Where should my dog walk when we’re hiking on the trail?

We’ve talked about buying the right fitting dog pack and getting your dog used to wearing it. Now you’re ready for hiking. Where, exactly, is the best place for him to walk on the trail?

According to Charlene LaBelle, author, Backpacking With Your Dog (training books – Alpine Publications), one advantage of having your dog walk in front of you on uphill trails is for their pulling power. Assuming, of course, he’s on a leash and a breed big enough to pull, (LaBelle has Malamutes).

It’s best vantage point to watch for signs of dehydration, overheating or exhaustion. Most dogs are generally more comfortable walking in front of you and you can free up both hands simply by attaching the leash to the padded waistband of your own backpack.

On the flip side, your dog will see things on the trail before you do. You’ll have to keep him from running after anything that attracts his attention, which out in the wilderness could be quite time consuming.  There’s liable to be any number and assortment of critters sunning themselves right on the trail. If your dog does like to pull, you may find yourself being pulled along the trail even when you don’t want the ‘extra’ help.

Not much can beat walking along a beautiful wilderness trail, sun shining, birds singing, your fido friend walking along next to you. Works just fine on those nice, wide trails. You’ll still get a good vantage point to keep an eye out for him without breaking your own stride. LaBelle cautions to keep a close check on you dog’s tongue and mouth – the best indicators of when he needs a rest. A dog with a normally pink tongue that turns blue needs a breather. A foamy mouth on a dog whose mouth is normally dry is in need of a drink and a rest stop.

If your dog is already trained to walk in the heel position, he’ll probably feel the most comfortable walking next to you and you can easily attach the leash to the D-ring on his pack.

If the trail gets narrow though, or has obstructions like overhanging branches or big rocks, your dog’s pack may bump into you and could cause one or both of you to fall.

Keeping your dog behind you might be a better choice when walking downhill. He won’t be able to pull you or pass you on the trail. (It also works well when you’ve got a dog like my Norman who likes to greet everyone he meets on the trail with big slobbery kisses)!

You’ll also be more in charge of the speed you are hiking but you won’t be able to keep a good eye on him for those first signs of distress.

To train your dog to walk behind you, LaBelle offers the following tips.  Hook the leash to his collar and hold the leash in your hand. Walking with your arm behind you for the first few steps, keep repeating, “Stay behind me.”  (You can also use a walking stick to keep him in the correct position).

Don’t keep holding your arm behind, just for those first few seconds to cue the dog to the ‘behind’ position. Most dogs pick up on this very quickly.

Trail hiking with your canine companion is a wilderness adventure you both can really enjoy! Where he’ll walk will depend on trail conditions, weather, time of day and even the direction you’re going. For more information, be sure to pick up your copy of A Guide to Backpacking With Your Dog by Charlene LaBelle soon!

Charlene LaBelle

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