Training Tips for the Trail Dog

If you plan on taking your pup with you on the trails there are a few things to consider first- training being one of the most important! A properly trained trail dog is a must if you’re both going to be frequent hikers. You’ll want to have an idea of how you’d like them to behave on the trails and what to be trained to do before you even start. Luckily, if you get your dog as a puppy, it is much easier than you think! If you have an older dog or a rescue dog that is already set in its’ ways, it may be trickier to train. Either way it’ll just take a little bit of knowledge, consistency, and time to get to where you want to be. I’ve been hiking with Monty for just over 2 years now and he is almost exactly where I’d like to be with him. Here are a few things I’ve done to get him to where he is now and some things I wish I would have done better-

For reference: all trails will say to keep your dog leashed but I on the other hand have Monty trained to hike off-leash as well as on leash. I use my best judgement of when and where to let him off-leash because honestly almost everyone does on the deeper trails. Rule of thumb that I use: keep him on leash in high populated areas, let him off leash on back country trails. I also stay aware of what type of wild animals are in the area and any alerts there may be. He’s trained to not run after wildlife, but that doesn’t protect him from wildlife running after him.

1. Start them young

The very first thing you want to do is start them out young (if you can). I got Monty when he was just 6 1/2 weeks old! After one week of having him I was carrying him up small hikes in Phoenix to introduce him to the idea. I did this until he was big enough to make it on his own and in doing so he fell in love with the trails immediately. It’s the same thing as starting your kids out young in sports! πŸ˜‰ When starting out you’ll want to be strict and consistent with your training so they only know one way- the correct way- of how to behave on the trails.

What I believe truly helped shape Monty into a great trail dog was our solo trips. His first one was when he was 5 months old and we ran off to Utah for a week, hiking all over. Once we got back home he was a different dog. We went for another one the following year for a little bit longer, and again when we had gotten back home he had matured greatly!

2. Ease them into it

You don’t want to force your pup into too much too soon. If you start your pup on a miserable hot day, and make them go miles and miles, that may turn them off to the idea of going again. The pads on their paws also have to build up to the different types of surfaces and can get sore when going long distances! Give them time to build up their endurance and strength. πŸ™‚

3. Get them car trained

If you can get your pup to love the car at a young age it’ll make your life so much easier if you want to travel and hike different places with them! They won’t get car sick and they’ll hopefully be able to jump in and out on their own. It is also important to train them to wait in the car with their leash on while you get out. This will help you keep control if they’re filled with excitement and want to jump out of the car and run. Monty knows that he has to enter and exit through his door in the back and to wait with his leash on until I get out and open his door to let him out. This has made life so much easier!!

4. Training Treats + Positive Reinforcement

Training treats were my best friend at one point. Treats are a great way to reward your pup for doing what they’re told and especially when commanding them to come back to you. Monty has grown out of them but I still carry a small bag just in-case! Positive reinforcement is also key and I never stop using it! When I command Monty to “come” and he runs towards me I praise and pet him with excitement. Any time that he listens to my commands I also tell him “good boy” and pet him if I can and he’s always excited to receive the love.

5. Make them wear booties

At times your pup may have to wear booties on the trails and it is better if they’re introduced to these early on. They need to be comfortable wearing something on their paws, learn how to walk in them, and break them in. It is always good to carry a pair with you in-case they end up needing them- torn paw pad, sore paws, hot surfaces, etc. If they’re comfortable with booties beforehand it’ll make your life a whole lot easier rather than having to stop on a trail and fight with them πŸ˜‰

6. Leash train them on and off the trail

It is essential that they are trained well on the leash both off and on the trail! They need to know that any time they are on a leash is when they follow commands. For some reason Monty use to think that being on the leash on trails was suppose to be different than being on the leash elsewhere. Nothing is worse than having a 70 pound dog drag you downhill πŸ˜€ More importantly, there are MANY people I’ve come across on the trails that do not like dogs. It makes things go smoother if they’re able to pass without you having to hold your pup back. Even if you let them run on a 6′ leash that’s still too uncomfortable for some people. Usually if they are leashed, listen, and are well mannered you’ll have no issues!

7. Teach them to step aside

There is a certain trail etiquette and your pup should be able to mind their manners as well. I like to pull Monty aside when the trail gets narrow or rough and other people are passing through at the same time. Most times I’m able to tell Monty to wait and he will stop and wait for them to climb up or down and then follow after. This allows people, especially the elderly or young children, to not feel rushed or uneasy if they aren’t comfortable with dogs. I’ve come across some people that don’t approve of having dogs on the trails so I’ve just found it easier to read the people around and step aside and let them pass so there is no conflict!

8. Learn to control their impulses

Knowing and understanding your pup will benefit both of you! Every dog is triggered by different things and being able to recognize these triggers will help you control them. You’d be surprised how many people on the trails don’t like dogs! They’ll need to refrain from running towards other hikers, barking at other hikers, running far off on their own, chasing critters, etc. For instance, Monty will usually pass by people like they don’t exist, but when he sees another dog he gets excited and runs towards them. This is still something I am working with him on, so for now when I spot a dog up ahead I still need to tell him to stop, come back, and I leash him.

9. Build a relationship with them

This is one of the most important things you can do. The more time you spend with your pup and properly care for them, the stronger your relationship is going to be. I’ve built an extreme bond with Monty since he was 6 1/2 weeks old. In return, he respects and loves me endlessly and LISTENS to me when I give him commands. Over time you’ll find that if you keep things consistent with your pup you’ll have created an unbreakable bond and things will be that much easier!


Monty isn’t perfect on the trails yet, but he is pretty close to it. Hopefully you’ll find that some of the things that worked for me will work for you too! If you have any other ideas/tricks you’ve found that work I’d love to hear! Comment below πŸ™‚

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