Out & About: Trail Etiquette 101

Teach­ing a dog to walk com­fort­ably and politely on leash is one of the best train­ing gifts you can give.  Leash issues like pulling, reac­tiv­ity, and over­all lack of atten­tion are some of the con­cerns fre­quently seen and often most urgently in need of repair.  A dog that can­not be walked on leash quickly spi­rals into a cycle of poor social­iza­tion that only cre­ates future behav­ioral issues.  Once leash walk­ing becomes too dif­fi­cult, it is usu­ally just a mat­ter of time before the dog’s qual­ity of life begins to deteriorate.

For­tu­nately there are a lot of very sim­ple but under­used tricks to make leash walk­ing eas­ier on everyone.

Firstly, we should always keep in mind that meet­ing on leash is inher­ently awk­ward for dogs.  Well-mannered dogs never meet nose-to-nose and never ever head-on.  Some­times the sim­ply hav­ing no option but to meet dogs in this uncom­fort­able way is enough to give a dog a com­plex.  If at all pos­si­ble we should try to relieve our dogs of these stress­ful expe­ri­ences by a) avoid­ing on-leash greet­ings when pos­si­ble and b) teach­ing our dogs to be pre­pared for these encoun­ters with some easy tips and sim­ple train­ing exer­cises.  Here are some ways to make trail adven­tures go smoothly.

Dog trail etiquetteAsk per­mis­sion before greet­ing.  There are a mul­ti­tude of rea­sons why you should never let your dog approach another dog with­out obtain­ing per­mis­sion.  Not all dogs enjoy meet­ing unfa­mil­iar dogs, espe­cially on leash.  It is not fair to let your dog approach another at the their expense.  Doing this makes you a jerk.  Fre­quently I select leashed trails because the dog I am walk­ing reacts poorly to other dogs approach­ing.  Other times I’m walk­ing a per­fectly friendly ram­bunc­tious young dog and sim­ply don’t want him to learn he can act a fool and be rewarded by greet­ing other dogs.  Some­times an unfa­mil­iar dog is throw­ing some con­cern­ing body lan­guage and I would like to avoid it entirely.

Step to the side when being passed.  Pulling your dog off-trail and let­ting another dog pass will avoid star­tling your dog with a bum-rush.  It will also go a long way towards build­ing a trust­ing rela­tion­ship with your dog (“I promise to try my best to never let another dog ambush your butt”).

Star­ing is rude.  This goes for dogs and peo­ple.  Let­ting your dog stare down another dog as it approaches or passes is incred­i­bly impo­lite.  It doesn’t mat­ter if your dog wants to play with the dog or is throw­ing the stink eye, star­ing needs to be inter­rupted.  Treats are very help­ful in accom­plish­ing this.

Attempt a loose-leash when greet­ing.  When you do decide to allow your dog to greet another on trail, try your best to keep the leash relaxed.  Polite dogs will pass up a nose entirely and go straight for the bum end.  Stop­ping two dogs nose-to-nose with a taught leash can cause a per­fectly smooth greet­ing to go South fast.Lydia supervising some shoes on the trail

Use a cue like “Go say hi”.  This is a super tool for dogs that are unsure of leash greet­ings.  For some dogs, feel­ing a sur­prise greet­ing is immi­nent is nerve wrack­ing.  Thank­fully, this is quickly fixed by only allow­ing greet­ings after cue­ing them.  This also helps with uber friendly dogs that enthu­si­as­ti­cally attempt to greet every dog (“Not now honey, I’ll tell you when you can say hi”).

Polite leash walk­ing can be chal­leng­ing for all of us.  Don’t fret.  These sim­ple tricks work won­ders to turn a poten­tially reac­tive dog back from the dark side or pre­vent trou­ble from brew­ing in the first place.  With these tips we can hit the trails with confidence.

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