Trail etiquette tips for hiking with your dog in Nova Scotia plus a step-by-step guide to teaching an automatic recall behaviour by dog trainer Martha Priddle.
Exploring new places and hiking out in the wild is a favoured activity with one’s dog(s). It’s important to remember that trails are a shared place for everyone to enjoy. Thus, we must follow trail rules and guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety. This blog looks at everything you need to know when Hiking with Dogs in Nova Scotia, to keep everyone safe!
With so many wilderness trails in Nova Scotia lacking official signage, many would-be hikers might feel confused or overwhelmed. We’ve put together a few general guidelines based on regulations from National Parks Canada you can follow to make everyone’s time on the trail positive.
Know your right of way!
While there are many variables to consider, yielding to others on the trail is a common courtesy when hiking with a dog. If you pass another hiker with a dog, hikers going uphill have the right of way. However, it’s essential to communicate with each other, especially if you need more clarification. Some dogs may do better with passing others, while others prefer waiting.
Stay on the trail; it is there for a reason!
Allowing our dogs to go off the path can damage and kill certain plants, animal species and ecosystems. If you must go off the trail when yielding, be mindful of where you are stepping.
Do not disturb wildlife.
It is a no-brainer that many breeds love to chase and hunt wildlife. If your dog does this, ensure they are leashed and under control. Not only does this disturb wildlife, but your dog could hurt animals or be injured depending on what they encounter.
Make yourself and your dog known.
Adding bells to your dog’s accessories will deter certain predators, alert other hikers you are coming, and give dog owners who may have their dog off-leash ample warning that you are coming, allowing them plenty of time to leash up.
Pack in, pack out!
Just because you can get compostable poop bags does not mean leaving them on the trail is acceptable. Make sure you take everything with you. Respect the land, and leave it just as you found it so others can enjoy the space as you did.
Read signage and respect rules.
If a trail says to keep your pets on a leash and under control, it says this for a reason, and no person or dog is an exception to this rule, no matter how well-behaved.
Ready to hit the trails?
Here’s one way to build an automatic behaviour where your dog returns to you anytime you have to pass another person on the trail. When teaching any new behaviours, it’s so important that we make it fun! What we often ask of our dogs is unnatural for them, so if we expect them to do it, we need to make it worthwhile.
Building an automatic recall behaviour:
First, ensure you have some treats that your dog considers high value. Treat value will vary from dog to dog, but some good bets are liver or cheese-based treats! These behaviours should always start by being taught on a leash in a low-distraction area; this way, we set the dog up for success as it can’t fail.
Step One: place a treat on the ground in front of your dog.
Step Two: as they eat it, step behind them.
Step Three: when in a low-distraction environment, most dogs will turn around to you when they finish the first treat. However, you can make a unique sound to get their attention if they don’t. When they turn to you, reward them with another treat.
Step Four: Repeat this until your dog recognizes the pattern and quickly turns back to you.
Step Five: Vary your placement. Stepping sometimes to the side, sometimes a few steps back, etc
After doing this a few times, your dog should get the idea that they always have to find and return to you for their next reward. Once they do this reliably, you can move on to the next step, making a person’s appearance the cue to turn back to you.
Step Six: Start with someone standing nearby, and play the game a few times. We want to get the dog used to the distraction of a person. If your dog already knows the pattern well, this should go smoothly!
Step Seven: Next, start with the person out of sight, place your treat in front of the dog, and move away from them. As soon as they finish eating the treat, have your helper person enter into sight—reward when your dog returns to you. If you find this difficult to time correctly, you can use a few treats on the ground, vs just one, to increase your working time. Practice this lot before moving on to the next step, where we fade the first treat.
Step Eight: To fade the treat, replace the first one with something lower value, such as a piece of kibble. Your second treat should remain as something yummy! Do this only a few times before removing the first treat completely. By now, your dog should have associated the person’s appearance as the cue to turn back to you.
Now you’re ready to hit the trails!
From here, you can gradually build the difficulty of having your helper walk around, talk, make noise etc. Transitioning from a regular leash from a long line, eventually to off-leash (if desired), and building up to more challenging environments. Remember, this is complex behaviour for your dog, and they deserve to be paid for it! You can combine this new behaviour with games like “1,2,3” and “Look at that!” to strengthen the behaviour.
Need help finding the right treat to start your trail etiquette training?
Visit us in-store, our Pet Care Experts will happily assist you in finding the right treat for when you are hiking with your dogs in Nova Scotia.