Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 13, 2012

Staying on the Trail

Posted at 03:22PM - Comments: (12)

Usually, I can count on my dog, Otto, being one of the best-behaved and best-trained dogs in the pack when I go out for off-leash hikes with friends and their dogs. When we hike solo, I keep the walk lively by frequently asking him to do “trail agility” – jumping over logs, jumping up on boulders, and even running through culverts. I also frequently ask him to perform spontaneous recalls; he can expect to be asked to do one at any moment, and he enjoys the game. His recalls are impeccable. All of this solo training really pays off when we walk with friends and their dogs are all over the place.

However, we recently got completely shown up when hiking with a newer friend, another woman about my age who also volunteers a lot at our local shelter. She has two dogs, a sharp little blue Australian Cattle dog and a large yellow Lab, and she’s somehow managed to train them to perform a behavior I’m really jealous of.

It’s one of the several times a year that ticks are really bad here in Northern California, and Otto is often covered with them after one of our off-leash jaunts, as he loves to run ahead of us and criss-cross the trail, sniffing for birds and woods animals. I usually go over him quickly before putting him in the car after a walk, and then do a very thorough exam once we get home, looking for the tiny ticks and combing burs out of his fur.

My friend has another solution. She’s taught her dogs to stay on the trail even when they are off-leash and bounding ahead. I don’t know how she did it, but at the moment, I’m green with envy.

I’m comforting myself with the knowledge that Otto has a BLAST running back and forth across the trail, and leaping up and down embankments trailside . . . but I’m thinking on our next hike, I’m going to have to ask my friend exactly how she taught her dogs to refrain from stepping off the trail.

Have any of your friends trained their dogs to do something you are jealous of?

Comments (12)

I also take issue with off leash dogs. We were hiking a few years ago and 5 dogs, all small, came flying around a blind corner on a trail we were on. Before their human or I could do anything about it, my leashed and startled basenji/border mix bit one of them pretty good in the face. She was bleeding profusely and we were a couple miles from the trailhead and probably an hour's drive from the nearest town where a vet might be. If your dog is off leash anywhere there could be other dogs, your dog better have excellent recall, you better have a leash at the ready, and as soon as you see people with dogs up ahead, you better leash your dog. If you can't see up ahead, leash your dog! If you are in a city or town, note that most have leash laws. Before that happened, my dog had been attacked twice by off leash dogs just around town where there is a leash law. Not every dog is dog friendly, and some dogs are just plain scared they are going to get attacked again. Ok off my soapbox about that now. There are other great reasons for dogs to be on leash and while most of them apply to city living like not getting hit by a car, when you're out in the wild, there can be wild animals that may see your dog as prey, snakes that curious dogs get bit by. Where I'm from, alligators eat dogs for lunch. Where I live now there was just an incident where a dog got caught in an otter trap just inches from the trail.

Posted by: Unknown | February 19, 2012 12:59 AM    Report this comment

Personally, I think well trained dogs should be allowed off leash, especially in areas where they can really stretch their legs and enjoy themselves without causing problems to people, their pets, or the local wildlife.

Although my 3-year-old Lab mix is more interested in chasing and finding his ball than running off after another dog or any kind of wildlife, a strong working knowledge of both Come and Leave It, as it relates to any kind of other animal, definitely have their merits. Quite often I will use a specific animal type, although the animal he may be thinking about is not so named: If it has wings and flies or is in water, it's a chicken. If it's big and has four legs, it's a horse; if it runs close to the ground, it's a cat. For example, he was thinking about dashing after some seagulls at the beach. All it took was a quick, "Leave it. No chicken," and he went back and picked up his ball. He also has a good understanding of "all done," and "all gone," so if his ball goes down a rabbit hole or floats out to sea, he won't try and retrieve it. Another command I use is "stay with me." It's similar to "heel" but gives him more freedom.

Posted by: LUCY B | February 14, 2012 11:47 PM    Report this comment

I take issue with off leash dogs as I have a Cattle Dog that is somewhat aggressive if approached by another dog in an excited fashion. My dog is always leashed and pretty well behaved. I always carry a strong walking stick and use this to keep dogs away. Owners don't appreciate it but I remind them that my dog is LEASHED and theirs is NOT. I very rarely have to hit a dog with the stick as I put it right in front of their face and they usually get the message and back off. That's all I want. SPACE! My dog is fine if left alone and he and I like to hike. If a dog is not leashed the owner takes the risk that said dog may approach another dog that is not a social butterfly and a fight could happen. To my way of thinking that's not a risk worth taking and a leash solves the problem and keeps my dog near me where I can intervene if necessary.

Posted by: Gail Ann K | February 14, 2012 7:10 PM    Report this comment

I really like Carolyn M's description of her positive training of her little dog. Excellent advise!!

Posted by: Becky and Buddy | February 14, 2012 6:56 PM    Report this comment

I would think, in answer to those who say we should never let dogs off-leash on public land, that everyone keeps their dogs pretty much in sight. Chances are good that any bird they would disturb has already been disturbed by foxes and coyotes. They are everywhere, even in cities. The only thing that is likely to help ground-nesting birds is wolves, who don't often prey on them, but do kill coyotes and foxes, because they are competition.I used to hear pheasant and quail regularly; I haven't heard them locally in years, and coyotes and foxes abound.
A question about the Neem: I do tracking with my young dog, and we are often in areas with ticks. I'd love to be able to use something that doesn't interfere with her nose. How strong an odor does Neem have?

Posted by: Margaret T | February 14, 2012 6:52 PM    Report this comment

I am very jealous of my friend who has taught her dogs to back up when she says " beep beep beep".

Posted by: NOLAhounds | February 14, 2012 1:27 PM    Report this comment

I think people who are offended by off-leash dogs need to consider where the hikes might be; perhaps the poster hikes in the country, where there are very few people and other dogs. Those of us who live in cities where there isn't a lot of open area need to be more concerned about keeping our dogs leashed, unfortunately. But there's a lot of rural area in America where dogs should be able to be off leash without offending anyone.

Posted by: TobyMom | February 14, 2012 12:17 PM    Report this comment

I'm surprised at the attitude that some of you think it O.K. to just let your dogs loose to whiz off trials to chase and harrass wild animals and/or nesting birds. There are other ways to give your dog a stretch without breaking the law or disregarding the fragile life off trail. It seems to me, if dogs are not to end up banned from all public lands, we dog owners need to be seriously considerate wherever we go and absolutely keep our dogs ON trails and ON leash in wild areas - especially when passing other folks out hiking and when it is public land. It is also a simple courtesy. Train your dog to a reliable recall and to stay on trail, but unless you are in an open visually clear area, leash them when you are out hiking, Give them happy and safe exercise without being destructive.

Posted by: lesley l | February 14, 2012 11:56 AM    Report this comment

I've actually been very lucky with my Mountain Fiest dog. She goes off leash well, stays ahead on the trail but always checks back to see where I'm at. She will go off the trail on occasion, but never more than 10-20'. Her nose is down the whole time though. I was worried about her going after animals at first, but the last two hikes she's done very well with that.

If I want her to stop I whistle. She'll stop, look and then turn to keep going. If I want her to stop and wait I whistle again, and she stops and sits.

Posted by: Eric M | February 14, 2012 10:59 AM    Report this comment

It's completely understandable you'd want to let a dog with such excellent recall enjoy the benefits of an off-leash hike. Do give Neem Protect Spray a try, by spraying your dog well just before going, watching out to avoid his eyes, to keep off fleas & ticks. It's not prefect but does help and without toxic pesticides!

Posted by: didalpf | February 14, 2012 10:04 AM    Report this comment

"She's taught her dogs to stay on the trail even when they are off-leash and bounding ahead." I did this with my little dog 8 years ago. She's a small (11 lbs.) dog very prone to ticks and burrs and wildlife sometimes view her as prey (we live in Central America). Here's how I did it. First, I made sure she knew COME. We practiced a lot in the yard and other low stress/low interest places. Then I attached a long, light line to her collar. When it appeared that she was ready to dash off into the bush, I clapped my hands (as an interrupter) and called COME. If she did not come, I stepped on the line halting her dash. Called her to me, rewarded with a treat. Soon she understood not to go off the trail.

Next I removed the long line. First time out, she headed into the bush. I clapped, then called COME -- without the long line she kept going. I waited until she came out on her own (no more calling), picked her up and went back in the house (no scolding, no praise, just neutral). Her much anticipated walk was OVER before it even really had gotten underway. She was shocked. It only took 2 more times replaying this same scenario on subsequent days.

Day 4 she again headed into the bush, I called, she came immediately. Big treats, lots of praise. She'd made the connection that she needed to heed COME and if she didn't, the walk would end. We stayed in this phase for awhile (a few months as I recall) and while she was tempted to go off trail many times, she always heeded COME. Finally, she simply lost interest in even going off trail.

To this day, she is excellent, I never even worry about her disappearing. It is such a relief to have her in sight all the time and it keeps her safe too. It was well work the effort put into the training. Hope this helps!

Posted by: Carolyn M | February 14, 2012 9:39 AM    Report this comment

that is a pretty neat trick but I really enjoy letting my girl go . . . she is so tentative in most situations but out hiking she seems to find herself and I wouldn't want to do anything that changes that little bit of abandon for her.

Posted by: Catherine A | February 14, 2012 9:31 AM    Report this comment

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