Tails on Trails Part 1: Training your dog for the trail!

Tails on Trails

A series on tips & gear for exploring the outdoors with your four legged friend!



Hiking with my rescue mutt, Cheeseburger, is my favorite way to spend the day. It’s great exercise for both of us and a way to continue strengthening our bond. As a somewhat shy and nervous dog, hiking offers opportunities to help build her confidence, and new training possibilities are around every turn of the trail. I have been able to watch her grow and have been lucky enough to share some great views and experiences with my best bud.



Part 1- Training for the Trail

Solid training is a huge part of being a responsible dog owner. Part I of this 3 part series includes some important questions to consider before hitting the trail, as well as some of our favorite training games to get your dog prepared! Games are great for mental and physical exercise as well as providing some extra fun and treats. Before you hit the trail however, there are a couple of questions you should ask yourself. 

1. Is my dog healthy and in relatively good shape?

You may want to talk to your vet about beginning to hike if you plan on doing more than just a few miles on a well maintained trail, or if your dog has any existing injuries or issues.

2. How is my dog's recall?

Do they have a solid ‘stay’ and ‘leave it’? Can you call them off if they begin to chase wildlife? Cheeseburger was not allowed off leash until all these commands were reliable with and without distractions. The most important thing is your pups safety and these basic commands give you the advantage. We still practice training on every outing.

3. Do I plan on letting my dog off leash?

While off leash hiking can be controversial, (Outside Magazine recently published an article regarding the importance of dog and owner responsibilities while off leash) you will want to follow the guidelines of the area you choose to hike in. This protects you, your dog, other people and wildlife. We tend to hike where there are very few, if any, other people and I am confident enough in CB’s training that I allow her off leash in these areas. We listen and watch and she is called back and put on leash at the first sign of others. This protects anyone who might be afraid of her, other dogs included, and protects CB from a poorly behaved dog (or human). I do believe off leash hiking can be done responsibly if the dogs are of the right temperament, trained well and have responsible owners.

Here are a couple of our favorite training exercises and games!

Left Pocket, Right Pocket: I bring a stash of regular training treats and some high reward treats, like cheese or popcorn. I don’t actually use my left and right pockets, but that is the name of the game. If CB checks in with me on her own she gets a training treat. If she comes immediately to me when called and sits in front of me she gets the high reward treat. This reinforces that good things happen when she checks in, but that super great things happen when I call her to me.

Ignore the Treasure: This is another recall game we play. Either my husband or I will stand within eyesight of CB with a treat. The other of us will be around a corner or tree and call CB. She must ignore the treat in front of her and respond to the command. You can also play this with a stick or ball, whatever your dog thinks is awesome!

Waits: We have trained CB to wait at turns or any time she would be out of eyesight. She has about a 30 yard radius before she is to stop and wait for us. We will give her the ‘wait’ command randomly and she is not to go any further away from us. She can return to us or wander around in the space between, but she is not to proceed any further. This differs from a ‘stay’, ‘stay’ means don’t move from the spot you are on.

Up/ Over/ Under: We practice this as an agility and exercise game. We will ask her to jump onto boulders or jump over/ army crawl under fallen limbs.



Once your dog is ready to hit the trail, you will need to find places to hike! Some great resources for finding dog friendly trails are bringfido.com, alltrails.com and hikewithyourdog.com. The Appalachian Mountain Club books also denote whether or not areas are dog friendly.

Stay tuned for Part II- Deck Out Your Dog!



Written by Maria Watrous: Maria is a fanatical hiker and general outdoors enthusiast who has literally lived all over (if you can think of a place, she has probably lived there). She is also a fan of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and her favorite food item is a cheeseburger (which is also the name of her dog). She claims she would never eat her though. mnwatrous@gmail.com