7 Essential Commands Every Trail Dog Should Know

  1. “Sit”: Let’s start with the basics. Sit is pretty much doggy speak for “Please.” A well trained dog will sit when they want something, maybe turn their head a little and give you those cute puppy eyes. Sit can also be awesome for picture posing, taking a break, or just planting their butt while you get your gear sorted out.
  2. “Down”: A little harder for some dogs to master, Down is handy for all the same reasons Sit is, but can also be used to teach a dog to lie down in a stream or lake to help cool off their underside. Work on this in a variety of settings and surfaces, and you have a dog who happily lays down whenever you ask.

Related: Teach Your Dog to Sit… Without Treats!

  1. “Watch Me”: Eye contact is everything. A dog who is looking at you isn’t begging for that other hiker’s snack, or making eye contact with that grumpy dog. Eye contact can be trained every day at meal times. Before you pop the bowl on the ground, grab a handful and wait. Just stand there. As soon as your dog looks at you, offer them a bit of their dinner. In a few seconds they will be looking at you again. Each time they do, offer some more kibble. Over time, increase the amount of time your dog is watching you, and increase the distractions and change up the situations you are doing it in.
  2. “Leave it”: A little tricky for some dogs to master. Leave it can be lifesaving, or at the least, bath saving! A well trained Leave it means the dog will ignore the tempting distraction, tasty treat, dead animal to roll in, or what have you, and continue on down the trail. The secret to a perfect Leave it? Project calm and confidence. Frantic screaming only increases the excitement of the forbidden object
  3. “Legs”: This is a handy command for getting your dog to untangle their feet from a leash. In a low distraction environment, tuck the leash between the dog’s front feet, then pull the leash over to one side. The dog will move their leg to get untangled. Praise! Do this a few times on the same leg. Once your dog is reliably offering the behavior, add the cue “Legs.” Teach this for each leg, and in no time at all your dog will be helping you manage the tangles.

Related: How to Teach a Rock-Solid Stay

  1. “Heel”: Some of the free ranging barefooted human crowd might frown and roll their eyes at this one, but there is a beauty in a human and dog walking side by side down the trail. While I agree that dogs get a lot out of just sniffing and enjoying nature, a perfect Heel is necessary for narrow trails, poison ivy or burr patches, and passing other trail users. Best taught in a low distraction environment, “Heel” can be encouraged by walking at varying speeds, and feeding/rewarding the dog when they are walking in the sweet spot. Keep sessions short and fun and you will have a happy heeling trail dog in no time. It is unlikely your trail dog will need to heel for extensive periods of time, so short sessions are going to transfer to real world success.
  2. “Go Find ____ ”: Sometimes members of a hiking party can become separated. I was tempted to say it’s children, but let’s face it: it’s more likely your partner is going to wander off on the trail. Go Find can start out as a game in the house. One person holds the dog, while the other runs off excitedly with some treats. Keep it simple; just go around the corner or into another room. Release the dog with the command to “Go Find ___” and away they go. Over time keep playing and making the game more complicated. Soon you will be able to play it outside then on the trail. Most dogs love this game!

Training your dog should be fun for both of you! Dogs love to learn new things and love to please. The more you train, the deeper your relationship becomes with your dog. Enjoy training these essential trail “tricks.”


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