Updated: Apr 28
Spending time outdoors is a great way for you and your pup to slow down, decompress and enjoy life. This only applies, however, if you aren't a bundle of nerves! Hiking with a nervous dog can be taxing for the both of you. Below are some tips to help you both better enjoy your time in nature.
1) "No is a perfectly good answer."
I heard this phrase once in a meeting and immediately entered it into the Notes section on my phone - it's so good and applies to so many things! Part of having a dog that is wary of strangers is fending off said stranger's natural desire to pet them! Have some stock phrases ready so you don't feel pressured to always come up with something to say:
- "She's actually afraid of unfamiliar people, that's why she's getting treats right now!"
- "She needs space, we have to pretend she's got a big bubble!"
- "Sorry, she's not so good with new people."
- "You can't pet her, but it would be great if you could toss these treats on the ground."
For extra persistent folks:
- "She's actually got mange right now - we're trying to treat it!"
And for those who just won't plain listen:
- Run away! No need for apologies and explanations! It's not worth stressing you or your dog out, or risking anyone's safety.
In addition - be sure to thank the folks who ask before reaching for your dog. Not only do we want to reinforce good behavior in our pets, but in our fellow humans as well! Praise is a strong reinforcer for people! As we all know, it can be super hard to inhibit our natural desire to pet all the dogs. Anyone who takes the time to ask permission deserves some recognition!
2) Party Time
If your dog is freaked out by other hikers and dogs, a great way to help them feel better is to bring along some goodies. Get yourself a treat pouch and choose a special snack just for these occasions. Use something high value like cheese or meat. Jerky is great to take hiking since it doesn't need to be kept cool.
Anytime your pup spots a strange person or dog, go ahead and get your jerky out! Throw a little party while the scary thing passes and make sure it ends once the monster is out of sight. This way only scary things predict noms!
3) Pretend you're feeding a horse...
Wait. What? I know that sounds super weird. Sometimes when dogs are stressed they take treats a bit harder than usual. If you don't want to end up with a nip to your hand, feed your dog treats like you're feeding an apple to a horse.
If you've never tried it before, here's a cute, quick video demonstrating. If your dog tends to get a super hard mouth when they're afraid, you can even try just tossing the treats on the ground. Let's keep those fingers intact!
4) Speak softly and carry a big umbrella.
Did you know your umbrella isn't just for rain? Umbrellas are the perfect tool for fending off dogs. If you unexpectedly come across off-leash dogs, opening an umbrella is a great way to keep them away from your dog without injuring them.
Contrary to the title of this section, I actually recommend finding a small umbrella for this purpose. We're more likely to bring it along if it's easy to carry.
We tend to see citronella spray recommended for such situations, but this often does not work. Pepper spray gets suggested as well, but that can cause serious injury and since we're all dog lovers here, we don't want to cause harm!
5) Remember that distance is your friend.
Don't feel odd about getting off of the trail to give your doggo some space. Play around with the distance to see what works for them. The amount of distance it takes will vary between dogs.
You can even go so far as to research what trails tend to be busy beforehand. This way you can travel accordingly.
If you're struggling with living with a dog that needs some extra space, I recommend taking the DINOS course. This online class will help you better manage your dog, as well as provide support. Because let's face it, living with a sensitive dog can be tough! Recognize that and give yourself some much deserved recognition!
Happy hiking, friends!