Looking at Morro Bay from Cerro Alto

Joe in the Ventana Wilderness

Joe in the Ventana Wilderness
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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Trail Dog Training

This is the 3 rd posting in a series of trail dog training suggestions .
# 1 snake training video
# 2 trail dog training video
Trail dog training begins in town with simple obedience training 
( come , sit , stay . heal commands  )
My first two videos and posting of photos illustrated the potential of trail dog training . This third series l discussion is to remind the dog owner of the importance of training in baby steps --- at home  and in town with training groups . 
I started training Sierra at home and on the trail simultaneously for the first six months . Weekly I would introduce her to other dogs and people by walking her in a popular park where lots of people walk their dogs on a leash . at approximately 10 months I joined a club of dog obedience trainers and 
worked my dog twice weekly for two months . I discontinued this group training and then concentrated on developing needed skills on the trail . 
  1. Teaching the recall ( come ) command at further and further distances , leaving her in a sit and stay  position and then calling her from a distance of up to one half mile away .I know this sounds like a long distance away but it is necessary if you are to successfully to trust your dog off leash in the wilderness . Example  : 
  2. when backpacking and camped you allow your dog to go drink at a distant water way or allow your dog to go potty away from your camp area , or just encourage your dog to run for exercise after a full day of slow hiking with a heavy pack . ( See my video series # 2 on the run command ). There are many other reasons to recall from a distance  .
  3. The heal command , on the trail there are variations of this command that must be permitted on the trail , right side , left side  depending on the terrain features .( allow the dog to choose right or left side ) The close follow variation  is a must when you push through brush in snake infested country and you are wearing snake proof chaps . Note worthy My dog Sierra is trained to break the heal position when we reach a really technical trail . She will sit and wait for me to traverse the technical distance first so that she does not conflict with me and cause an accident .
  4. Stay-------your dog  when hiking in any position ( leading , following or heal ) should be taught to stop and stay whenever you stop . Your dog , even when leading 20 yards ahead can hear you stop !   
  5. Dog pack  ----- Sierra carries  a day pack every day of her life when hiking -- even in town on the street . She is allowed to run and play with her day pack but not with her backpacking pack , which is much larger . Pictured below is Sierra and her backpacking pack looking at mountain peaks in the Sierras .The third photo below Sierra is wearing her day pack while jumping off a bolder during a day hike . The middle shot is Sierra training at a park , she also has hurdles at home to jump on command .
  6. Note : start a puppy with a puppy size pack , this helps develop the dog develop a sense of trail hiking related to work / duty responsibility . 
Above are but a few basic command skills that are taught at home and applied and modified on the trail . Some other skills are as follows
  •  :scent training
  • locating trails that I can't find 
  • advising me of predator animals stalking in the chaparral  including snakes
  • advising me of other hikers approaching from a distance 
  • pointing out non predator game ( makes photography easier )
  • breaking trail --- leading in front of me.
  •  drinking water on command 
  • standing guard on command 
  • pulling a cart and dragging a bag , pulling me on command 
  • acting as a support or trekking pole support
The above are many of the skill sets a trail ideally should know to make hiking and backpacking
more fun and safer for the dog owner hiker .I know that the training mission seems very long and complicated but it is fun when approached in baby steps . Don't become frustrated or expect too much on a daily basis , be patient . " Go slow like a pro , not fast like an ass . " 
I am always open to additional skill suggestions from experienced hikers with well trained dogs . 

  • food -- an active dog needs good nourishment -- I supplement my dog's dry food diet daily with eggs , vegetables and raw meat . I also add fat to her diet .
  • strength training ----- before every backpacking trip , I train Sierra by adding  weight to her day pack , three times a week over a 4 to 5 week period before a trip . I add extra weight in 4 lbs .increments with 2 lb dumbbells  . by the end of the training period she is able to jump up onto my Jeep with a full load of 20 lbs. after her day hike .
Frequently asked questions :
Q. How do you train a dog to alert you of a predator animal ?
A. When introducing your dog to trail life the prey instinct readily develops as the dog will bark at all wild life . you need to discourage the barking and growling at non predator animals using a command quiet and at the same time holding the dog's mouth closed  Praise the dogs barking when you are reasonably sure that the barking is at a predator , eg .mountain lion , bear , coyote . Note that this kind of training requires you hike alone with your dog . Pay close attention to sounds , look and stare in the direction of your dog's focus .Be patient and you will see the result faster than you  expected . The fasted results I noted in this training occurred  when my dog was off leash . Be aware dogs will chase non predator as well as predator wild life .The recall response  must be fast and praise / reward or verbal discipline must be fast as well .  As the dog's skills improve you will be amazed at how accurate the predator warnings become . I now frequently see predators run from the chaparral or landscape .
Q. how do you teach a dog to find a trail that is difficult to see ?
A. I trained Sierra on Cerro Alto on a trail that is seldom used . I would lead her off trail on a leash  and then command her " trail on trail " while leading her back to the trail . This training was done in short training sessions over a period of time and soon my dog could work successfully off leash . Prior to training to find the trail I did some basic scent training at home and on trail . Sierra can now find a trail when we have missed and have hiked off trail for some distance . Human scent on a trail can last for many hours and sometime days . This skill is very useful and rewarding to observe .
I found the book Tracking Dog by Glen Johnson helpful in understanding scent training .
Q. What brand of dog pack do you use ?
A. I have found that that trying the cheapest pack is a mistake , I use Ruff Wear Packs .
Q. How about dog shoes ?
A. Sierra hikes trails daily , her pads are well thickened and thus far do not need shoes , however when backpacking she carries shoes .
Q. Does your dog need a jacket in cold climate ?
Q I am sure all dogs handle the cold differently , but Sierra loves the cold . Sierra is a house dog but as a daily hiker in California , she is exposed to rain and cold weather for several hours daily during the winter months . thus , she handles the cols very well . at night when tent sleeping with temperatures below freezing , she wears a thin light weight sweater , just enough to keep her body heat insulated .See photo below .
If Sierra is wet at bedtime I squeeze off excess water from her body with a small wash rag before allowing her to enter the tent .
Note I carry a two person Big Agnas tent .Note , we have been locked down for 32 + hours in a storm--- rain and snow . We ventured outside only as necessary . Under these conditions , I did cover her with a rain jacket at night . However when traveling in the rain and snow , she wears nothing .

I hope that these three series are of some help in training your 
dog for the duties of trail life . If you have any questions about 
trail dog training , contact me at
Include your phone number as often verbal conservation 
is easier than written communication .

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