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Reactive Dog Care

Choosing a Trail to Hike with Your Dog (Reactivity Edition)

Want to go hiking with your dog, but your dog is still working on behavior modification to reduce reactive behaviors? Follow these guidelines to find the perfect trail for you and your pup. 

1. Choose a trail with leash requirements

When choosing a trail to hike with your dog who struggles with reactivity, it is highly recommended to choose a trail with leash requirements. While this does not guarantee that all dogs you encounter will be on a leash, it does reduce the number of dogs off-leash.

And more maintained/monitored trails are more likely to have leash laws enforced. Typically national parks and state parks have leash regulations. Most national forests and BLM areas don’t, but regulations vary, so check individual trails ahead of time. 

2. Choose Wider Trails

Wide trails give you more space to pass other dogs and people. And if you live with a reactive dog, you understand how important distance from a trigger is in reducing reactive behaviors.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of increased distance from a trigger resulting in reduce reactivity, take a moment to read one of the following blog posts:

So how do you find wider trails? Typically, trails with more elevation change have a higher chance of having narrow, winding sections. So choose a flatter trail.

Find a more maintained trail that is not narrow due to the overgrowth of the underbrush. Consider trails that are multi-purpose, as hiking-only trails do not need to be as wide as trails that accommodate horses or ATVs, or other uses. BUT if you are choosing a trail with horses and ATVs, make sure you are aware of your surroundings and can keep your dog below threshold while other users pass.

If your trail narrows unexpectedly, have a plan for where you can step off of the trail to allow others to pass if you need to get more distance when passing other trail users.

3. Consider Hiking on Quiet Roads

One great option if you are looking for wider trails is to consider quiet roads. There are many remote roads, like forest service roads, that see very small amounts of vehicle traffic and can be a great place to walk a dog. Just make sure that you keep an eye out for vehicles and are wearing gear that is visible to cars.

4. Hike Early or Late to Avoid Crowds

If you get up early or stay up late, chances are you can find some time when the trails are less busy. Just make sure that if you chose to hike late, you are prepared for when the sun sets. Bring a headlamp or flashlight so you can light your way if you misjudge and your hike ends up taking longer than you expected.

5. Drive Further and Skip the Viewpoint

The further you get from a city or metro area, the more likely you are to have the trails to yourself. And if you don’t mind hiking a trail with less scenic viewpoints and destinations, there are plenty of low-traffic trails to choose from.

Here in Minnesota, I enjoy hiking along the North Shore. But if you hike at any of the popular state parks, you definitely need to be ready to share the trails (unless you are hiking in rain or snow). If you move away from the state parks and Lake Superior Shoreline into Superior National Forest, you can find many trails where you will only pass a handful of people during a full day of hiking.

You might not have as many views of Lake Superior or waterfalls, but the beauty of the forest is still worth exploring. You might even enjoy it more as you don’t have to spend as much time helping your dog navigate triggers and can instead just relax and stroll down the trail.

Find a Trail, then Get Out and Hike

The tips above can help you find a trail that both you and your dog can enjoy. But wherever you hike, always keep working on good behavior modification to reduce your dog’s reactive behavior and help your dog live a less stressful life. I recommend using the CARE protocol to help your reactive dog.

And don’t forget to advocate for your dog on the trail and follow good hiking dog etiquette.

Want to read more about hiking with a dog who has reactive behaviors? Long Haul Trekkers has some great articles. Just be aware that the blogger at Long Haul Trekkers uses balanced training, which is different from the positive reinforcement-based training that the CARE protocol follows.

Train2Behave.com also has a good article on where to walk a reactive dog.

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