Raising your puppy to enjoy hiking with you takes some early work. photo by Jodi Schneider
Raising your puppy to enjoy hiking with you takes some early work. photo by Jodi Schneider
You’ve finally done it. After months of dreaming, you finally made the decision to take the plunge and bring home your own little bundle of furry joy. Now that it’s warming and heading towards summer you can’t wait to hit the trails with your new pup and introduce him to a life of adventure.

However, since puppies don’t typically finish their initial series of inoculations at the veterinarian until they’re 16 weeks old, there’s time for your little pooch to learn basic training before going on that fun hike.

Puppies are vulnerable to several diseases that can be caught from exposure to other dogs, their feces and urine, and even mosquitos, before their shots are finished.

You also need to take into consideration your pup’s age, size, breed, and health before you start going on those big adventures.

During your pup’s first year of life his limbs will grow longer. While your pup is still growing they are also at risk for growth plate injuries.

A puppy is a baby, so you will need to take it slow as you introduce him to hiking. If you want to turn your young pooch into an adventure dog, prepare for hiking by training him.

Start with 10-minute walks on flat ground. As they get older, increase the length and difficulty of their walks. Not only do they need to build up the muscles to carry them, their paws need to adjust to the wear from hiking long distances or over rough terrain

Before you head out on the perfect trail with your eager pooch, it’s worth spending some time on a few commands that could potentially keep your furry friend out of hot water. This will give you something to focus on also, so you are not tempted to push him too far too fast.

The most important lesson that you can teach your puppy before taking him hiking is recall.

Learning to come when called, or recall to you, is one of the most important skills your dog can learn. But teaching a recall can be challenging, as dogs find so much of the world so interesting. Each time we ask our dog to come to us, we’re asking him to stop what he’s doing.

That means turning away from other interesting smells, dogs, and food, to come to us.

There are lots of cool finds on hiking trails — sticks, leaves, abandoned snack food, poop, dead animals — some of which can make your dog sick if he’s not trained to recall.

Most puppies will come to you whenever you decide to walk away because they instinctively follow you. Making this a reliable response usually takes months of consistency and positive training.

You need to perfect the command by practicing in different locations and with different levels of distractions. When you are backpacking, you need your dog to respond reliably to recall in any number of different situations. It’s a matter of safety.

Practice recall every day until your dog responds to your whistle or call, even in high-distraction areas.

If you haven’t quite perfected recall, it’s not the end of the world. Just keep your pooch on a long line. Long leashes allow your pup to explore, but you still have them attached. It’s handy, because you can work on recall but don’t have the worry if they choose to ignore you.

When training your pup make sure you teach him the “stop” command. It’s also important on hikes in the wilderness. This means that when you say the word, he’ll immediately pause and turn stone still. This command is useful in dangerous situations when your dog’s movement could mean the difference between getting home safely and taking a snake bite to the face, among other things.

However, you can’t teach a dog to love the outdoors without ever letting him step off the front porch. Practice the real thing by bringing your puppy with you on short trips to the outdoors after he has had all his shots. Introduce him to strange sights and sounds, if he is a small breed you can even carry him.

As your puppy approaches a year of age, you can begin taking them on shorter “real hikes.” The general time limit still applies, but the older your puppy, the farther you can go.

A 12-month-old puppy can hike around 60 minutes at a time, which is usually enough to cover 2-3 miles.

Remember to take frequent breaks and bring water, even if your dog doesn’t seem tired, and look for signs that they’ve hiked too far. Aim to stop long before that point.