Safety and Etiquette While Hiking With Your Dog
Updated: Mar 24
WildeBean and I frequently hike at Bear Mountain Reservation. It’s common to see literally no one there, but my radar is always up for other dogs and wildlife. And while any dog can be at risk of injury from another animal, those of us with tiny dogs need to be extra careful.
Here are some safety tips:
Consider getting a protective vest. I wrote about this in another blog.
A sturdy walking stick could serve as a distance-increasing tool.
A pop-out umbrella can really startle another dog and create a barrier (but your own dog would need to be desensitized to this before you ever use it in a real situation).
Carry high-value treats in a pouch during hikes. In a pinch, tossing a handful right at another dog’s face might buy you time to move safely away, while the owner gets their dog under control.
Another idea is to teach a dog (at least a small-ish one) how to leap into your arms when cued. It would look something like this video. The purpose would be to then promptly transfer the dog to a safer position, like onto a high boulder or broad tree branch, behind a fence, or even to the top of a car in an urban environment. Just continuing to hold a dog in your arms as an aggressive dog approaches puts both of you at serious risk.
Lots of little dogs don’t naturally like being scooped up, and may avoid your hands as you reach for them. In an emergency, when you're trying to transfer them to a safer position, you’ll want them to accept this without a moment’s hesitation, so that may take some training.
Tips on Etiquette:
When walking out in public spaces, everyone has a right to their own bubble of safe space. So if you’re considering walking your dog off leash, please keep these things in mind:
Some locations require dogs to be on leash, or the owner can be fined.
If a dog is allowed off leash, then it’s vital you have excellent verbal control of him. A swift, consistent response to the come cue is critical for his safety as well as the comfort of others.
Even if your dog is friendly, someone else’s dog may not be comfortable with a strange dog approaching, especially when on leash himself. An unwanted approach could end in your friendly dog getting hurt.
Although you may know that your dog enjoys greeting and perhaps even playing with other dogs, the way he approaches another dog can have a huge impact on outcome.
Slow, curving approaches without direct eye contact are much more likely to put the other dog at ease.
Indiscriminately racing up into a strange dog’s space, no matter how ‘friendly’, is likely to cause tension or even aggression. In the dog world, this is incredibly rude behavior. Imagine a stranger racing up to you and invading your space. Would you label that stranger as ‘friendly’, or does ‘creepy and rude’ better describe them?
If your dog doesn’t understand the important nuances of social etiquette with unknown dogs, and/or you don’t yet have excellent verbal control of him, he should be ON leash.
Recently, I saw a woman and her on-leash dog approaching. Long before we got close, she diverged from the trail to walk her dog into the woods. I assume her dog has some issues passing other dogs closely, so I really appreciated her adding space, and thanked her as we passed. No doubt, her dog appreciated the increased space as well.
I also met someone who has desensitized her two very large dogs, one of whom doesn’t like other dogs, to wearing basket muzzles. She, too, will diverge from the trail to add distance if another dog needs to pass. She’s doing the right thing while enjoying hikes with her dogs, but imagine how distressing it would be if someone else’s out-of-control dog dashed right up to hers.
If you’re having reactivity issues with your dog during walks or hikes, or if his social skills needs some polishing, I’d be happy to help. This coaching can be done via remote video conferencing, thus maintaining a healthy social distance! With some training and patience, you and your dog can have more pleasant and peaceful walks together.
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers remote consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, matchmaking services, and pre- and post-puppy arrival counseling. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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