This article is from the Hiking/Backpacking With Canines, by Terri Watson with numerous contributions by others.
Although there certainly are trails that are relatively obstacle free,
my experience in the Cascades, outside of the National Park areas, are
that most trails will have at least a few challenges. Hiking,
particularly on less traveled trails, is the best practical
application of agility training that I have ever encountered. On a
recent early-season hike up Robinson Creek in the Pasayten Wilderness,
we encountered numerous fallen trees across the path, snow that would
give underfoot - dropping the fallee by up to four feet, and a wooden
bridge that was washed out due to racing high water (spring melt) in
the creek. For those that choose to go off-trail (where allowed) the
list is even longer.
If you're planning to attempt these kinds of hikes, you should have a
dog that is very confident and trusts and follows your commands.
Log-bridges are common in my area. This is where a large log spans a
creek, usually with a hand-rail on one-side. The top of the log has
been hewn off so that the surface is relatively flat. Since some of
these may be many feet above the water they cross, your dog may or may
not be aprehensive. In our hiking, we generally cross a number of
"natural" log-bridges, ie, ones with no handrail and no level surface.
Tika takes these in stride, sometimes I will point and give the
agility command "bridge" if there are multiple choices and I want her
to take a certain one. This is one of a few cases where I take her
off-leash to negotiate an obstacle. This is typically done with a
companion going ahead and then standing at the other side waiting.
Then Tika crosses and then myself. In cases where I am concerned with
the risk of her falling (she is typically more surefooted than I on
such crossings), I do the following: I attach the leash to her collar
and tighten the collar one notch so that it won't slip off. (The leash
is usually attached to a loop on the back of the harness pad.) This is
because for my particular pad, the loop is not in a good place for
controlling her. I remove her booties to give her feet a better
purchase. I remove the pack, leaving only the harness pad, so she can
move naturally and won't have additional weight or bulk to deal with
if she should fall in a creek or into a hole. I crawl across with her,
holding her harness and ready to catch her if she slips. The reason I
crawl or slide along in these cases is that if I were standing I would
not be able to balance well enough if she suddenly fell. (Of course,
one can't really recomend doing these things. I'm just relating my
experiences.) For stream crossings that the dog can safely swim or
wade through, I remove the pack and booties if it's deep enough to
Other obstacles are logs or downed trees that the dog must go over,
around, under or in some cases all of the above! Again, I take the
leash off of Tika so that it won't get caught as she works her way
through. Generally she picks her on path, but in some cases if I see
something better, or she gets stuck, I will command "back" and then
point another way with an "over" or "tunnel" command. The "stay"
command is invaluable here, if she gets in a tight spot, or the pack
catches on something she can't free - then a "stay" will keep her calm
and still until I solve the problem. Last resort is to pick her up and
hand her to someone on the far side.