Trail Obedience Skills to Teach Your Dog

There’s nothing quite like going on a hike or camping trip with your dog. In order to make the experience even more enjoyable for everyone, and to keep you and your pet safe, your dog’s obedience on the trail is a must. Read on to learn trail obedience skills to prepare you and your dog for your next outdoor adventure

Respect Dog Trail Rules

First and foremost, trail rules requiring dogs to be leashed, or prohibiting them from the trail altogether, should be observed. These rules are in effect to protect the local environment, your dog, and fellow hikers. You may be fined for disobeying rules about dogs on the trail, or open yourself up to liability should something happen to another hiker because of your dog.

Must-Know Commands for Your Dog

Your furry loved one should have some basic commands down before hitting the trail. These commands will be extremely helpful whether your dog is leashed or off leash. With colder weather looming and more time spent indoors with your furry friend, it is an especially good time to brush up on the top dog commands to know for the trail:


This is the granddaddy of all dog commands, sometimes referred to as recall. Whether you’re on the trail, at the park, or in your home, having your dog come when called is paramount. If your dog needs brushing up on recall, be sure to use the word “come” consistently. A mistake some dog parents make is using their dog’s name to get them to come. This is confusing to the dog since we often say their name for any number of reasons. It is also recommended, at least while they’re learning, not to use “come” for less-than-fun experiences. For example, having them come and then clipping their nails. 

Let’s Go

Your dog will usually know you want them to move with you once you start moving yourself. Giving them the verbal cue of “let’s go” will aid in their understanding. It’s also a collective command, something you do with your dog, so you know they will be on board. This is especially great for more timid dogs or dogs with anxiety, as it helps provide more structure and collective excitement. 


Sit is one of the first commands taught to a dog. It helps to redirect and settle your dog if they are excited and encourages them to pay attention to you. When preparing to hit the trail, have your dog sit to put on their leash and trail pack. When your dog encounters things that might excite them, like wildlife or passing hikers, a quick sit command will help bring down the enthusiasm level.

Leave It

Just walking down the street, there is plenty your dog should not be sniffing, much less trying to eat. This is just as true when on the trail. The key to this command is to say it with authority. A brusque “leave it!” and your dog will know that the chipmunk in the brush or the week-old sandwich on the trail needs to be left alone.

Stay or Wait

The stay command can be tricky. Your dog may stay for a short period of time, but then become distracted. Keep working on your stay command with positive reinforcement, including treats. A strong stay is important because it can help shield them from danger. Rattlesnakes, bobcats or coyotes may cross your path and a strong stay command could be a literal life-saver. Stay is also imperative for safety when crossing trail obstacles, like creeks, logs, rocky areas, etc. You may need your dog to stay on the other side of the obstacle while you get across safely with pack and supplies in order to then go back and get them across safely.

The main difference between “stay” and “wait” is that when in a stay, your dog should remain there until you to return to them, whereas in “wait” you can call them over to you and “release” the wait from afar. There are different applications for both, although a stay is probably the most common on the trail.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!

The key with all of these commands is repetition. Building a good foundation in your home is critical, but practicing in more stimulating environments where they tend to get distracted will make the biggest difference.

Find trails and hikes in your area with small creek crossings, non-harmful wildlife, and that are moderately trafficked in order to practice these skills in context. Or, make a whole trip of it! 

Be Sure to Respect Other Hikers

While there are a lot of self-identified “dog people” out there, not everyone feels comfortable around them. Be respectful of your fellow hikers by keeping your dog by your side as others pass. Your dog might be Captain Friendly, but don’t allow them to say hi to every passing person or dog, because you don’t know how that other dog or person will react. 

Also, be sure to pack plenty doggie bags and clean up after your pet. Imagine if everyone with a dog decided to leave their dog’s mess- it wouldn’t be pretty!

Conditioning Your Dog

Dogs are just like humans in that they need to condition and build up to bigger excursions. Even if your dog has been on plenty of long neighborhood walks, the rigors of a trail, as well as the excitement it generates, can take a lot out of your canine companion. The trail can also be rough on their paws, especially if your dog is accustomed to sidewalk strolls. That’s why we recommend starting out with shorter hikes and building up your pup’s endurance, conditioning, and pad toughness.

Prepare for Your Hike

Besides making sure your dog is fit enough for your next hike, there are a few other pre-hike considerations. 

  1. Consider a dog pack – your fur baby can carry their own water bowl and water. For longer hikes, they may need to carry other items, like food or a doggie first aid kit. Most dogs like having a job, so they will likely enjoy carrying the load.
  2. Bring plenty of water and food – all dogs will need their own water – and water bowl – for a hike. If it’s a longer hike, bring along some food for them to refuel.
  3. Choose the right trails – read up on trails before departing. Besides the length of a trail, there are other considerations for the health of your pet. Elevation gain contributes to the difficulty of a trail as much, if not more, than distance. Other trail hazards such as cliffs, crumbling trails, rushing water or wildlife, should be taken into account too.

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