From Couch Potato to Adventure Pup: Training Your Dog for Outdoor Activities

Posted by Jackie Ly on

dog and owner walking in the forest

Table of Contents


Dogs make the best adventure partners. There's nothing wrong with playing indoors, but sometimes, you want to bring your furry companion outside and include them in your adventure plans! 

Dogs always want to tag along, but for their own safety and our peace of mind, they need some training first. A well-trained dog is a happy and safe dog. You want them to fully enjoy the experience, so you need to equip them with proper training, mindset, and equipment.

Here's how to prepare your dog for your next outdoor trip.

Training Your Dog for Outdoor Activities

Understand your dog's individual characteristics (age, breed, size)

Each dog has its own distinct personality and physical abilities, that's why it's important to take your dog's unique traits into account when you start training. 

Some breeds are inherently more suited to vigorous outdoor activities, whereas others may prefer a leisurely stroll. But all dogs love to be with their humans, always. It's only a matter of introducing them to the things you enjoy so they can become familiar and pick up manners about it.

For instance, shih tzus, a popular dog, get hot easily and cannot go on long or vigorous walks, but you can take them outside in the autumn when the temperature is cooler, and they can be trained to behave while being carried in a dog carrier backpack on your chest or back.

All dogs can be outdoor companions, it’s just a matter of proper training and choosing appropriate places and time to go with them.

Basic obedience training 

Solid basic obedience training is the key to making your dog not just well-behaved but safe when you go outdoors. 

Commands like ‘sit’,’stay’, ‘come’, ‘heel’, and ‘leave it’ are important for your dog's safety and your peace of mind while outdoors. These commands help you handle your dog when they encounter distractions and hazards in the wild, such as wildlife or unexpected environmental changes.

Mastering leash skills

Leash skills are essential especially in locations where dogs are required to be leashed. Loose leash walking helps you keep your dog under control.

When teaching your dog loose leash walking, begin in a quiet location, such as within your house or in the backyard. Train your dog to walk gently beside you without yanking on the leash.  Only start distraction training when your dog is happily walking at your pace. Add distractions one at a time, beginning with little diversions such as someone walking in the distance.

Then, gradually increase the distractions until your dog can manage animals crossing your route or other people passing by. You can start practising in your neighbourhood or local park, then to more challenging situations such as busy streets or nature trails.

This not only makes the walk more fun for both of you, but it also guarantees your dog's safety and shows respect to other people.

Improve their physical endurance and fitness

You can't expect your dog to suddenly have good stamina while you're on the trip. You have to gradually build their physical endurance. This helps them get accustomed to strenuous walks and climbs, improving their physical strength and stamina. 

Start off with short walks, then slowly increase the duration and intensity, like going up and down slopes, stairs, or hilly streets outside. Pay attention to how your dog reacts to increased activity, and be aware of their limitations.

Regular exercise promotes both physical fitness and mental health, making your dog more versatile and resilient.

Improve their mental fitness

Dogs require mental stimulation to develop their intelligence and trail skills. Puzzle toys, feeder balls, licky mats, and wading pools are some of the popular toys that could enhance your dog's mental health. You can also go on scent walks, which are slower-paced walks where you let your dog sniff as much as they want. This scent walk can be part of their leash training: they wait for permission to start sniffing. When the sniff break is done, they should pay attention and walk at your pace again. 

Improve their socialisation skills

A well-socialised dog is more confident and less anxious in unfamiliar surroundings. Start exposing your dog to various sights, sounds, and smells that they may encounter on outdoor trips. This can include other animals, people, vehicles, and elements of nature such as water, rocks, and dense greenery.

The more different experiences your dog gets, the better prepared they will be to deal with the unpredictable nature of outdoor adventures.

Teach pace cues and focus

Walking your dog along the sidewalk is very different from walking between trees or hiking on sloping/uneven terrain. With these extra obstacles, your two legs might have difficulty keeping up with your dog's legs. 

That's where pace cues come to rescue you. Use a cue to tell your dog to slow down, like “easy” or “whoa”, which can be helpful while dealing with tough terrain. On the other hand, a cue like “let's go” or “mush” can tell your dog to speed up. Teach these cues on your everyday walks by giving the cue and then modifying your pace. Don't forget to reward your dog when they learn to keep up with you and wait for you

Similarly, start to improve your dog’s focus as well. Practice focus work with your dog to help him cope with distractions when you're already outside. You can use the cue “watch me” when your dog makes eye contact with you, and “touch” when your dog puts their nose into the palm of your hand. These behaviours give you control over where your dog looks. 

For example, you may want to keep your dog close and not make eye contact with another animal you meet in the trail, or you want your dog to stay calm and focused when you meet a reactive dog on the street. 

Familiarise your dog with outdoor gear

Introduce your dog to all the equipment needed for outdoor trips, such as harnesses, backpacks, life vests, and booties. Start by letting them wear the gear for a short amount of time at home before slowly increasing the duration.

Make sure the gear fits comfortably and does not create discomfort or limitation of movement.

If possible, simulate the outdoor experience

Before engaging in any outdoor activity with your dog, try to simulate the outdoor experience. By recreating outside elements in a controlled environment, such as a backyard or a designated play area, will help your dog get acquainted to varied stimuli such as sights, sounds, and scents.

Take them to nearby places similar to where you want to go, with and without other people. This pre-exposure helps reduce anxiety or overexcitement when entering new surroundings. It's an excellent opportunity to reinforce commands, leash manners, and appropriate behaviour, resulting in a more enjoyable outdoor experience for both you and your dog.

Plan their meals (to avoid canine bloat)

Feeding your dog right before or within an hour of vigorous exercise could be harmful for them. 

Canine bloat, also known as gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV), happens when the dog's stomach dilates, causing gas to build up and potentially cutting off blood supply to the intestines. It is extremely painful and can result in death within a few hours. It is more common in large breed dogs, who happen to be the dogs with plenty of energy, and owners think they can do vigorous exercise whenever. 

Energy and blood are directed to working muscles during and immediately following exercise, diverting them away from the digestive system. It is recommended to allow at least an hour before and after exercise before feeding a larger meal. 

Feeding high protein snacks for your dog on the trip will help keep their energy levels up and help with training, but keep them to a minimum, and establish meal times just the same as when you’re home.

Make time every day

It's true that a five-minute walk is better than no walk at all, but if you intend to take your dog on a day trek or a longer trip, they, like you, must prepare. You'll need to devote more time and patience to your dog each day. 

Tracey Hagan of Pawsitive Purpose Dog Training claims that the mental activities take less work on your side because you can leave them with a reward dispenser or other puzzle toy. It’s physical training that takes longer. Strive to engage in physical activity a couple times per day. Consider it a workout for you and your dog in preparation for future travels.

Earn their trust

If your dog trusts you, they will practically follow you anywhere. However, trust must work both ways, and it is developed through experience and time. Trust also extends to your confidence in yourself and your abilities, as certain sections are rather technical, and they're wearing a dog climbing harness and are on a rope. 

You have to make sure you can look after yourself as well as your dog.

When you want to start an adventurous lifestyle with your dog, start slowly and do not place the both of you in situations you can't manage.

Never skip post-adventure care

After every walk in the brush, take time to thoroughly check your dog for ticks, wounds, or any signs of discomfort. Dogs can ignore, hide, or secretly lick wounds, so check their paws, ears, tail, everywhere a small wound might go unnoticed. 

Provide a comfortable place for them to rest and recover. Pay attention to their dietary requirements and hydration, especially after a strenuous activity. Regular grooming after outdoor trips helps remove any dirt, burrs, or pests that may have attached to your dog.

As you go on outdoor adventures with your dog, keep in mind that proper training is essential for a happy and enjoyable experience. By taking the time to understand your dog's needs, practising basic commands, and building their mental and physical endurance, you've set up a foundation for successful adventures! Here's to many more safe and fun travels with your well-prepared, adventure-ready dog.

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