Last week I talked with Karen Bostick about her dog, Tinks. Karen is founder of PetsPage.com a place for social pet lovers, and Tinks is her adorably cute maltipoo. Karen and Tinks are huge advocates of keeping dogs safe and happy. We talked about one of Tinks’ favorite pastimes: off-leash hiking. Here are a few tips I would recommend when embarking on this fun outdoor activity with your pet.
Legal precautions: Make sure the area where you are hiking actually allows dogs off-leash. Some hiking trails require a 6-10’ leash on certain parts of the trail. Abide by the laws provided.
Good obedience: Taking your dog on a leashed walk is one thing. Taking the leash off requires a higher level of obedience. Be sure your dog will come back when called! Practice, practice, practice. One of my favorite off-leash games to play with my dog is hide and seek. When I’m on a walk with my dog, I will stop and hide behind a tree and wait for my dog to notice I’ve disappeared. I don’t say a word. I just wait for my dog to see I’m gone and he sets out on a quick search to find me. (Note: if your dog never notices you’re gone, then I’d refrain from taking him off leash!) When your dog comes back to find you, celebrate with lots of praise and some treats.
This game is fun to play and will help teach your dog to check in on you while he’s roaming off-leash.
Proper Gear: Take plenty of water for your dog along with a few treats. Just like humans, dogs need to stay hydrated. Encourage your dog to drink water frequently and offer treats on occasion. One of my favorite treats on a hike are Wellness CORE Superfood Protein Bar. These protein bars are healthy, easy to store and carry, and more substantial than a usual training treat. Plus, my dog loves them!
Safe Dog Encounters: Your dog needs to be well socialized to other dogs if you are going to take him off-leash. However, that doesn’t mean your dog should be allowed to rush up to every dog he meets. Instead, when you see another dog, call your dog back to you and allow the dogs to calm down before letting them meet. If there are multiple dogs that need to greet one another, I prefer doing the greetings one dog at a time. This allows the dogs to get to know each other in a calmer manner and decreases the potential for a fight.
Size matters: One of the potential drawbacks when off-leash hiking is the possibility of encountering dogs of all sizes. I am a big advocate for separating dogs by size whenever they are playing off-leash but this isn’t always easy to control when you are hiking. As mentioned above, dogs should not be allowed to race up to one another to greet another dog even if you know that your dog is friendly.
But I have a special word of advice to Karen and other owners of small dogs like Tinks: Pick up your little dog if a large dog races toward you. I realize this creates the potential for the oncoming larger dog to jump on you while you are holding your dog. But if a dog is so aroused that he will jump up to grab your dog, then he’s probably just as likely to grab your dog while he’s standing on the ground. Which risk would you rather take? I think you are in a better position to protect your dog if you pick him up. For other ideas on what to do when a dog is approaching you off-leash you can check out my blog What to Do if a Dog is Chasing You.
If you would like to learn more about Karen and Tinks, check out some of the links below!