Written by Kate Wilton
Hiking with my friends and our dogs is by far one of my favorite things to do! When I am not working with dogs throughout the week I am likely still surrounded by them in my free time. By writing this post I am excited to share my experiences as a dog handler while providing tips for hiking in groups!
Firstly, before heading out on a group hike with your friends and pups make sure to consider a few things. Are you confident that all the dogs trekking together get along and have similar physical capabilities especially if the hikes are more on the challenging side. Does every dog have the proper training and gear for the area you intent to explore.
Know Your Group
When dogs are in a group they naturally like to do things together. These highly social creatures need to have fun and learn from each other. It creates mental stimulation and exerts physical energy at the same time. This can be a positive thing like when they are recalling and playing together. However, this could also be a disadvantage to the humans! For instance, high drive dogs can yes, work together to flush wildlife out of the bush like deer, birds, rabbits etc. Watching for early signs of this behavior is key and knowing if a dog needs to be on leash because they cannot resist temptations, do this without creating any frustrations for that dog while others are off leash.
If there is something in the area of interest, they may show high levels of being alert like a high tail, raised head, attentive ears, some dogs point, or intense stop and stare etc. Understanding your group dynamics is important. Which dogs have a great nose, an urge to chase, react instantaneously, are sight driven or scent driven. Even a change in the environment can really effect our canine friends! There can be a lot going on with a group of off leash dogs and it can trigger certain instincts like herding, resource guarding and prey drive.
Hiking Off Leash
Reliable recall is a must, I repeat… reliable recall is a must! Don’t shy away from using a long line to start and make sure you can recall around distractions before attempting off leash hikes! When you are in the forest you’re immediately entering an uncontrolled environment. Possible wildlife, changing weather, unmaintained trails, bikers, other humans and dogs etc. Have a plan, be prepared and expect the unexpected! To prevent run ins with others, make sure you are loud enough, consistently engaging with your group and select the appropriate trail for your outing. It is very important when I am hiking that my group and I always respect trail rules and regulations considering which areas are dog friendly for off leash adventures and areas where dogs need to be on leash. All of the above keeps owners and dogs safe.
Being prepared is something that can really save you in the bush! For example, I carry an EpiPen for one of my dogs, Zeph because he is allergic to bees and horse flies. I learned this one day in the summer when I had to carry him back to my truck after an instant reaction to a sting. My American Pit X Doberman mix looked like a Shar Pei he was so swollen and puffy! Later that same summer he stepped on an underground wasps nest and was swarmed by an entire army. Depending on how much time you spend hiking with dogs try to be as prepared as possible for unpleasant situations for you and your dog. These instances are rare, however could happen to you too.
What To Bring (Some items to consider adding to your gear that you already bring!):
Leashes that are durable, I prefer 6 to 8 foot for extra length
Bear spray & air horn
First aid kits
Extra dog bootie in case of foot injury
Sun and bug protection