Sunday, March 21, 2010
The Benefits of Group Off-Leash Hikes
Off-leash hikes are not only a good way to exercise dogs, but also a great way to socialize dogs with each other. Shy dogs in particular can benefit from being around other dogs, but in a less threatening way than in a dog park, where a shy dog might feel cornered or overwhelmed. On a group off-leash hike, the dogs are focused on walking and exploring the environment, and they can choose to interact with the other dogs when they feel like it.
I have also noticed that off-leash hikes are good for dogs that tend to play too rough with other dogs when they are in a static environment like a dog park or someone's yard. During a hike, the dogs cannot stop and play in one spot for too long, or they will be left behind. So they tend to play a little, and then run along to catch up with the rest of the pack. This gives them a natural break from their play.
Off-leash hikes are also great for draining the energy of young hyper dogs. The humans and mellower dogs can walk in a straight line, while the energetic dogs can run back and forth and tire themselves out! Leashed walks can be fun too, and are a good way to train your dogs, but if you have multiple dogs with different energy levels, you may find it hard to satisfy all the dogs' needs with a leashed walk.
For those of you who are worried that your dog might run off and not come back if you let him off leash, I would definitely recommend that you practice your recalls beforehand. However I do find that dogs tend to stick with the pack during off-leash hikes, even dogs that are not used to being off-leash. Of course you'll want to hike in an area that is fairly safe, but you might be surprised to see your dog checking in with you every few minutes to make sure he hasn't lost you. To reinforce that behavior, reward your dog with treats and praise when she comes back to you, and then send her off to play again.
Oahu has a limited number of trails where dogs are allowed, but it's definitely worth finding a few in your area. Happy Trails!
In the short video clip below, you'll see various dogs hiking off leash with each other. When I board new dogs at my house, I like to take them all for a hike together before putting them in the yard or house together. It's a low pressure way for them all to get to know each other.