==> The best combination of bonding, exercise, and FUN?
Hiking with your dog - TRY IT!
Hiking with Dogs
Have you lately been hiking with your dog? What, never?
Find out here why you too should give this an even higher priority than dog walking. And you'll certainly enjoy it more too!
The one thing I've been looking forward to MOST is to go hiking with the dog or dogs once I've recovered. Even while still in bed I already bought most of the essential hiking gear during moments of pleasant anticipation. You know, mental preparation is everything.
In this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL:
- Benefits of hiking with our dog!
- What to bring hiking
- Finding dog-friendly local hiking trails
- Dog hiking groups and hiking clubs
- Dog hiking safety
- How to behave during dog hikes!
Benefits of hiking with our dog!
Most importantly, what are the hiking benefits?
- Relationship building!
- Healthy exercise for both
- Socializing the dog!
- Dog training - but without the lesson!
- FUN (certainly for a GSD)
You know it: For most dog owners, dog-human relationship building equates to tossing or hand-feeding treats. And you know why I've always frowned upon that: Handing out food treats builds a great relationship between dog and food - but that exists anyway, no need to improve on that - while it can ruin the relationship between dog and people (and not only the one who hands out the treats) if given the wrong way or in an inappropriate situation.
In fact, here's a key discovery I made:
This memo box must be worth DIAMONDS to readers who want to save their current relationship - whether with their partner or with their dog - and to partnership consultants too.
So, dog hiking can really be considered one of the best bonding opportunities - if not THE best. Better than cycling with our dog, roller-skating with the dog, running with the dog, etc.
Why even better than those?
Because hiking results in a more balanced exercise, which helps the dog to remember the experience. While with the others, exhaustion dominates - which you may know curbs recollection of the experience itself (the situation and environment), most of what we remember is how exhausted we were.
Swimming with our dog would be similarly awesome (we'll naturally avoid exhaustion there, or we drown). While say, just tossing the Hurley into the water for the dog to swim alone, this is not a joint experience and thus less helpful for bonding with our dog.
Why hiking is TOP for relationship building with the dog (and with people too!):
- GSDs LOVE to go on diverse terrain hikes to explore the environment
- You will love that too - once you get a taste of it
- When we do something with the dog that (s)he LOVES, it multiplies bonding with us
- Hikes offer healthy exercise for our GSD and for ourselves
- Gently exercising together further benefits the bonding experience
- Often we may meet other people and dogs that we and our dog can socialize with(!)
- We see how well we have our dog under control when very distracted(!)
- We learn to be considerate with our dog
- And our dog learns to adapt to our fitness level
The socialization factor of hiking with dogs is massive: Many people's "dog problems" would have been avoided had the people taken their dogs on a few controlled hikes. Because, when you hike across different terrain your dog will automatically socialize with tons of noises, sights, smells, environments and situations - and in most cases with many people and animals too. It is this quick succession of different socializations that prevents that the dog gets overly occupied with a particular stimulus.
Think: When was the last time that say, a loud noise upset you? But if shortly thereafter say, a motorbiker scared you by rushing past only an inch away from your elbow, the loud noise was the least of your worries, right? This happens to dogs all the time: A quick movement of an unfamiliar person or object that scares the dog.
Anyway, the point is that during exercise, arousing stimuli do not disturb us and the dog as much (the heavier the exercise, the less). Yet, we and the dog notice the stimuli nonetheless (we get used to them) - unless the exercise is so exhausting that it curbs our awareness or that of the dog.
Thus, as regards socializing dogs, with any form of exercise we must strike a compromise and find the right level of exhaustion for the particular dog: Enough that the dog doesn't get overly aroused by a disturbing stimulus, but not so much exhaustion as to curb awareness of the stimulus, and thus its recollection going forward.
The distraction factor of hiking with dogs is massive too: During plain dog walking we cannot assess how well we have our dog under control: Our dog knows the environment and remembers the likely stimuli in that environment. It's a routine. Our dog will (should!) routinely follow our lead during dog walks.
Conversely, hikes typically offer so many distractions that it is far more challenging for the dog to follow our lead. Thus this is when we really find out how well we have our dog under control - when required.
Needless to say, during hikes the dog should be off-leash once trained . Note that I did not write "the dog should be off-leash if the environment is safe" or such thing. I wrote "the dog should be off-leash once trained". Because, when the dog is TRAINED (s)he is trained for the environment we choose for hiking. The dog is trained to assess any risk factors herself. And we have no excuse to leash the dog (most people LOVE to find excuses).
Yes I know, one of the excuses often is "it's the law to leash the dog". And you know what I always reply: Laws are for those that need them because they cannot behave well without them.
Think about it: In the majority of nations in the world, no one cares that more stray dogs are running around freely than you can find leashed dogs restrained by their owners! Are there more dog bite incidents or other injuries? No. Less!
You don't need to go to places in India or the Australian Outback to find proof. Even right in densely populated Europe you find proof abound. Eg Portugal has minuscule dog bite incidents - although one of the highest stray dog populations in the world.
Also, laws (and people who try to enforce them) only exist for a maximum of what, a century? In the thousand years before that, no one bothered to leash their dog. And no one bothered that no one did.
Leashing a dog stresses out the dog, no matter how well-trained. If you don't believe that, get a family member to walk you around on-leash everywhere. Say, for a month so that you truly feel well-trained. Then report back here, how stressed and aggressive you've become (and whether your family is still intact)!
Further, hikes are not on the highway, but in the countryside, and dogs have been safely negotiating the countryside ever since. So stop worrying, start training your dog to the best, then no one will complain. Doggy Dan leads the way. Having seen, spoken to, and compared countless dog trainers - some of which have a huge fan-base on TV (possibly including yourself?) - I have to say that they are years if not decades behind the expertise that Doggy Dan Abdelnoor shares with us - and then, at a fraction of the price!
What to bring hiking
Let's focus on dog hiking gear here. Obviously you also need to prepare yourself (and/or your family members), but this is not a PERIODICAL on people hiking but on dog hiking.
Hiking equipment list:
- fixated and evenly weighted dog backpack
- 3 l of water (1.5 l bottle on each side is good)
- light bowl
- tick removal tool
- antiseptic spray
- plaster and tape
- dog eye rinse
- effective insect repellent
- dog sun cream
- dog hiking boots
- potentially doggles
- for half-day or full-day hikes: some food
I got exactly this Mountainsmith dog backpack myself, I find it is fantastic quality at a super price. Do say below if you use and enjoy a different dog backpack, and if you do not use one at all then share why. Will ya?
Here's why I do find a backpack excellent for the dog:
- A fixated(!) backpack is calming for the dog
- With a backpack, the dog has little desire to run off
- If and when the dog runs off a bit, she always comes back because she knows the backpack is her task
- The German Shepherd is a working dog, the backpack makes the dog complete
- The dog is carrying her own supplies for the day
- If you have a spine problem like me, the dog may carry some of your supplies too
- Plus, it looks so cool - it impresses any passers-by
- And we can even train the dog to remind us if we forgot an item!!
All very positive indeed. Note that the backpack makes the dog feel that (s)he has a task. GSDs LOVE to have a task, thus the backpack alone seems to make the dogs happy.
A healthy adult male GSD may carry even more than 1.5 kg on each side, but make sure that you don't overload your poor doggy: Hiking is meant to be FUN, not meant to move your household from one place to another.
However, even with plain dog walks, if you often experience that your dog is running off, simply fix a dog backpack on your dog and load it with some water and toys, and you'll see how much calmer and more well-behaved the dog is during your dog walks! Thus, a dog backpack is not just for dog hikes, it's also a great dog training tool, it's a Sedative (for more on this see the Dog Training Toolkit if you have it).
Each is so light that even when we aren't in a 'tick habitat', I would always take the Pro Tick and the Ticked Off with me (leaving the Contech Tick Twister at home so as to not lose all three of them!), just in case a hike gets longer than planned and I need to remove a tick right there. Note that these tick tools work on both people and dogs.
The same with the super-absorbent drying chamois : We may not face a rain shower at all and not come across a pond or stream, but the chamois too weighs 'nothing' and may come useful in many situations.
However, the doggles and dog boots too weigh next to nothing, but they take up a bit more space so with these we consider the likely weather and hiking environment: do we pass gravel or rocky terrain?
All other items unfortunately are of a different class, they weigh quite a bit. Nonetheless:
- A basic water supply is essential even if the planned trail leads along a spring water stream. Plans are plans because they are subject to change!
- The antiseptic spray , eye rinse , effective insect repellent , and dog sun cream you'll find essential when the first problem occurs. The great thing about hindsight is that we can anticipate the need for it.
Note that even the most effective insect repellent only works when you've applied it at least half an hour before insect exposure. Remember that dogs don't have sweat glands (other than on the paw pads), and to be effective at a distance an insect repellent must mix with the sweat first in order to evaporate around the person. Hence when applied on a dog you must give it time to disseminate across the hair follicle shafts, so that insects find a contact barrier. Thus, contrary to people, they will approach the dog, just not bite if the repellent is effective.
Similarly, but for different reasons, dog sun cream too must be applied at least half an hour before sun exposure in order to be effective. Also note that neither the dog sun block nor the insect repellent may get in the eyes, up the nose, in the ear canal, or be licked off! Even if the label says "may be ingested", I'd strongly advise to prevent that.
Finding dog-friendly local hiking trails
To find local hiking trails that are dog-friendly, nothing beats experience - if not your own then from other dog owners. But let's assume here that you are new somewhere and don't know anyone yet (happens to me often). What can you do then?
In times of the world wide web nothing is easier! Just type into Google & Co something like: "dog hiking" [your region], or even "dog hiking trail" [your region]. If nothing comes up, leave out the "quotes" around dog hiking (I would always start such a search with quotes to get better search results if there are any).
With "quotes" you'll get exact matches only, meaning people have written about "dog hiking" in your region, not just about "hiking" and a "dog" somewhere in the same article (which could be something like: "I was hiking there with my family, and this %^$&* leashed dog bit my son!" - which then would not be a dog-friendly hiking trail if people there became suspicious of any dog). Also consider abbreviations, eg some people report their experiences not as "hiking trails near new york" but as "hiking trails near ny", or as "hiking trails near pa" instead of "hiking trails near pennsylvania".
Another, completely different approach is of course: Just get out and about! Trial different paths and see how it goes. Even if you've found one that you like, continue to explore diversions and other regions as well.
Dog hiking groups and hiking clubs
As an alternative (or in addition) to searching for "dog hiking" or "dog hiking trail" [your region], you could straight away search for "hiking group" or even "dog hiking group" [your region] (as well as then substituting group for club, meetup, or whatever). Let's face it: Hiking together with some people that we like feels ten times more rewarding than hiking alone (in my opinion).
Note that although many hiking groups may not expressly write that they would welcome dog owners too, they do - as long as your dog is well-trained! In fact, thanks to dogs' superior senses, adding your well-behaved German Shepherd to a hiking group often is much appreciated - IF well-trained!
Obviously, if your dog is humping the legs of fellow hikers, or jumping up on them, or always in their way, or barking all the time, or committing similar offenses - or if you feel the need to bark after, or for, your dog(?) - then your new-found fellow hikers will not appreciate that you come back. 😕
Did you notice that above I always used singular? Hiking trail, hiking group, hiking club etc. Just to make sure you don't overlook such detail: I use singular because such search will match both, "hiking trail" and "hiking trails" (etc). If instead of a search for "hiking trail" you were to search for "hiking trails", you wouldn't get all the results that mention a single hiking trail (because the s is missing).
Dog hiking safety
Under Benefits of hiking with our dog I wrote:
"The dog is trained to assess any risk factors herself. And we have no excuse to leash the dog (most people LOVE to find excuses)."
So if you notice that you frequently excuse yourself for avoiding a certain trail, or leashing your dog, or calling your dog back to you, then STOP finding excuses and instead use that situation right there to train your dog to deal with the environmental 'risks' herself.
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
How to teach dog behavior as a safety feature, and in what situations?
It's of course in the Review of the Dog Expert Interview! If you still don't have it, I would click and get it now. You are your dog's destiny, and I am my dog's destiny.
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
For more on dog hiking safety also see the list in the next chapter below.
How to behave during dog hikes!
At a younger age I was hiking in the UK a lot - more precisely in England and Wales, in case you know the differences?
And although some regions (particularly in Wales) were really deserted (yet stunning beautiful), obviously most times by the end of the day we had passed a good number of dog owners. And I remember that generally the Welsh (more than the English) had their dogs off-leash all the time, and seemingly better under control nonetheless.
I do not want to discuss the reasons here (although I believe I know them), but I want you to take away the key point from this chapter within this Periodical:
The more relaxed we are, the better we will have our dog under control (and the more the dog will enjoy the hike, and we too!) - without the need to leash the dog, to command the dog, or to frequently call the dog.
Think about it: Do you enjoy to be around a grumpy or stressed person? Will you run towards that person when (s)he calls you? Will you stay by his side even though the environment further afield is much more exciting?
Obviously not. You won't. None of that. And the same with your dog! This is why I find it so much easier to get a well-behaved dog with Behavior Training than with Obedience Training. When a dog enjoys to be near us and to follow our lead, it makes dog training so much easier - and more rewarding too.
Of course, to get the dog to enjoy to be near us and to follow our lead, we must ensure that we behave in a way that makes us enjoyable to be around. Thus I would strongly suggest in the beginning to consciously limit your calling the dog and commanding the dog. If you've let your dog off-leash in an environment for which the dog is trained to be safe, then stop worrying - or rather, stop being bossy: Almost certainly your dog won't harm anyone, won't be harmed by anything, and will get on just fine, without you.
Unless your GSD has been 'ruined' by a prior owner or long shelter experience, a German Shepherd has abundant competence to safely finish any hiking trail herself - and even to trace it back to you if you got lost.
All the above aside, I have certain rules where and when I would always leash the dog or have the dog heel next to me while continuing the walk:
- where we come close to moors (but not close to cliffs: a mentally healthy dog won't risk falling down!)
- when we pass children or young teenagers, pregnant women, old people or handicapped people
- where we come close to horses or cattle
- when a farm machine or other vehicle is approaching
- in case of hiking at night, at dusk, or in fog, our dog has to wear a high-vis vest
- and if I lived say in Florida, India, Australia etc, I would specially train the dog how to behave near alligators, snakes, and similar surprises (instead of leashing the dog all the time or making the dog heel)
- the same with mushrooms, wild berries etc: rather than restricting the dog physically from accessing them, I prefer to teach the dog as a safety feature not to eat anything outside our scheduled meal times
Most times, all the above behavior rules and safety measures are not put into place because the dog could do something bad, but to avoid that the other party feels scared.
The goal for GSD owners should be to make sure that everyone keeps GSDs in good memory, not that children take away a trauma, or that adults associate GSDs with an uncontrollable monster or such, right?
Responsible dog ownership. No laws needed. Plain common sense.
Next edition: GSD exercise regime for busy dog owners!