I was talking with one of our Home Dog Training clients in Atlanta the other day. He had recently bought a cabin near Blairsville. He said that he loved taking his dog for walks in the hills. It was great to have his dog off leash and let him have a great time with the smells and “woodsy-things”. He was wondering if I had any special tips to keep him and his dog safe while on their walks in the hills…
Just like my dog training client, I love having my dogs up in the woods and on the forest trails near our home.. My dogs love going out and are very good at staying nearby and listening to my commands. We all have a wonderful time and everyone is always happy and safe.
I want to stress that this is not something most people can do right away with their dog. As a dog trainer, I know of some dogs that will never be able to be left off leash in the hills. To best see if you can accomplish this with your dog, it will take a possibly long and detailed training process. To reiterate, some dogs are just too high strung or too easily distracted to successfully be “mountain dogs”. I will now review some of the things you must do.
The process of “mountain dog training” really starts while you and your dog are still in a “suburban environment”:
- The first thing you must work on is recall and come on the leash. Your dog has to successfully return to your side when you tell him to do so. He must do this while he is at least thirty yards away from you. You must practice this several times daily, adding more and more distractions and making the distractions more intense.
- Your dog must be able to sit and stay while you leave him and walk thirty yards away. Your dog must not move until you release him. At that point the only thing he must do is to return directly to you.
- It is important that you practice the exercise of off-leash attentiveness control where your dog is walking near you off leash. When ever you change directions or speed, he must adjust his walking. If you stop, he must stop.
- He must be taught the “drop” or “leave it” command so that you can instantly get anything unwanted out of his mouth.
- No matter what, you must ALWAYS HAVE HIS FOCUS.
Until you are 100% confident that your dog does everything I have outlined above, you can not move on to getting him out in the woods. Now, let’s think about our walk in the woods. Here are some things you need to work on:
- “Pre-walk” any path you are planning to take with your dog. Look for poisonous plants, places where there may be animals, areas of standing water, steep inclines, tight spaces, etc. Pick a path that minimizes these things in order to maximize your ability to keep your dog as safe as possible.
- Walk your dog with a long leash (I like to use a 30 foot nylon leash). It is not necessary to hold the leash, just let it drag behind your dog. If something unforeseen happens, the leash gives you one more tool to safely control him.
- Always scan the area you are walking for anything that might cause your dog to loose focus on you and dart off.
- Maintain your dog’s focus by calling him to you, having him stay as you walk a short distance down the trail, and then calling him to you. Encourage him to walk next to you by patting your leg as you walk.
- Don’t overtire your dog. If he appears to be slowing down, go back and hang out at home or the cabin.
- Do not let your dog “explore” high grass or wander through thickets. He may get fleas or 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.)
- Make sure you have plenty of water when you and your dog head off for the walk. Standing water is not good for your dog. 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.
- Check your dog for any fleas, ticks, burrs, etc. when you return from your walk.
- If your dog still has some energy, play around the cabin for a few minutes to continue the bonding process before you go back inside.
Once you and your dog get back inside the cabin, you will probably see him take a long and very happy nap.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fifteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.