Taking your dog with you on outdoor adventures can be incredibly fun and rewarding. However, it's important that your dog stays calm and under control during these activities for everyone's safety and enjoyment. An overexcited or anxious dog can be difficult to handle and may get into trouble. Luckily, with proactive training and the right techniques, you can teach your dog to stay composed in exciting outdoor environments.
Start Training at Home
Before taking your dog into new outdoor situations, begin training calm behaviors at home. This lays the foundation for good manners outside the house. Work on having your dog settle on a mat, ignore distractions, and obey commands in a calm state of mind. Use treats and praise to reinforce the calm behavior you want. You can practice having your dog settle while you rustle treats, squeak toys, or make other distracting noises to get them accustomed to staying calm with environmental stimuli around.
Take Short Training Sessions Outside
Gradually expose your dog to the outdoor places you want to take them to keep things from being overstimulating at first. Go on short 5-10 minute training sessions in outdoor areas close to home, like your yard, neighborhood or a park. Work on basic obedience cues and settling behaviors, using high-value treats to keep their focus. Increase the time and variety of locations for these training sessions as your dog learns to remain calm outdoors.
Tire Your Dog Out First
Make sure your dog has a good amount of exercise before an exciting outdoor adventure where they need to stay composed. Take them on a brisk long walk, play fetch or go for a swim. Getting that initial energy out will set them up to be better focused and mannered when the time comes to settle during your outing. Just don't overdo it and fatigue your dog completely.
Bring Their Favorite Chew Toys and Treats
Having some familiar chew toys on hand will help keep your dog pleasantly occupied if they need to relax during your outdoor adventure. Long-lasting chews like frozen Kongs stuffed with peanut butter or bully sticks are good options. Bring high-value rewards like tiny pieces of chicken, cheese or hot dog that you can use to reinforce calm behaviors too.
Use a Comfortable But Secure Dog Carrier
For outdoor activities that require closer control over your dog like hiking or canoeing, a dog carrier backpack can restrain their movement while making them feel safe and comfortable. Choose a pack designed for hiking or outdoor use that allows your dog to stick their head out and look around but keeps their body secure. Let them get used to wearing the pack at home first before an outing.
Utilize a Calming Vest or Wrap
Special vests and wraps apply gentle pressure that can have a soothing effect on dogs, helping to maintain their composure. The ThunderShirt is a popular product designed for calming dogs in stressful situations. You can put one on your dog before and during appropriate outdoor adventures where they need to stay relaxed and focused. Introduce any calming garment gradually at home first.
Use Verbal Cues for Relaxation
Consistency is key when training calm behavior in your dog. Establish a clear verbal cue like "settle" or "relax" that instructs your dog to lie down and stay composed. Use this command when you notice your dog getting riled up during an outdoor activity. Reward them with treats and praise when they respond appropriately to reinforce it. This will help them understand what you expect when out and about.
Correct Unwanted Behavior
If your dog acts up with barking, whining or lunging, interrupt the behavior immediately with a firm "no" or other marker word. For best results, redirect them into a more positive relaxed posture with a command like "sit" or "down." Reward them when they comply to make it clear the undesirable behavior will not be tolerated but calm obedience is encouraged. Be patient – this takes regular practice.
Let Your Dog Stop and Sniff
Allowing your dog brief opportunities to stop and sniff their surroundings can help them stay calm by addressing their natural needs. Just be selective about when and where sniff breaks occur to maintain control. Keep them brief while hiking or walking so you continue making forward progress, and avoid places like poisonous plants or animal remains. Letting them sniff helps satisfy their urges so they can focus better.
Watch Your Energy and Emotions
Your own energy will affect your dog's behavior. Remain calm and assertive when giving commands and corrections. Don't get anxious or overexcited yourself, as your dog will feed off those emotions. Stay relaxed but observant of your dog's demeanor. The more confidence you project, the more composed your dog will become.
Be Prepared to Leave
Even with the best training, there may be times your dog acts out and needs to immediately leave a situation. Don't force them to stay in an environment that is overstimulating. Have an exit plan ready if they can't settle appropriately. End the outing on a positive note back at home so they don't associate the departure with reward. Try again another day.
Take Breaks as Needed
Make use of enclosed tents, crates or vehicles during long outdoor adventures if your dog needs periodic breaks from the stimulation. Planning stops where your dog can relax in a familiar den-like environment can help them decompress and reset their mindset if they start to get overexcited or stressed. Monitoring their needs prevents problem behavior from happening in the first place.
Be Your Dog's Advocate
Protect your dog from well-meaning strangers and unknown animals that may approach and rile them up. Politely ask that people do not pet, crowd or make direct eye contact with your dog if they seem uncomfortable. Step between your dog and other animals to maintain space and focus. Advocating for your dog avoids situations that could trigger poor reactions.
Use a Long Training Line
Attaching a 30 foot lightweight training line to your dog's harness gives you more control over them exploring trails and campsites while still allowing some freedom. If your dog starts wandering or acting out of control, a gentle tug on the line redirects their attention back to you without chasing them down. This allows reinforcing calm responses before bad choices are made.
Acclimate Your Dog Slowly
It can take many incremental positive experiences in outdoor environments before your dog can handle new adventures without reacting. Be patient and persistent in your training. Keep initial exposures brief and low-key, gradually increasing the intensity once previous levels are mastered over time. Let your dog earn access to more exciting adventures by displaying good manners during the acclimation process.
Stay Alert For Triggers
Pay close attention to the types of situations that may trigger arousal or anxiety in your dog during an outing – like wildlife running by, other dogs approaching, loud noises, unfamiliar objects, etc. Knowing their specific triggers will allow you to proactively interrupt reactions and redirect their attention using commands and rewards. Preventing reactions stops bad habits from forming.
Let Them Destress in Nature
While training appropriate behavior around outdoor stimulation is important, also be sure to let your dog relax and destress in peaceful natural environments. Moderate exercise like hiking, swimming and fetching in calm areas with limited distractions does wonders for their wellbeing. Spending downtime appreciating nature together fosters the human-animal bond.
Teaching a dog to maintain their composure during outdoor adventures takes commitment, consistency and patience. Laying a foundation of obedience training at home, gradually introducing new environments in controlled doses, learning to read your dog's signals, and making use of various training tools and techniques sets you both up for success and safety. When your dog reliably stays calm, you'll get to enjoy extraordinary adventures together for years to come!