I am a huge advocate for getting outside and hiking with our pups. After all, they’re descendants of wild wolves, animals honed over millennia of evolution to run 40 miles a day on a hunt. And while most of their domesticated cousins don’t require that level of exercise anymore, the fact remains that there are numerous mid to high-energy level dogs that need to be getting outside more to play, socialize, exercise, and burn off that extra energy that too often finds a negative outlet through anxiety or chewing or other naughty habits in the household. So for those of you with healthy, active dogs, be sure to get out and enjoy nature together from time to time. Your pup will thank you and you will look back fondly on all the lasting memories you created together.
That said, it is also important to ensure that you and your dog are ready for the outdoors and all the potential danger it entails. From rattlesnakes to mistaken hunters; badgers, bears or miserable property owners; rusty barbed wire fences and old fox traps; lions, tigers, and bears (oh wait I already said bears), rushing rivers, thin ice, slippery slopes, excessive heat, wind chill, rapidly changing weather; land mines and booby traps…wow I’m starting to think it might be safer to just shell up inside for a while…
But fortune favors the bold as long as the bold is properly prepared so here are a few less common commands that I have taught my pup. They have proved invaluable over the course of our 12 years hiking and backpacking the back country together in nearly every kind of climate around the globe.
*For the purposes of this article, I will assume you have already properly trained your pup with the standard commands of basic obedience: sit, stay, come, heel, down. These are all incredibly important and cannot be overlooked—they are the foundation for all other training and are often the most important commands to use for hiking, in addition to being the most used.
Below are 5 less common commands I use: keep in mind that you can use whatever word or vocal command (and hand signal) you wish to.
This command tells my dog that he must stay either at my side or behind me. If he is off-leash, he can play and sniff and run around all he wants as long as he is behind where I am walking. This differs from heel in that it allows him to break away from me and go play. I first taught him this command while working on big cattle ranches and teaching him how to help heel cows. I would be on horseback, a cow or two would run into the mesquite trees where we couldn’t ride, so we would send the dogs in to chase them out and bring the cows back to the herd. As soon as the job was completed, we would yell “BACK” and the dogs would fall back to the line again and get behind us.
This command gives you the ability to let your dog play and explore (getting more exercise in too), while still giving you the confidence of scouting out the trail ahead to ensure your dog won’t be the first to encounter a bear, a dangerous snake, or another approaching party that might have their dog on a leash due to anxiety, fear aggression, etc.
I inadvertently taught my pup this command at a young age, and it has proved to be one of the most useful commands he knows, saving his life even at least a few times. Most people teach their dog to “come” towards them (also very important). This command teaches the dog to move away from you, or at least away from a source of danger. I have used this more times than I ever thought I would, so I highly recommend it to anyone who’s idea of hiking extends beyond a Sunday leash-stroll to the corner park and back.
I first taught my pup Thunder this command when I was living in Nicaragua and riding a dirt bike to and from the beach every day. The beach was only a kilometer or two from where we lived, and Thunder was in great shape and loved to run it. It was a small quiet road but sometimes cars or other motorcycles would pass. I taught Thunder that “this side” meant to get on my right side. This also differed from “heel” because “heel” generally indicates that 100% of the dog’s attention is focused on you the owner. While running down the road, Thunder needed to divert his attention to his surroundings, but as long as he was on “this side,” he was free to do so.
In the future, I would use this command countless times for various situations, but one important one is when we encounter bicyclers on the trail. Sometimes, our off-leash pups get distracted and might not notice a bicycler, running right into their path creating an awkward, if not dangerous, situation for all. When I spot a bicycler, I tell Thunder to get on “this side,” and he trots over to the edge of the trail to let the bustling peddler past.
Some people use the word “wait” for the “stay” command. Again, you can use any vocal command you wish to. For me, I use “stay” to mean that Thunder must stay exactly where I tell him to for an undisclosed amount of time until I tell him ok. This differs from my use of the “wait” command, which I use when Thunder is off-leash and up ahead of me (only in an area we’re familiar with or know there won’t be any lurking dangers up ahead). If Thunder is up ahead of me and we are coming to a road crossing, or a river, or I see another dog approaching that might not be ok with doing the doggie dance thing with Thunder, I will tell Thunder to “wait” which means he should stop right where he is and wait for me to catch up.
Lastly, it is very important to be able to “aus” your dog, as the Germans say. You need to be able to call your dog off of something, for example if it begins chasing a wild animal. While most of us teach our dogs the meaning of “no,” the reality in many cases is that it is a soft no. You need to have the ability to convey to your dog that this is a non-negotiable command, one that they need to obey without hesitation, often because the dog is putting itself in a danger it does not yet recognize. Remember that communication is only partly based on words alone. This is especially true for animals. Even humans tend to convey much more through body language, tone of voice, or voice volume than through words alone. Keep this in mind when training your dog. Dogs, especially puppies, are often much more reactive to a low, growling tone that mimics the mother’s warning growl. Use this tone when reinforcing your dog’s training with words like no. Again, you may use any verbal command-word you wish to, just be consistent and combine it with other communication techniques like vocal tone and volume (although I maintain there is never a need to yell at your dog). Your tone should never convey anger or instill fear in your dog, rather your tone needs to be assertive, commanding, stern, but fair and respectful (see previous article on the 4 Key Principles for Training your Dog).
For now that is all I have. I encourage you to get outside and do some exploring with your pup. The new DOGPAK backpack for dogs is in its final design stages and we hope to be ready to launch soon. If you need a dog harness and daypack for your adventures, take a look at the DOGPAK Moab Lite and read about some of the features it offers that other dog backpacks on the market do not have. Feel free to leave a question or comment in the comments section, or tell me about an unusual command you might use that has proved to be helpful. Thanks for reading and happy trails!