Saturday, September 1, 2012

How to speak canine on the day hiking trail

Kneel next to a dog to say "Hi!"
Though dogs and humans get along quite well as far as animal species goes, we do speak different “languages.” When on the trail, you don’t want to send your family dog – or someone else’s – the wrong message simply because you’re not fluent in canine.

Here’s a primer of key “words” you and your children should know when with a dog:
g “Hi!” – Kneeling or bending slightly at the waist, hold your hand out, palm up, to let it sniff you. This is useful when coming up another hiker’s dog.
g “I like you.” – Squint when grinning at a dog. When dogs squint, lay their ears, back wag their tail low and rapidly, and grin (even if baring teeth), they’re saying “You’re my friend.”
g “I don’t want to fight.” – Partially face the dog by turning your shoulder to it, looking down and slowly moving away in a curved direction. A dog is ready to rumble when its head is low and the weight forward (as if ready to pounce), its eyes remain on you, teeth are bared, tail is high, and ears are forward. Dogs typically interpret curved movement as nonconfrontational.
g “I’m not a threat.” – Yawn, look away and back away slowly. If a dog is trying to determine if you’re a threat or not, its tail will go up and remain still, its ears will go up and forward, and it may hold its breath.
g “It’s all right.” – Pet your dog and yawn with it, showing there’s nothing to fear. Dogs often yawn when they are anxious and desire your soothing. Frightened dogs will tuck their tails between their legs, squint or blink a lot, and curve their back.
g “Give me some time to myself.” – If you need time alone, say to check out the map, turn around to let your dog know you need to “sort things out.” When dogs are a bit confused or frustrated they’ll turn away from you.
g “Stay away from that.” – Stand between the dog and the object (such your backpack on the ground during a rest stop) you want it to stay away from. By doing this, you’re herding the dog away from the object, just as they would do to one another in a pack.
g “You’ve done well!” – Kneel next to the dog and pet the back of its head down to its upper back.
g “Go over there.” – Point to where you want the dog to sit and lay.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.