The Life and Training of a Hiking Dog
Some updates from the life and training of a hiking dog…
Sylvia and Brian continue to work molding expedition sled dog/surf dog Fitz Roy into a companion suitable for hiking. Fitz is intelligent, energetic and eager to please. But he is also very excitable (that’s the sled dog in him) and sometimes distrustful of others (that’s the guard dog in him.)
We’re lucky to have a large number of resources around us to help with the transformation.
The most important asset we have is a fenced in yard. When Sylvia and I bought our house nearly a decade ago we questioned whether having a fence was even worth it; fences need to be maintained like anything else. But the large fenced in area of our yard has been a godsend for us with Fitz, the perfect place for him to run, play and be just a dog.
Almost much as owner Brian enjoys churros
One of things that being adopted by Fitz has taught us is how very busy our suburban community is. We’d been used to living in close proximity to hundreds of other people, and to us, the neighborhood seemed very quiet, especially after hours.
Quiet, that is, until you have an excitable dog by your side. The absolute biggest challenge with training an excitable dog is how to handle sudden, surprise encounters with people and things. A walk around the block in our neighborhood will almost always afford us several ‘training opportunities’. Cars pull up, doors open, gates are flung wide, children and unleashed dogs come running towards us, car horns blow, alarms go off, firecrackers or gunshots echo (yep, it’s Carolinas)…often several of these happen at the same time.
The yard gives us a sort of safe haven where we can train Fitz in safety and without distraction. We have great privacy in the back of our house, and several of our neighbors have dogs. Fitz has so far respected the fence and has not tried to leap over or tunnel under (though it helps if you remember to close the gate.)
Another useful training area is the Neuse River Greenway. Any time we want we can head to the Greenway and see people, animals and situations of all sorts – walkers, joggers, bikers, people with dogs, children and family groups, plus deer, squirrels, birds and other things Fitz loves to chase.
We have found that actual trail hiking with Fitz is difficult. This is partly because it is simply difficult to manage a headstrong animal on a leash through rough terrain, and partly because narrow, treed in trails often allow us little time or room to prepare when a stranger suddenly appears.
The Greenway’s wide, level footway is ideal for walking, and the wide margins of the trail – deliberately kept clear of brush for security reasons – allow us many places where we can pull Fitz to the side of the road, get him into a calm state and allow him to simply watch people and dogs pass by as a spectator from a respectful distance until he is ready to move. Plus it’s a short walk from our door!
It is VERY helpful when the other dog owners we encounter keep their pets on a leash as well…unfortunately, we see dogs running around off leash virtually everywhere we go. We are mystified as to why this is, the rules could not be clearer, and an unleashed dog is an accident waiting to happen.
Yet another very helpful resource is the local area off-leash dog parks, aka Baaaaaaahk Paaaaaahks as we would say in Boston. We often note that much of Fitz’s insecurity seems to come directly from the frustration of being constrained by the leash. Often when we encounter another dog or person, Fitz seems to be annoyed or frightened by the fact that he’s not free to advance or retreat as he wishes. In the end he will have learn to outsource his security and well being entirely to us, his guardians, but that has yet to happen.
At the dog parks he can run around free and play with his canine companions. We have noted that when he is free to run about as he please, Fitz has no issues at all getting along with other dogs, and while he is shy around people, is generally very friendly and approachable.
It’s a huge mental boost for both him and us to be at the dog park – he gets to run around free and burn off energy, and we get to see him happy and well adjusted.
We also love the wide open, rolling dells of Wake Forest’s Joyner Park. It’s a great place to stroll along, and the wide footpaths and open terrain are ideal of excitable dogs.
With patience and the help of our local resources we hope to have Fitz ready for hiking by next year, or perhaps with luck by the fall hiking season. We hope every dog and dog owning human is as fortunate as we are to have good resources like this.