely be a mini rant–is when other dogs are out on the trail. I do not allow my dogs to go up to other dogs and “visit.” Apologies to those who feel otherwise, it is not my intention to offend, but there are those (people as well as dogs) who do not wish to socialize out on the trail. Many dogs do not appreciate other dogs running up to them, bounding into their faces, jumping on them, sniffing them, etc. I know mine do not. When we are out in the woods, the dogs are on alert, and dogs will protect their people. A dog running toward you can start all kinds of unpleasantness. If someone is cool with having a mini playdate with you and your dogs in the woods, that’s great. Some people might enjoy that. Others would not. Everyone should enjoy the outdoors and respect the personal space of others.
This is an informal command that leads into the more formal Heel command. It means to move with me, but not necessarily in a regimented, structured way like Heel. After all, we want our dogs to be dogs. We want them to be able to run about a bit, explore, have fun. Let’s Go can signal the beginning of a hike, movement after a break or hurrying someone who might be lagging. It signals motion and the continuation of the adventure. It should always be upbeat.
If you only ever teach your dog one thing–make it a solid Come. If your dog gets too far ahead, wanders off or lags behind, a solid recall is priceless. Unless your dog has an excellent recall, keep them leashed. When teaching your dog to come, remember to never associate the command with things your dog might see as unpleasant (baths, nail trims, etc). Always make it upbeat, happy and worth their while. Whatever it takes, make the Come command an absolute priority if you plan on hiking with your dog.
Heel is something I don’t ask my dogs to do for long stretches, as it can get very boring. Heel (dog’s shoulder even with your left leg) is a position, not the action of walking. This is very handy out on the trail for short periods if you see someone coming, see an animal, the trail narrows or just need your dog to return to your side.
With Me is an informal version of Heel. The dog doesn’t have to be in the Heel position, just close to me somewhere. I allow a 3-foot radius for my With Me command. I use this a lot more on the trail than I do Heel, since it is a more laid back command. It allows for sniffing, investigating and just generally being a dog while still remaining close.
These are just a sampling of basic obedience commands that can be useful when hiking with your dog. Some people make up their own commands, which can be a lot of fun. What commands do you rely on the most when hiking with your dog? Has a solid command saved your dog out on the trail? We’d love to hear your stories!
Looking for more dog training tips? Join a local class or grab a dog training book or dvd. There are many great titles available online. See below for a few examples.
Now get out there and enjoy this big beautiful world with your dog!