Each adventure you embark on with your dog has the potential to be fantastic. Idyllic. Instagram-worthy. Like strolling through the Shire on a warm, sunny day.
But in order to promote this harmonious, peaceful picture, here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin:
1. Adventures with dogs are often messy. And wet. And muddy.
Going in with this understanding and expectation will greatly reduce your dirt-induced stress and increase your dog's enjoyment of the experience. To mitigate this aspect of dogs on adventures, I recommend proper, mud-durable apparel for you, and appropriate drying equipment (like towels) or containment tools (like crates) for back at the car. Unless, of course, you have a super-cool and awesome dog-mobile and don't care if your dog finger-paints with mud on the back seat, in which case I think we'd be good friends ;).
2. Dogs often have a different idea of "fun" than we do. To many dogs, finding every unique smell on the trail or running helter-skelter through the brush is intoxicating; to us, stopping to allow our dog to sniff at every little stick or leaf or running hither and thither after who knows what isn't exactly what we had in mind when we left the safety of the backyard. The important thing with these competing motivations is to find a middle ground where both ends of the leash can be satisfied. Ideally, this is an understanding between you and your dog that permits them to run around unleashed to their heart's content (leash-laws permitting), but when you say "Rover, come!" they are back at your side in a split second. Leading up to this point is a lot of dedicated recall work - stay tuned for a future blog post on that! If your dog isn't able to run unleashed, teaching a consistent "check-in" behavior on-leash is a good next step.
3. Work up to it. The first time you take your dog out on an adventure, whether as a puppy or as an adult dog, don't be surprised if all of the cues your dog knows so well at home suddenly seem to be forgotten. Dogs are not great generalizers anyways, but the added distractions and allurements of the new environment complicate things even further. As you increase the level of distraction in the environment around you and your dog, you should be ready to reduce your criteria somewhat (i.e. don't expect a perfect 3 minute down-stay beside a busy trailhead when you have only been practicing in your backyard) to set your dog up for success. Increasing your quality of reinforcement is also a good idea as you start working in new places. Just because your dog works for kibble at home doesn't mean that will be reinforcing to him when there are squirrels all around! Eventually, the goal in training is to be able to reduce the frequency and the value of the reinforcers, but at first, we make sure that the reward is appropriate to the behavior we ask for.
4. Remember, adventures are about having fun for you and your dog. If either of you are struggling, take a break, take a breath, and try to find the good things your dog is doing (even if they seem very, very small) and start from there.
Stay tuned for future posts about specific skills that are useful for every canine adventurer to know to promote a safe, fun experience for everyone on the trail!