Going on Hikes Safely with Your Toddler

October 17, 2015

These past few weeks, I have been hiking more with my dog and my two year old toddler.  As a professional dog trainer with Four Legged Scholars Dog Training Salt Lake City, I want dog lovers to be able to easily hike with off leash dogs and their toddlers safely!  Many things can occur on at hikes with your children that can easily create an unsafe environment.  Because toddlers don’t understand that they can be bitten and have such animated behavior, it doesn’t take much for a dangerous incident to occur and if one does it will only take seconds. My goal is to educate you so that you can avoid a dog bite from ever occurring.

When hiking in off leash areas with your toddler be aware of the following.

1.) Hike at times when the dog volume is a bit lower and it is off peak hours.  The higher the dog volume the more likely something out of the ordinary will occur.  Your toddler can easily be crowded by numerous dogs that approach your child all at once.  The higher the dog volume, the more vigilant you will need to be in reading the dogs’ behavior.  You will also have take action quickly if something goes askew.  Tanner Park in Salt Lake City is a good example of a location that can become extremely busy.

2.) Hike in areas where dogs are more spread out and where you will run into dogs more sporadically.  An awesome choice is Neff’s Canyon in Salt Lake City. Dog training can also be fun on this hike!

3.) Always supervise your toddler around dogs.

4.) Teach your toddler to not pet dogs until your he/she can be calm and attentive.    Not all dogs are kid friendly.  Of course if your toddler is going to pet any dog, your child needs to be at a point where he or she can pet the dog softly and calmly.

5.) If your toddler can talk, your child should always ask if he/she can pet any dog that he or she approaches before interacting with the dog.

5.) Your toddler should not approach any dog until he or she can approach a dog calmly.  If your toddler is not at this point it is best to redirect your toddler away from the dog or pick up your child to avoid the interaction.  Toddlers enjoy running.  Running directly toward a dog especially right toward a dog’s face is very confrontational and definitely can trigger even an obedient dog to bite.

6.) If your toddler is able to do the above, the dog that your toddler is going to pet should also be calm.  A very excitable dog is likely to jump.  The dog may not be jumping at a distance and if the dog is running fast and has jerk / quick movements it is best to pick up your child or avoid the confrontation with the dog. A jumping dog can easily knock over your child and probably has very little obedience training.

7.) Learn to read basic dog behavior.  Many owners will assume or believe that their dog is great with children and their dog may not be.  An assertive dog that may show aggression toward your child will be making himself look bigger.  The ears and tail maybe upward.  The body posture might also be stiff and the dog might show direct eye contact toward your child.  A fearful dog will be making himself look smaller.  The body posture will be more slouched. The head, tail and ears may also be down.  The dog may also avoid eye contact.  Any dog that is showing the above behavior should be avoided and could bite. It is very important to study about behavior and dog training. Salt Lake City has many sources for learning about reading dog behavior.  Here are three blog posts written by Our Salt Lake City dog training company: article 1, article 2, article 3, article 4. Learning about calming signals can also be helpful!

8.) Keep your hikes short, go at your toddlers pace, and create the hikes to be fun.  If you are honoring your toddler’s needs you toddler will be more likely to listen to you if a dangerous situation does arise with a dog.

9.) Speak up to dog owners.  If you really feel that an owner’s dog is extremely fearful or being aggressive, you have a right to assert your boundaries.  Ask the owner to call his dog and get out of the situation with your toddler as fast and as calmly as possible.

10.) If a dog is on leash, in an off leash hiking area avoid petting this dog.  An off leash dog cannot escape or move around as easily if he/she is uncomfortable.  As a result, they are more likely to get aroused very quickly and may bite if they are triggered.  The owner may also not want to be disturbed as they maybe performing obedience training with their dog as well.

11.) If you are hiking alone with your toddler, make sure your dog is well-trained.  When you are hiking it is important that you are already ahead with dog training.  Salt Lake City, has many awesome hiking areas and if your dog is not listening to you well it will be a lot to juggle your dog and your toddler at the same time.

12.) Hike with another person.  Have one person that is delegated to handle your toddler.  The other person can handle your dog especially if your dog still needs dog training.  Salt Lake City can be a safe hiking area if your dog and your toddler are both under great control.

13.) Do not have your toddler eat around unknown dogs.  Many dogs will tempted to snatch this food away from your child as they may not perform obedience well.  It is best to go off the trail or have them eat a time that no unknown dogs are around.

If you are concerned about your toddlers safety on a dog hike, please contact a professional dog trainer. There are many positive reinforcement dog trainers. Salt Lake City has many training options.

Your Turn!  We want to hear from you in a comment below!

Do you feel safe when you are hiking with your toddler?  What did you learn from the above about safety with your toddler and dogs?


Johanna Teresi, Professional Trainer and Owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC, Dog Training Salt Lake City

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  1. Scott Teresi

    Excellent list! It’s chock full of good advice. Worthy of being published all over the internet for people with toddlers and dogs!

    • fourleggedscholars

      Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it! If you ever get a dog you will have some good ideas to apply with Andrew! Hope you are doing great and love you so much!