Helping Your Dog Become a Perfect Outdoor Companion

We often get questions on how to get that “Durango Dog,” which is a dog that can hike, bike, climb, and camp with you while staying well behaved. There’s nothing better than having a canine adventure companion, but where do you start? As we go over beginning training tips and theories, keep in mind that this type of training requires a good bit of time investment, but it is something that will most definitely pay off!

When we take our dogs into the wilderness with us, we’re asking a several things of them: stay with us, come when called, and stay out of trouble. From your dog’s perspective, there is a lot more going on! They’re hearing the following:

  • Do not engage with this very intriguing environment
  • Do not check out all these new smells
  • Do not stare at that squirrel in that tree or chase it
  • Do not say hello to those other people who look friendly
  • Do not say hello to that person’s dog who looks very fun and friendly 

You get the point! You are not only battling a very intriguing and reinforcing environment, you are also asking your dog to not perform instinctual behaviors, like smelling everything and staring at every movement in the trees. The key to overcoming this is to be more engaging than the environment, and to do this, you want a dog that truly enjoys working for you. Getting to this stage with your dog takes work. You must trust your dog and your dog must trust you. 

So how do you get your dog to choose you above everything else? This is where the investment of your time comes in. Choose a training plan that works for you and your dog and stick with it. Not all training plans have to be the same—your dog’s skill set may not be the same as my dog’s. Regardless of the training plan though, begin with practicing good behavior. This typically starts with a leash and treats. The leash is to help keep your dog with you, and the treats help to reinforce you instead of your dog self-reinforcing with the environment. This doesn't mean you will always have to have your dog on a leash. It’s just to start; the ultimate goal is to trust your dog off leash.

Here’s how to begin your training your pup to be an adventure buddy:

  1. Engage, engage, engage. No matter what happens in your environment, you want your dog to engage with you. This means you can recall them whenever you need to. To help your dog understand that you want them to come when called regardless of what is happening around them, you need to practice engaging them in all situations and environments. This starts right out of the front door (or out of the car). Have them sit, make eye contact, touch, or perform any of their skill set using treats. In this case, yes, they even get a treat for a simple sit. This gets them into a working-for-you mindset instead of an “I’m free!!!” mindset, which is very difficult to rein in.
  1. Get goofy! Drop your “this is going to be embarrassing” mindset. If you want to be more fun than your dog’s environment, you have to work for it. Play a “chase-me” game with a long line, letting them play with you as they would another dog. Get a tug and let them get their kicks out with you. Jump around, be fun, be loud, and be engaging! Warning to the men out there: Our experience has shown that using a high-pitched squeaky voice is often effective. You might need to practice this. I frequently tell my deep-voiced clients to try talking like a girl.
  1. Raise the stakes. As you raise the difficulty of the environment, you need to raise the amount of fun your dog is going to have with you. If you advanced from your front yard to a public park, get ready to use more treats and up the goofiness with your dog. If they learn that going to the park means they get to have fun and play with you, they will choose to engage with you because historically you have been more reinforcing to them.

Keep following The Dog Blog for more training tips on helping your pup become the perfect outdoor companion.


Amber with her dogsBlog author Amber Pickren, BA, CPDT-KA, is the owner of GentleCanineLLC in Durango, Colo. After earning her bachelors in Psychology, Amber found her passion working with dogs and has never looked back. Since 2004, she has been training dogs, specializing in behavioral issues. When she's not busy helping other pet parents with their dogs, she can be found running and climbing around Durango with Sadie, Lily and Imogene.

Photo of Phil and Tarzan riding Hermosa Creek Trail in Durango, Colo., by Sarah Z. Sturm.