Hiking is my favorite pastime to spend with Whiskey. It’s made so much better when she’s free to roam — there’s just nothing like summiting a cliff together or arriving at a quiet lake to enjoy a meal. We’ve been training specifically to be able to do this as safely as possible, and one of my main requirements when selecting a breed was that it was a good hiking dog.
Because we live in the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with loads of wildlife where we frequently hike, and encounters depend entirely on training and keeping alert. We’ve encountered black bears, grizzlies, deer, bison, elk, coyotes, moose, snakes, as well as lots of prey animals in dangerous areas. We’ve only had one bad encounter (a charging moose) which happened when we turned a blind corner only to see a mama moose being cornered by other hikers. Unfortunately, the moose decided to charge at the newcomers (us). Before making that turn, I had heard some noise, so I had turned the corner slowly and Whiskey was on a short lead so we all jumped into the bushes and everyone was fine. Otherwise, we’ve had so many encounters without issues and have met many other moose without problems.
It goes without saying that predators are dangerous to both you and your dog, but please do be aware that many times hiking with a dog can be more dangerous than hiking alone. Large predators can see dogs as prey and be attracted to their scent. Off-leash dogs can also track and chase animals only to run straight back to you when they realize the bear is bigger than they thought!
Not only are you disturbing wildlife by letting your dog chase prey, but these chases can lead your dog to disappear and/or run across a road. In environments like cliffs, chipmunks have been known to lure dogs to their death, so please keep your dogs in control unless you are sure they are safe. Of course, some “prey” may have defensive mechanisms like deer, skunks, and porcupines which can have severe consequences.
Training recall is not only useful, it’s essential to have a bomb proof recall if you are hiking in an area with predators, traffic, or other dangers. It’s great to have different types of recall depending on the urgency. For example, we have the regular call “Whiskey! COME HERE!” or for more urgent/difficult recalls (for instance in the middle of a prey chase) a whistle will work much better. Make sure you never punish your dog once they do recall or it can “ruin” that recall for the future.
OPTIONS OF FREEDOM
Hiking isn’t just on-leash or off-leash. There are many different options we use depending on the situation. When hiking/walking in areas of traffic or prey, we will use a short lead. For regular hiking, we will use a longer leash (about 6 feet) either to a harness or the collar (do not hook to collar if your dog pulls.) When we are training or re-training recall, we use a long line (20 feet) and either keep a hold on the end or let it drag (dragging will slow the dog down and it’s easy to step on the leash if needed.) E-collars can provide a dog with the freedom they wouldn’t normally have, but like many tools, they can be abused, so please only use with the training of a professional!
Safety starts with the human, so make sure you’re well informed of what wildlife there may be in the area you are hiking and bring gear like bear spray if needed. Keep your eyes and ears alert, and know the signs that your dog may be starting to hunt, or smell something scary. Have fun and stay safe!
Have you had any hiking close encounters? What tips do you implement while hiking with your dog? Tell us in the comments!
Adele is a photographer, adventurer, visual effects artist, entrepreneur, and most importantly, mom to Whiskey. Whiskey is a Hungarian Vizsla, one of the most active breeds, and captain of all hiking, camping and roadtrip adventures. Follow their adventures on @mywhiskeygirl on Facebook and Instagram or their blog, The Dog Walks Me.