6 Tips for Training Your Dog for Outdoor Adventures

Dog sleeps outdoors

Dogs make the ultimate adventure companions.

As owners, it’s our responsibility to ensure their mental and physical fitness aligns with the demands of our outdoor pursuits, whether that be backpacking, camping or hiking. If you’re new to adventuring with your dog, these six tips will help you safely enjoy the outdoors together.  

Assess Your Dog 

Dog running in the snow

Whether jogging at the park, paddling for an afternoon or going on a multi-day camping trip, outdoor adventure looks different for every dog. Before taking your pup out, factors including breed, size, temperament and obedience level should all be considered. “If you have a stocky, snoring English bulldog or a fragile teacup Yorkie, you probably know he or she typically isn’t built for portaging, and it could even be dangerous,” says Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, veterinary medical advisor for Rover, though she notes that there could be exceptions.

Like humans, dogs with a baseline level of fitness and athleticism will likely excel at outdoor adventures. Water-loving dog breeds, like golden and labrador retrievers, are more likely to want to join you for a kayak ride, while high-energy and athletic breeds like Jack Russell terriers and Australian Shepherds will have the natural stamina and stature for hiking. Age and pre-existing conditions should also be considered, according to Greenstein. “Dogs who are very young or very old, have mobility issues, allergies, cardiovascular or respiratory conditions or very heavy or sparse coats may find the great outdoors particularly challenging.” Before embarking on an outdoor pursuit, visit your family vet for an overall health check and to make sure their vaccines, parasite and tick prevention are up-to-date. 

Socialize Your Dog 

Hiking with dogs
Heidi Dummler

Socializing your dog is crucial for building confidence and familiarizing them with various stimuli encountered during outdoor adventures, including sights, sounds, textures, other people and animals. Helpful strategies include playing recordings of noises like birds chirping or car horns in a controlled setting, like your home or backyard.

Arranging playdates with other well-behaved dogs helps develop appropriate social skills and manners. “[But] never flood an animal with extremes of new stimuli or anything that could risk triggering a fear response,” says Greenstein. “Use calming words and treats, slowly get them used to unfamiliar sounds or people, and introduce novel experiences one at a time. Reward them profusely for each new stimulus they encounter and seem to tolerate.”  

Build Their Endurance  

A dog rests in the shade
Brad Pattison

Like humans, dogs new to hiking will need time to build their physical endurance. Start with short walks and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the exercise, paying close attention to your dog’s body language and signs of physical exhaustion. Brad Pattison, founder and owner of Hustle Up Dog Training and Hustle Up Dog Trainer Academy, suggests stopping frequently to see how quickly your dog lays down. “If it’s immediate, they need to rest and slow the heart rate. Resting in shade, cool ground cover or wading through a cool stream is helpful to the dog during a tiring hike.” Other signs of physical exhaustion to look out for include faded or gummy, thick white lines on the dog’s tongue and a low-hanging head. 

Get Them Used To Outdoor Gear 

George in Outdoor Gear
Sukh Jhangri

Before heading out on your adventure, familiarize your dog with the gear you’ll be using, whether it’s a harness, raincoat or boots for rough terrain. Since wearing clothes and shoes may feel unnatural to dogs, it’s essential to gradually acclimate them. For example, when introducing boots, Pattison recommends putting the boots on one foot at a time, leaving them on for a few minutes before removing them. Slowly increase the duration and number of boots worn until your dog is comfortable wearing all four. “Extend walking and running to the point the dog becomes used to the boots, like a second skin.” During warmer months, however, Pattison cautions against putting boots on your dog. “Dogs sweat through their feet and need the breathability to help stay cool.”  

Don’t Overlook Mental Stimulation 

Dog hiking

“It should come as no surprise that mental stimulation plays a huge part in a dog’s success in undertaking outdoor pursuits,” says Greenstein. Other than promoting physical health, regular exercise also provides mental stimulation for dogs, keeping their minds engaged and preventing boredom, restlessness and frustration.

Budgeting time for activities such as swimming in the lake, playing fetch along the shoreline and exploring the forest helps expel excess energy before quieter moments by the campfire or during a canoe trip when dogs need to remain calm. This approach ensures balanced behaviour throughout the adventure, reducing the likelihood of your dog engaging in risky behaviours that could result in accidents or injuries. 

Simulate the Experience 

Dog cools down in stream
Brad Pattison

To help reduce the anxiety and stress your dog might experience during an outdoor pursuit, simulate the experience at home beforehand. For instance, if you’re planning a paddling adventure, introduce your dog to the canoe while it’s on land with a cushion or yoga mat inside to minimize slipping. “Rock the canoe now back and forth, teaching the dog about the type of movement it will encounter while on the water,” says Pattison. Then continue by practicing in shallow water, allowing your dog to become accustomed to the sensation of being on the water, gradually increasing the distance and duration. “The next step is to bang the paddle against the canoe to teach the dog about the types of sounds and vibrations which may startle the dog.” Throughout, use treats and praise to reassure your dog and help them associate the movements and sounds with positive experiences.