A Dog's Eye View: Training trail etiquette

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Laura Tyler

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about proper trail etiquette for dogs. Read the first part of the series here.

In the first article of my “Too close for comfort” series, I talked about the interactions of two dogs meeting in close proximity. Snowy sidewalks and trails are congested this time of year, so it makes moving out of the way difficult for people and dogs. Here are some training tips for shy or fearful dogs as well as the social butterfly dog who thinks all dogs should be friends.

For those lucky people who live with a social butterfly type of dog, a quick and easy way to distract him while you walk past other people and dogs on the trail is to keep some treats in your pocket. The only time the treats should come out of your pocket is when you need to move by another dog on the trail. Take up the slack on the leash so that your dog is close enough to take food from your hand, and use those treats to distract your extra-friendly pooch until you are past a nervous or fearful dog. Once you’ve passed the other dog, tell your dog what a marvelous companion he is, reward him with the treats in your hand and continue at your usual pace.  

The real training should start at home with no distractions. Put a leash on your dog and practice walking around your living area while keeping your dog’s attention focused on you. (If you can’t make it work in the house, you’re out of luck on the trail.) You can do this training in short sessions a few times each day. Right before meal time is perfect because your dog is hungry and can earn part of his meal by staying by your side as you walk around the house. Rehearsing this focused behavior inside without distractions is the best way to teach your dog, and it will give you a chance to practice your timing. After several successful training sessions at home, you might be ready to take your training outside. Be sure to use high-value rewards — treats that your dog will do anything to get. Area pet supply stores have a variety of nutritious and yummy training treats.  

For shy or reactive dogs, training is a must. Using a red bandana tied around your dog’s neck serves as a visual cue to oncoming people to give you and your dog some space. If you can move off the trail and create more space, do so. Teach your dog the same attention work that the friendly and rambunctious dog needs to learn. The most important thing to remember when training a reactive or fearful dog is to keep calm because your dog will sense any anxiety, which will fuel his reaction. You need to stay calm, in control and focused on your dog, which will reduce tension. Teach your dog that keeping his eyes on you and staying close to you are safe.

If all dogs and owners practice this training on daily walks, the trails soon will become the opportunity for relaxation we all treasure.

Total Teamwork Training’s red bandana project also seeks to continue to educate the public that not all dogs are approachable or confident in the presence of other dogs or people. Learn more about the program at www.totalteamworktraining.com, and when you’re out on the trail, watch for dogs with red bandanas.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado

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