So you want an adventure dog: Part 2

Buffy enjoys an off leash adventure of backcountry skiing

A lot of us are outdoor adventurers and we want our dogs to join us in that endeavour. It’s normal, our dogs typically love the outdoors like us and so we want to bring them along. But adventure dogs don’t just happen, adventure dogs are created through a strong relationships and lots of work on foundation skills.

In the last post, we discussed how important a bomber recall is and the keys to achieving that recall. This week, we’ll go into another adventure dog foundational skill: engaging with us outside.

Do you feel like you don’t exist once you’re outside hiking with your dog? Is your dog more interested in sniffing everything than checking in with you and sticking close by? Compared to the outdoors, we’re typically pretty boring to our dogs. We aren’t full of critters, new smells, textures and wild animal scat. Therefore, we’ve got to work to get engagement from our dogs when we’re outside adventuring.

Critical steps to build engagement outdoors:

  1. Start with on leash engagement building. Yep, you read that right. You’ve got to start on leash. If you’ve got an adventure dog right now that doesn’t pay attention to you at all, it’s going to be tough to build that engagement on off-leash hikes. In fact, you’re setting yourself up for failure, so instead, work on leash for a while so that you can be near your dog and make the engagement easier for your dog.
  2. Use your highest value goodies for outdoor engagement rewards. If you want your dog to ignore all of the amazing things around them to explore, sniff, taste, you need to make it worth their while. You’re going to use those super high value goodies while on leash at first, but that doesn’t mean we can cheap out. The outdoors is exciting and stimulating, you need to battle with the wonderment of the world for your dog’s attention, so pack the best stuff you’ve got, think: boiled chicken, tripe in a squeeze tube, etc.
  3. Reward your dog for any offered check-ins. If your dog so much as looks in your direction, say “Yes!” and reward them with those super high value goodies! This is how we start to build the check-in. We teach our dogs that checking-in is worth it!
  4. Pick your moments carefully when asking for a check-in. When you are actively trying to get a check-in, start with the easy ones. That means your dog isn’t sniffing the most interesting pile of scat in the world but instead they are taking in the sights of the hike and near you. At the beginning, stop when you ask for a check in, so that they aren’t constantly getting new smells to tempt them. Say their name and give them a few seconds. If they don’t check in after 5-10 seconds, then start to make noise. DO NOT REPEAT THEIR NAME. This sets up your dog to start ignoring their name and instead respond on the 3-10th time we say it. Instead, make sounds such as kissing sounds, clicking (but not your clicker), etc. Once they check-in with you, say “Yes!” and give them those high value goodies.
  5. Practice outdoor engagement on regular walks as well. Practising this on your usual in-town walks will help you increase the likelihood of engagement in the outdoors. So bring some high value treats (not as high value as outdoors adventuring treats, but close) and reward check-ins and practice check-ins on walks. Bonus: it’ll help get you more loose leash walking too.

We’ve now covered two big foundation skills for the adventure dog: bomber recall and engagement outside. Next week, we’ll discuss another critical foundation for adventure dogs: k9 fitness.

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