One of the questions we get the most is “aren’t’ you scared Whiskey will go off a cliff”? In short, no! She’s much better on these cliffs and mountains than we (as non-climbing humans) are. Her four paws, lower center of gravity, and age make her much better suited to running around cliffs than we think. She’s grown up on these mountains and has great judgement on what she is comfortable with. If something is too steep, we will stop and figure it out step by step, or go back and try something else.
It makes sense to visit and explore the areas and types of terrain that you want your dog to be comfortable with as they are young. We scrambled with Whiskey when she was a puppy and she was always loving it. Make sure puppies aren’t exposed to big drops or impact (safer going up, and being carried down), and that this isn’t done too much when they are still growing.
DON’T PASS ON YOUR FEARS
I’m scared of heights, but my husband isn’t, so Whiskey follows him around on cliff edges and high logs, balancing on rocks and ledges. If I was freaking out, I would try my best not to let it show, and to praise Whiskey like crazy whenever she completed something that was difficult or scary! Whiskey loves looking over the edges of cliffs, and although my stomach is in my throat, she just loves to survey her domain with her dad. We try to make everything fun and happy!
OFF-LEASH CAN BE BEST
You’ll need to judge at some points if you or your dog is steadier on a pass. We keep Whiskey off-leash for a lot of cliffs as she’s got better footing and if either us slips and readjusts our body weight, it can pull and catch the other off-guard causing a dangerous situation. However, on some sections with very narrow ledges, icy sections, and drops, we will put Whiskey on-leash (attached with a harness) to make sure she is caught if she slips or needs help.
READ YOUR DOG & CHECK EXPECTATIONS
Not every dog is going to be comfortable with technical work. Don’t push your pup if they are looking uncomfortable, backing away, or pulling on a leash backwards. If your dog says no, respect their decision and praise them for their judgement. Some dogs just won’t be able to have the right balance, confidence to do this (like us humans!) and if something in the past had induced a fear, then respect that and make baby steps with only positive reinforcement. We’ve taken other dogs with no experience out adventuring and overtime they’ve all gotten better, although sometimes they might need to be carried while Whiskey walks. Some other times we just need to slow down, bring out the treats, and have lots of encouragement over the technical bits.
TRAIN LIKE CRAZY
Obviously, don’t do any of this without the basic obedience skills covered, including recall, stays, and ability to follow your lead. Your dog should be able to heel, stop, go, recall, stay in position, wait (for you), leave it (animals and food) before you add a dangerous situation to everything! Also train your dog to be comfortable being carried, or helped up, lowered down, clipped into a harness, hung by the harness, and comfortable wearing booties before you step onto any technical terrain.
Something worth mentioning is that lots of little animals and birds live in the mountains and if your dog cannot control themselves with prey, this could also be really dangerous. You’ll have to keep your dog on-leash and stay in situations where your dog pulling you off balance would not be dangerous. Chipmunks and squirrels have been known to lead dogs to their deaths, running after them on cliff edges (chipmunks can run almost vertically down a cliff). These are obnoxious critters that like to bait dogs for fun, so please be careful! Also note that anyone on a cliff throwing anything (like an apple core) over the edge can also trigger a dog to run after it (I have seen this in person.) Use your best judgement and err on the side of caution. Train these scenarios in places with minimal risk until you feel safe.
GEAR & SAFETY
Of course, even the best of dogs might need some extra gear to keep them safe and intact! We use a Ruffwear Harness with a climbing carabiner meant to take weight for extra technical drops and lifts. A harness is a much better clipping point than a dog’s neck and can support the body much safer and comfortably. Booties for dogs are also needed if your dog isn’t used to the rough terrain. We’ve seen a lot of worn and bloody paws as the rocks here are really tough, although Whiskey doesn’t need them (her paws are so rough.) Keep checking the paws throughout the day as a dog may not show signs of pain even though they might be close to worn out.
Have you done any technical hikes with your dog? Tell us about your outdoor adventures 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.