Hiking is a fantastic exercise. It is a great way to enjoy nature and embrace all the beauty around you. I try to go hiking with my Jack Russell Milo at least once a week. But it is not as simple as “let’s go hiking”. You have to prepare your puppy for what is about to come. There are three things your dog needs to know on the hiking trail.
The first one is not to pick up/eat everything from the ground. The second is to follow you, and the last one is to come back the moment you call him/her. Your dog is a great companion for outdoor adventures. But if your dog is not ready for the challenges of the hiking trail, I suggest leaving him at home. Luckily, there are simple games you can play with your puppy to train him and get him ready for an adventure.
Things to remember before hitting the trail:
1. Having good etiquette and proper manners is extremely important for a pleasurable experience. Remember to plan your dog’s needs on the trail. The same way you pack and prepare food and water for you, do it for your pet as well. If needed, check out some gear for hiking with dogs.
2. Practice “leave no trace ethics” and clean up your dog’s waste. You can either carry along a small spade and bury the waste, or you can pack it with you in a plastic bag.
3. Last, but most important, do not assume that every person you meet will like your dog. Some people are afraid of dogs. Do not let your puppy go and say hello to every other hiker. Do not assume other dogs you meet on the trail are friendly. Even if a dog is wagging its tail, it might not like your dog.
So, be sure to keep your dog in control. And that is where the games we will talk about later on will help.
Games to Get Your Dog Ready
Now let’s get to the games I would suggest you play before going on a hike with your dog. As I said before, there are three things your dog needs to know so that both you and your puppy can enjoy a safe hike.
Those are leaving things on the ground, following you, and coming back. These games help you with that. Let’s check them.
1. Walking and Leaving Things:
This game is great for ignoring stuff on walks. Your puppy can find small treasures during your hike. But it is not safe to pick up or eat everything on the ground. The game teaches your dog to ignore distractions while on the walk, namely, distractions on the ground.
Start by putting your dog on a leash and going for a walk. As you walk, toss a treat out of his reach. Wait for the dog to pull and strain towards the treat. Make sure he cannot pull you to the treat. The moment your puppy looks at you, give him a treat for looking at you, not the treat on the ground. That is when you can walk towards the treat but keep a loose leash.
Repeat in different locations and with different treats on the ground. As your dog is getting better at ignoring treats on the ground, you can start playing with it without a leash. Over time, your dog will not be tempted to get things from the ground.
2. Go Get The Treat:
This game teaches your dog that good things come from you, not from the ground. It helps with picking things up from the ground but also improves your recall game. The game reinforces recall and teaches your puppy to come to you for a reward.
You can play it anywhere. The basic premise is your dog sits next to you. You throw a kibble/treat away and instruct your dog to go and get it. Once your dog gets the kibble, wait for coming back. Call your dog if needed. When your puppy comes back to you, reward him with a jackpot, which is lots of kibble or a higher-value treat.
The idea is that your dog can get something away from you, but good things happen when it comes to you.
Let’s continue with another game that will improve your recall. The goal here is to build excitement for coming back to you. This is the only game on the list that you will need help with. You cannot play it with just you and your puppy. So, get a friend to help. The basic premise is that your dog should want to come to you. But your puppy has to wait, he cannot come lightning quick.
Get your friend to hold your dog. Move away, and build some attention by calling your dog while your friend holds it. Let your friend hold your puppy for a second or two more. Now, as your dog is coming back to you, use commands that will slow him down. For example, slow, steady, sit, anything that comes to mind. Your dog wants to come to you but has to wait. The game builds attention and focus on you. At the same time, it makes your dog crave for you. That craving for your attention will come in handy on the open when your dog runs free.
4. Hide and Seek:
This game helps with two things. It teaches your dog to constantly pay attention to you and be aware of where you are. But it also helps with recall.
The game will build your dog’s love to come when called. You can start playing at home, by just hiding in another room and calling your dog.
Once your puppy finds you, praise and reward with treats or a toy playing together. Do not make continuous noise, just call your puppy once or twice.
Gradually increase the difficulty where you hide around the house. Next, try the game on an open field. As your dog is wandering, run around and hide. Keep sight of your puppy, and call it. Let your dog find you and then reward.
5. The Crazy Owner:
This game has a silly name, but it is quite good for preparing your puppy for a hiking adventure. What is a crazy owner? Well, one who is unpredictable in its movement. You can practice the game at home, or in the open field. Hold a bunch of treats/kibble in your hand and lure your dog. Then, as your puppy is coming to you, start moving away. Go left, right, back, run in circles, and every other direction. The trick is to change direction constantly as your dog is following you.
The idea of this game is your dog should not know what to expect from you. It will make your puppy focus on you and pay attention to your movement, even more, when you are out there on the hiking trail.
6. You First Game:
I said before that your dog should follow you. It is your job to establish yourself as the leader your dog will want to follow. One game that you can easily play and establish that role is the “you first game”.
This game teaches your dog to wait for a reward and for something good. It is a nice exercise for practicing impulse control and installing a follower's state of mind. And the best part is you can play it at home.
Start by putting your dog’s leash on and move to the front door. A loose leash works best for this game. With your dog close to you, tell it to wait and open the front door. If your puppy races to get first to the door, close it but be careful not to hurt your puppy. Get your pet back in a sit position. Open the door, and wait for a reaction.
The goal is for your puppy to wait for you to move out of the door first and then follow you. Just a simple change in the way you go out for a walk will improve the behavior of your puppy outside.
7. Practice Impulse Control:
Let’s finish with three games that will improve your puppy’s impulse control. Why do you need impulse control? Well, when you are out in the open, your dog can run away at any point. Impulse control teaches your puppy to focus on you, follow you, and be calm outside.
For the first game, place a treat in one hand, and move it away from you. Wait for your puppy to look at you (eye contact), mark with “good job” and reward with a treat”. Always mark the moment your puppy looks at you.
For the second game, place a treat in front of your puppy. Have your dog sit/stay, do not let it eat it. Again, wait for eye contact, and then mark with “good job” and allow your puppy to eat the treat.
The last game is the art of doing nothing. Just have your dog sit/stay/down, and do nothing for a couple of minutes. The game helps teach your dog to chill while things are happening around you.
Want to know more about hiking with your dogs? Read our other blogs! Be sure to follow our Instagram for more daily adventures & Check out Milo on Instagram and his hiking endeavors!!