10 things you need to do to have a great off-leash hike!
Taking your dog on an off-leash adventure is one of the things we dog owners look forward to most. There is nothing quite like watching your exuberant dog bound with joy up a mountain trail. And who doesn’t love being hands free??? But a seemingly perfect trip can turn sour fast if you and your dog are not prepared. Dogs can get disoriented and lost if they stray too far, or they can get in trouble with other animals (wild or domestic) if you aren’t careful. Going off-leash is a privilege that needs to be earned by your dog (and you!). Following these tips will help you enjoy your off-leash time even more, and if you aren’t ready yet, will hopefully help to prepare you for when the time comes!
- Bring a leash (huh?)! Keep the leash on you at all times so you can leash up your pup if necessary (see below for some examples)
- Practice, practice, PRACTICE your dog’s recall. It needs to be 100% reliable before going off-leash anywhere in public
- Bring treats! Use your dog’s favorite treats to continue to reinforce that great recall. Give only when your dog comes right away, not when she waits or wanders in the wrong direction before deciding to work her way to you. You want her to know that she comes right away, every time. (and for goodness sake, don’t scold your dog if she doesn’t come right away- you also want her to know that coming to you is a good thing!)
- Respect the others on the trail: if you see a leashed dog coming towards you, call your dog and keep him close. The leashed dog may be perfectly friendly, but don’t assume and don’t let your dog run up to unknown leashed dogs as they are at a disadvantage and could become defensive. If you aren’t sure if your dog can resist the temptation, use the leash until you have passed (see #1)
- Don’t let your dog go so far from you that she is out of your sight. If she is not coming to you reliably, leash her for the remainder of the walk, go home and see #2 before attempting your next off leash walk. Or, try attaching a long lead to your dog to drag on the ground- if she starts to go too far and isn’t recalling, simply step on the rope and stop her in her tracks. Remember, it takes time and off-leash walking is a privilege, don’t get discouraged!
- Remember, it’s not a free for all. You can allow your dog to run and play with others, but make sure they are not a danger to other hikers/bikers/dogs/horses, etc on the trail. Stop play when others (people and dogs included) not with your group are passing through. See #1- use the leash if necessary until the others are safely by. Don’t assume that because it is an off-leash trail everyone will be ok with your dog.
- This one’s a no-brainer- pick up after your dog! Just because he’s off leash doesn’t mean you can pretend you didn’t see it, especially if it is in the middle of the trail- remember #5- your dog should always be in sight anyway….
- Bring water! An off leash dog often covers, 2, 3, 4, or 10X the distance we cover in their running back and forth and up and down. She’ll need water to rehydrate, and it’s best she doesn’t drink from strange pools of standing water (like mine loves to do)
- Keep your eyes open – off leash trails are often in rural or wilderness areas and come with lots of wildlife, some of which can be dangerous. Take the necessary precautions. Leash your dog if you spot a coyote- they may try to lure your dog away from you. Don’t let your dog chase after prey animals as she may lose track of you and get lost. And in the summer, especially if you live in the western states, beware of rattlesnakes. If your dog is an off trail explorer, she may need to stay leashed for those months when rattlesnake danger is at its highest. You can also get a rattlesnake vaccine (which buys you time in case of a bite) and take a rattlesnake aversion course so she will learn not to try to play with a snake…but she can still accidentally stumble over one. Use your own discretion….
- Flea/tick and heartworm preventive- whatever your preferred method, use it and keep it up to date. Check your dog after every hike for ticks- they love to hide in folds of skin where it’s warm- so do an extra check around the ears, in their “armpits” and in the groin area. They also like to get under the collar around the neck.