Hiking with dogs continues to grow in popularity, but many people don’t know the cues or commands that can make it even easier when you’re out on the trail! I want to talk about some of my favorite things I have taught my dogs that have made our hikes more enjoyable. Before I begin, I will say dogs should know basic commands before hiking, as well as having leash manners (as in, they aren’t dragging or pulling you) is also extremely helpful, but I feel like that’s pretty obvious. If they are to remain on leash, it’s up to you on what you feel like dealing with while on the trail; however, if they are to be off leash at all, basic commands should be solid, especially a recall. These cues are to go beyond your basics and give you an extra edge while out and about. They can also work in most situations, not just hiking!
Whistle Recall: So, this would apply to off leash dogs and if your dog is off leash, then for the sake of argument, I am assuming they have a solid recall command, such as “Come” or “Here.” While my dogs do recall and respond to “Come,” I have since taught them a Whistle Recall. This is, for me personally, a long whistle that I make with my mouth; however, you can choose to use an actual whistle or whatever whistle method you can do. For me, I use just my lips and I try to stay consistent with how long I hold the whistle, as well as the pitch and volume. Why a whistle recall? Well, if we are somewhere the dogs can be off leash, a simple whistle is less disruptive to other hikers than giving verbal commands, especially if they are farther away. Using a whistle, you can also command other things depending on the series of whistles you do- think a Border Collie herding sheep and their handler whistles! It’s a great way to be more respectively call your dog.
On by: This is a great command for both on and off leash dogs. “On by” simply means go on by, keep walking, and/or this isn’t time to sniff or greet. It’s meant mostly for passing other hikers whether they are coming toward you or walking in the same direction. It’s especially helpful if the other hikers have a dog as well. As social creatures, most dogs want to sniff other humans or other dogs, but while hiking, it just isn’t always the right time for that. Have you ever been on a narrow trail with your dog and you’re going up, someone is coming down, and you can’t pull off to the side to let them pass? “On by” would keep your dog focused and moving forward, not stopping and no greeting, to keep the flow of traffic going on the trail, as well as respecting other hikers along the way!
With me and Loose: Another cue for an off leash dog that I use is “With me.” For us, this means staying near. You don’t need to be in an off leash heel, but a few strides ahead is good enough. It basically keeps the dogs close, but gives them some freedom on the trail. This is what we use most while hiking off leash. It’s staying on the trail, within normal speaking volume voice control. They can sniff and move freely, but it’s meant to be a command that keeps them at your speed and if you are hiking with multiple dogs, not playing or wrestling. If they are able to run and play, say in a field where this is allowed, the beach, etc, this command is often followed by “Loose,” which means they can run, wrestle, play, and swim- whatever our adventure calls for. Loose is still in sight, as your dog should be in your sight at all times, but it’s off the trail, it’s through the brush, it’s wherever their paws take them. It’s wild zoomies and happy times, not to say “With me,” doesn’t have it’s own version of fun and good times!
Ahead/Behind: Great for those narrow trails, this gives you control over your dog off or on leash when a straight line is necessary rather than them walking at your side. Teaching these commands means you don’t have to position your dog and it can happen quickly and naturally on the trail. This is also perfect for passing other hikers and I often couple it with the “On by” command. It gives space to the other hikers, your dogs are out of the way, as well as keeps your dogs moving and respecting others.
Under/Over/Through: Trail obstacles calls for some unique maneuvering! No one wants to do “heavy lifting” while on a hike, so teach your dog to do it themselves! Over a log, under a log, through a threshold they aren’t familiar with, these simple commands can help give your dog confidence to move forward, as well as a sense of accomplishment when they succeed.
Other commands: Some other, more basic commands that are useful on the trail would be a solid leave it command, whether it be wildlife, people, or anything else you’d like your dog to avoid. A great stay or wait command can also be perfect for taking photos or even having your dog wait in a spot as other hikers pass. After hiking a few times, pay attention to how you and your dog move together and think of your own commands that work best for you and how you do things. Anything you teach your dog will only strengthen your bond with them and help you on the trail, so it’s always a win/win!
— The Wayfinder