I was in Woodstock last Friday with a new Home Dog Training client and his one-year-old Bloodhound named Duke.  During the course of our training, our conversation turned to a cabin he had outside of Helen. My client told me that he really enjoyed walking in the woods and loved taking Duke with him on his forest treks.  He thought that it was great to allow Duke off leash and give him the opportunity to enjoy the smells and “woodsy things”.  He then asked me if I had any special tips to offer that might ensure their safety while they were out on the trails…

Prepare your dog for a safe walk in the woods

Just like my dog training client and Duke, I love taking my German Shepherd for long walks in the woods and forest trails near my home.  Maggie is always excited to have the opportunity to check out all the “woodsy things” and is very good when it comes to being near me and responding to my commands.  She and I have a wonderful time “playing mountain woodsman” while maintaining a safe and secure environment.

I would like to stress that what Maggie and I do out in the woods is not a “day one” activity for most dogs and their owners. Even though you may want to get your dog off leash in the woods as if “she were as good as Lassie”, that just may not be the case for some dogs. It may be possible to take your dog for a walk in the woods, but you may need to keep him on a leash.  You are going to have to go through a detailed and possibly lengthy evaluation process to determine “leash or no leash” when in the woods.    At the risk of “sounding like a broken record”, some dogs are just too high strung or too easily distracted to successfully be “mountain dogs”.  Let’s now turn and look at some things you must review to make your decision.

The process of “mountain dog training” begins while you and your dog are still in a “suburban environment”:

  • You must first work on an advanced come exercise often referred to as “Recall”. As with almost all obedience exercises, you begin the process with your dog on a leash. (For these exercises where you will be up to thirty yards from your dog, you will need a one-hundred-foot training lead.)  When you give your dog the command to return to your side, he must always and immediately appear at your feet. You will start out when he is close to you and extend the distance until he is about thirty yards from you. Continue to work on this exercise several times a day.  As he improves, increase the distance and add more distractions to the process to create a more “real world scenario”.
  • Once successful with “Recall”, you now turn your sights to “Sit / Stay”. The goal here is to have your dog remain in place while you walk thirty yards away from him. He must remain in place the entire time until you give him your release command. Once you give him the release command, he must immediately return to your side.
  • Now we turn our sights to “Off-Leash Attentiveness”.  You still have the leash on him in the event he starts to wander off, but it is dragging on the ground. Have him walk next to you as you walk while changing directions and occasionally stop. Your dog must change directions and pause in direct response to your actions. If you change directions, he must change directions. If you stop, he must stop and sit.  During the entire time, he must be focused on you.
  • Since you probably don’t want him to have all sorts of unsavory, woodsy things in his mouth during your hike, you should also teach him the Drop It and Leave It commands.
  • Finally, and I can’t emphasize this enough, you must ALWAYS HAVE HIS FOCUS.

Your dog must be able to perform all the above exercises perfectly before you even think about taking him into the woods.  Even after you see him performing a command perfectly, wait for about a week of “perfect consistency” until you finally “sign off” on that activity.  Once “being perfect at home” becomes “a matter of fact” while at home in a suburban environment, you are ready to take the process into the woods.  Here is what we do next:

  • “Pre-walk” any path you are planning to take with your dog. Meticulously scan the area for things like poisonous plants, locations where wild animals would normally congregate or travel, standing water, steep inclines, tight spaces, etc.  Choose a trail that does not include these inappropriate situations to maximize the possibility of a safe and enjoyable walk.
  • You will start the process by walking your dog on a long leash (I walk Maggie on a thirty-foot nylon training lead).  It is not critical that you are constantly holding the leash in your hands. You can let the leash drag behind your dog as you and he are on the trail. If something unforeseen happens, you can quickly step on the leash and assure that you have your dog’s focus directed towards you.
  • Constantly scan the area in front of you, on both sides of you, and behind you. You want to assure that there is nothing that is approaching, or you are approaching that would cause your dog to dart away.
  • Retain your dog’s focus by randomly calling him to you with the Come command. Next, give him the Stay command as you walk about twenty or thirty feet down the trail (not longer than your leash). Finally, release him and have him return to you. Encourage him to remain relatively close to your side when walking by patting your leg as you walk.
  • Don’t wear out your dog.  If it looks like he is getting a little sluggish, end your walk and hang out on the front porch of your cabin or on the dock at the lake.
  • Don’t allow your dog to wander off into the high grass or spelunk through thickets.  Those places are full of fleas and ticks.  Check with your Vet to determine if your dog is up to date with all his medicines and shots. (Especially Flea, Tick, and Giardia.)
  • Always take plenty of water when you and your dog head off for the walk.  Never allow your dog to drink standing water.  That is a “breeding ground” for all sorts of bad things.  Even if there is a running stream, you aren’t sure what is going on just upstream.
  • Bring your dog back to you and hold the leash if you come across a person or animal on your walk.
  • Carefully inspect your dog for any fleas, ticks, burrs, etc. every time you return from a walk or any “romp in the woods”.

Once you and your dog get back inside the cabin, you will probably see him take a long and very happy nap.

Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years.  We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.