ERICA MAY Always check on the dog regulations for the areas where you’ll be backpacking. Most U.S. national parks, for example, do not allow dogs to share the trail. Maintain control of your dog at all times. Dogs are required to be on-leash at most maintained public trails. Most require a leash to be 6 feet or less in length, so I advise ditching your extendable leash. It may be great for everyday romps around the neighborhood to give your dog more freedom, but it’s rarely sturdy enough to live up to trail conditions. Use a leash when hiking with your dog. Having your dog on a leash isn’t enough. You should also be sure to keep him or her calm as other people and pooches pass by. Be aware of what situations will upset or aggravate your furry friend. If he or she is still getting used to other dogs, you might want to hold off on hiking for now.
WES SILER Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your dog. But, you have to start slowly. A dog’s joints can be damaged by too much distance or too much exertion too early. The rule of thumb I’ve heard is 5 minutes of out-of-the-house exercise for each month of age, until the dog is fully-grown, twice daily. So, at three months you’re doing 15 minutes, twice daily, and at six months you’re doing 30 minutes. That may be Frisbee in the park or a brisk walk or whatever. Having said that, Wiley started going on long hikes when he was about four months old. I just took it easy, made sure he didn’t over-exert himself and had to pick him up and carry him more than a few times. Your dog will tell you if it’s too much, it’s just up to you to listen. Don’t have your dog carry any weight until he’s fully grown. The age at which that occurs depends on breed and size. I waited until Wiley was nearly a year old before putting a backpack on him, and even then made sure it was light. The most important piece of training you need is a reliable recall. Does your dog come when you call? Even if there’s other dogs around? Even if there’s distractions? Work on him at a dog park to make him reliable and train him to come both when called, and to a dog whistle; the latter carries much further.
JAYMI HEIMBUCH If your dog is a novice at being outdoors but you really want to try out camping, then take a few short hiking trips to get him used to being outside on trails, around wildlife and new people. Work your way up from walking a few short nature trails in your area, to short hikes and half-day hikes, then to full days out on a trail or hanging around in a campground. The experience will get your dog (and you) fit and accustomed to being in stimulating places without going overboard. It is also important to take time to get your dog used to being tied up or in a crate while you’re nearby, to simulate what it will be like when you’re in a campsite. Your dog might not be used to this, and will need practice in learning that everything is fine and dandy even if he is restrained as you move about. Also, if you’re tent camping, get your dog used to being zipped up in a tent with you. Some dogs might think this is the height of comfort, but it might make other dogs restless. Practice being in a tent with your dog slowly until he is relaxed and comfortable staying in a small space with you for hours at a time.
WES SILER The most important piece of training you need is a reliable recall. Does your dog come when you call? Even if there’s other dogs around? Even if there’s distractions? Work on him at a dog park to make him reliable and train him to come both when called, and to a dog whistle; the latter carries much further. “Leave it” or some other command to stop what they’re doing and drop what’s in their mouth is also really important. On Saturday, a large snake crossed the trail right in front of us. Wiley went to go grab it, but stopped the second I shouted at him. Teaching your dog to stay in a car until he’s invited to come out is also going to be handy. You don’t want him leaping out of the car and running around on the side of a busy road. On a long trip, it’s nice to be able to access your luggage, sit on the tailgate and change your shoes or any such open-door activity without having to worry about your dog’s safety. The more commands your dog knows the better, but the most important thing is to use positive reinforcement, encouraging your dog to trust you and demonstrating your trust in him. It’s a complex relationship that’s about more than a dog doing what he’s told. He needs to feel like keeping up with you and staying by your side is a fun thing for him to do.