How to Train Your Dog for Hiking: The Basics Your Trail Dog Should Know

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Hiking with dogs is a great, fun outdoor activity that can help with weight loss, stress relief, and bonding time with your furry friend. However, it can ruin the experience if your dog doesn’t know how to behave on the hiking trail.

So, before you start packing your dog’s hiking essentials, grab their trail boots and head out, you would need to train them to be a well-mannered canine citizen. And that’s what this article will cover exactly, providing you with the basics and must-know commands you need to teach your dog before taking them on hikes!

1. Recall

Dog Recall Training
Caption: A women is calling her dog with a whistle

A recall is an important lesson and is perhaps the most used command on the trail as it can help you regain control of your dog when your pup is running ahead of you. Or you can also use the cue to call your canine over when there is a hazard, such as encountering a wild animal or an unexpected water crossing.

This “come” or “here” command is also one of the hardest to master. Why? Because you are essentially asking your furry friend to do the opposite of what their instinct tells them. For instance, they want to run off to the squirrel that just ran across the road, but you tell them no, stop chasing, and come back.

A good way to train them is by using high-value treats and walking a few steps away while using verbal or a training whistle to call for their return. They will be very likely to follow because of the treats. Then, gradually increase the distance and distractions and keep practicing until they can return to you very reliably when called.

2. Leave It

There’s no doubt that nature is beautiful, but it can also be a dangerous place for your dog, as it is not uncommon to find harmful items or poisonous plants in the wilderness that can make your pup sick. So you would need to teach your furkid the “leave it” command, so they will ignore, not get into, or pick up things they shouldn’t.

To teach your pooch this command, put a high-value and a low-value treat in both your hands. Show them the less enticing of the two and say, “leave it.” If they immediately go for it, close your hand and try again. And when they stop trying, praise and reward them with the high-value treat.

You can make it more challenging by dropping the treats on the floor, as moving objects are more tempting for dogs. Or you can use tennis balls or toys your canine loves to train them instead. You can even take that to the next level by training them outdoors and use something even more enticing, like real bone.

3. Stop

Another command you have to teach your trail dog is “stop,” which is especially needed if you are thinking of taking them hiking off-leash. You will find this helpful when your dog has gone too far ahead of you and come to, say, a lake or pond that your canine is about to jump in or walk too close to the edge of a cliff or any other situation that might be dangerous, this emergency stop command can save their life.

To begin, you will need a long lead line, plenty of high-value treats, and a long stick or a training collar that comes with a remote. Start walking your dog on the leash, and after a few steps, stop and say “stop,” then trigger the collar or use the stick to block their way. And when they stop walking, praise and offer them a high-value treat.

Continue practicing until they know what “stop” means when you say the word without using any deterrent to stop them from moving forward.

4. Wait or Stay

Dog Training for Hiking - Stay and Wait
Caption: A man is training his dog to stay put and wait

The wait or stay command is very similar to the stop command, but it’s used to keep your dog in place until you give them the go-ahead. You will find this helpful for hiking with your dog, as you may need them to wait when letting other hikers and bikers pass safely. It can also come in handy when you open the car door and don’t want them to jump out.

There are many different methods you can teach your dog the wait command. However, using the door is a great way to begin. Start by keeping your pup on a leash, have them in a sit position, and open the door just a little bit. Just as you open the door, say the word wait, but as soon as your dog moves forward, shut the door immediately, be careful not to close it on their nose. Repeat this until they sit calmly and not trying to dash out the door, then praise and reward as usual.

To make sure they fully understand the command, open the door completely, start walking out yourself and have them wait inside. If your pup begins to follow you, then walk back inside and try again.

Just like any commands you want your dog to master, you will need to be patient and add time, distance, and distractions. For instance, have them wait at the door and ask your kid to run out the door. That will really test and prove if your dog will obey the command and wait patiently regardless of what distractions are around.

5. Off

Dogs will usually jump onto the things they want, including other dogs and people, hence why you will need to teach them the “off” command. That way, you can tell them to get their paws off that other canine or human they meet on the trail.

Unlike teaching your dog other basic commands, there are no planned training sessions. You will have to wait until your dog is already in the middle of that unwanted behavior to teach them the “off” cue. That also means you have to store your dogs’ favorite treats in your pocket so that you can correct them when they misbehave.

When you catch them jumping up or pawing at someone, verbally tell them off, then give them high-value treats as a reward for complying with the request. The tone of your voice should be firm so that they know you are serious, although you don’t want to yell at them as that can make them stressed, which will do more harm than good.

6. Loose Leash Walking

While there are times that your dog needs to be off-leash such as during rest stops or mealtimes, keeping them on a leash is a good idea in any situation. Hiking is no exception to this rule, as you want your dog to stay close by and not get too far ahead of you on the trail.

However, constantly pulling the lead can be exhausting for both you and your pet. So, you have to teach your dog to walk beside you without pulling the leash. That will give your dog the freedom needed for exploration and sniffing while still keeping your pup close by just in case there are any dangers or distractions around that could pull their attention away from you.

Loose leash walking may take some time if it is something you’ve never taught them, which can be frustrating when trying to traverse an unknown terrain together. So make sure to start practicing this in an environment with fewer distractions. And with patience and guidance, they will eventually learn how to walk with you as one cohesive unit!

7. Off-Leash Walking

Once your pooch has learned how to walk nicely on a leash, it’s time to add off-leash training into the mix.

Why? Because there will be times you may need to let your pup off the leash for a little bit of time, and you don’t want them to chase after a squirrel, deer, or other wild animals on sight and get lost after unleashing them.

But before you start training your dog to walk off-leash, they must have a solid understanding of all basic commands we’ve mentioned above, as off-leash walking is the advanced stage of obedience.

To do this, you have to prepare a very long leash, either 25 or 50 feet, to make sure you still have control over them. Then, start going over all the commands you’ve taught them in a safe environment like in a fenced yard or a yard with an underground fence to test if they still remember all the verbal cues, and gradually introduce increasing distractions like toys, people, and other dogs. If they get distracted, repeat the training until you have a high level of trust that they will listen to you even when you unsnap the leash.

Remember, it requires patience and time. If you feel like your dog doesn’t understand what you are asking from them, take extra effort to go over the training again before going onto any off-leash walks or hikes, as their safety depends on it!

8. Socialization

Dog Socialization in a Park
Caption: Three well-socialized dogs are comfortable being around each other

You will surely meet different kinds of dogs on your hikes on any given dog-friendly hiking trails. But if your dog is not used to meeting other people and pooches, they can become shy, uneasy, overly excitable, or react with aggression.

So, it’s crucial your dog is well-socialized and can adapt and react well in different situations. The best way to do this is to get your dog out into the world when they are young and introduce them to as many new sights, sounds and smells as possible.

How? Well, you can invite your friends and family over and have them interact with your canine, take your dog on walks, and safely drive them to a lot of new places to let them experience new environments. Or you can also bring them to puppy school, doggy daycare, and dog park, where they will meet other dogs and humans.


The key to success is keeping the training consistent, being patient, and repeat, repeat, and repeat. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect! And while the above may seem like a lot of work, it’ll be worth all your hard work because you’ll be rewarded with the most loyal, loving, and best hiking buddy ever!