How to Improve the Quality of Your Dog's Outdoor Experience
If there was one thing most dogs could ask from their people, that would be to spend more, better, and longer time outdoors. No doubt this is the time dogs value the most. Bottom line: Improve your dog’s outdoor experience if you want to impact their lives (and yours) deeply.
In order to start making sense of canine outdoor enrichment we need to answer the following question. What makes a dog’s life more interesting, rich and meaningful? The short answer is variety. For the long answer keep reading.
Living with dogs requires that we are highly involved with them daily. The first level of commitment is to take your dog out. The next level is to find ways to make your dog’s overall outdoor experience great. Be next level. Provide variety, adventure, and fun. Give them a different scenario every day.
Here are all the tips and ideas to make your dog’s outdoor experience great:
1. Be focused, be there
Dog folks that complain about their restless and mischievous dogs, are often the ones who are not highly involved with their dogs. The good news is that if you focus, even short amounts of time can be enough to tire and entertain them.
As your dog’s leader and provider, you’ve got to be involved daily and on the highest level. Be part of the fun. Be the fun. Entertain them. And let them entertain you. That’s the first rule that makes a 60-minute walk to the park, forest, nearest lake, or beach, from good to great.
- Don’t be on the phone.
- Don’t think of you. Show me a greater opportunity to take a break from your worries and stressful thoughts than getting active with your dog.
- Don’t rush them. The minimal your dog(s) needs you to focus on them is 1 hour twice a day.
- Don’t socialize during your shared time. This is not the time for that. Remember your mission is to focus on your dog.
- Use every minute. Exhaust them.
2. Set them free
Off-leash dogs is a controversial topic. But I see it more as a common sense topic.
If you follow this blog you know that I am all about letting your dogs free. I oppose the idea of constant restraint for dogs. Dogs deserve to satisfy their curiosity and be themselves without having to keep pace with us. They deserve to experience the benefits of freedom and free will. What’s more twisted than a dog deprived of their right to run, explore, and play freely without being attached to our arms?
I prioritize my dog’s freedom more than other aspects of her life. My dog knows freedom and it shows.
However, to address the controversy, unresponsive dogs have not earned this right. And people who have no or little control over their free dogs, are not my kind of people.
Here is the right way to do this.
- A)Train: Start with the basic commands every dog should know, B) Lead: Then narrow it down to obedience training, and C) Provide: be the playmate your dog would have no reason to run away from (be focused↑).
A properly trained, obedient, and content dog will ask for permission before she becomes a possible nuisance to others, or runs into danger.
- Look for a designated area that is easy for you to have control of. For example, a dog park. Or an area that is only natural for your dog to be free.
- A quiet beach, the forest, the fields. Even highly responsive dogs should not walk in public and crowded spaces without a leash: People have the right to be afraid of your ”very friendly” dog. So, don’t be selfish. Keep the leash on until everybody is ok with taking it off.
- Be aware of other dogs and their people. They have the right to walk in peace without being greeted or challenged by your free dog.
- And to the other side of the controversy, if you believe that your dog (or any dog) is fine being constantly restrained, with no experience of how freedom tastes like, then I am going to ask you to reconsider if that even makes sense. More on the topic here.
3. Visit the great outdoors
Speaking about freedom, a visit to the great outdoors is the best option we have for some unproblematic off-leash time with our dogs. Luckily, nature is out of reach for most people. Laws and rules naturally tend to loosen up. Given that you are well prepared and familiar with the challenges that a forest, a beach, or a state park can give you, you and your dog are pretty safe and free to enjoy the majesty of Nature.
If you follow this blog you might be tired of me saying that dogs that live with outdoorsy people are luckier.
It’s ok if you are not an outdoorsy person. It’s never too late to become a hiker. Your dog will love it, and you will love it. Remember, before they are our pets, dogs are animals. Frequent visits to the forest, beach, mountain, lake, or river are the greatest way to enrich a dog’s life, as well as yours. Nature has a calming effect on our brains and a stimulating effect on a dog’s brain.
Our visits to the great outdoors are my dog’s (Aria, a Lab mix) favorite activity. She goes wild. I cannot recommend it enough.
4. Spice up your daily walks
A dog that gets plenty of physical and mental exercise daily outside is less likely (depending on your dog’s energy levels) to be restless at home.
You have the chance to do the right thing every time you and your dog hit the road. Keep the excitement levels high. Change the activity, your route, or the destination. Don’t settle for a tedious routine. Keep the mood up. Change things up daily.
We talked about being focused, now let’s be more specific:
Playing with your dog is a great way to exhaust them and ensure a trusting relationship with them. Dogs want a playmate and we often offer this part to a fellow dog. While this is necessary for a socially developed dog, don’t forget to take that role from time to time. Some games are ideal because they satisfy basic instincts that we humans tend to forget that our dogs still possess. Games that boost their endorphin levels.
The legendary game. Chasing and retrieving don’t need a special introduction.
Most dogs can be easily taught to play fetch. It is a feel-good activity that doesn’t need reinforcing. Fetching is fun, rewarding, exhausting, and highly stimulating. Most dogs have the predatory drive in them that makes them want to run and grab the item you throw. Now, retrieving might require some more work. Here is an excellent video:
Play war of tug
A fun and intense way to entertain a dog. Tugging shows their skills to pull preys and fight for what is theirs.
Introduce a rope to your dog in a way that engages his curiosity and enthusiasm. Let him sniff it, bite it and pull it. Some dogs might release out of politeness. Others might immediately claim it’s theirs. Once they get it, be ready to never underestimate your dog’s jaw-power again.
Quick Tip: It’s important to make sure that your dog understands that the rope (or whatever it is that you use) is yours. You are going to need some obedience training before you play war of tug with your dog. Commands like ‘leave it’ or ‘stop’ will come very handy here. The same goes with other games and activities. Control over your dog is the key for unproblematic play sessions.
Play smell games
Smell game or scent work is a find-it-game. You basically train your dog to find hidden treats or items.
Smell game is a game that takes advantage of your dog’s most advanced sense, their smell. Earned food is highly stimulating because it goes back to their wild days when food was hard work. A great way for dogs to have fun.
Meet other dogs - socialize
Let your dog develop a social life in the dog community of your area. Let them interact with passing dogs and if time and space allow, let them hang out. Make that a priority.
Contrary to a common belief in some dog training circles, that the time dogs spend with other dogs should be limited and closely supervised in order to keep them intact from bad influences, I strongly recommend letting your dogs lose themselves in some uninterrupted craziness with members of their own species. It’s only fair.
To be more fair, it is true that young untrained dogs mimic other dogs’ behavior. You should balance that with focused training sessions. Do not underestimate the influence other dogs can have on your dog. But, do not sacrifice your dog’s social life to the demands of their training.
Dogs are less problematic when from their early stages spent time around other dogs. Lack of socialization is often the reason why dogs become fearful and aggressive towards other dogs. Dogs, just like us, are social beings. Anti-social dogs, just like us, are deprived and problematic beings. It is advisable to let your dog have as many friends as he/she can handle.
Befriending other dogs is a wonderful way to improve and enrich a dog’s life.
Training is many things. Training is our way to communicate with dogs, a way to show them the human world they live in, the way to teach them new behaviors. If done with positive reinforcement, training is also fun, rewarding, bonding and stimulating. They enjoy our approval every time they do the right thing, and they enjoy that they get to figure out how to earn the treats in your pocket.
Regular training sessions are a great way to improve the outside experience. Find a somewhat peaceful environment (although at some point your dog should learn to overlook distractions when asked to do something) and train. 15-20 minutes are enough to teach them new behaviors and tricks, or reinforce old ones.
Quick Tip: Familiarize with the concept of real-life rewards. Real-life rewards are a convenient way to reinforce behaviors out of the context of formal training. Everything that your dog likes during the course of a normal day can be a real-life reward for a behavior you want to reinforce.
For example, when my dog Aria learned to sit, we moved on to the next command/signal. Training devices are reserved for new goals. ”Sit” was well established. ”Sit”, and other known commands, now happen before we open the balcony door for her, before we put food on her bowl, before she gets on the couch, eth. Everything she loves is a chance to reinforce her responses.
Go for long walks
That’s the most obvious way to spent your morning or evening walks with your dog. Walking is probably everybody’s first and often the only option they have (or think they have) when they go out with their dogs. No wonder why the activity of going out with our dogs is called ”walking my dog”. I am not an native speaker but I think you could say ”tomorrow, for our morning walk, me and my dog will go jogging” and pass unnoticed.
Walking is a good physical exercise for a dog. Also, your dog, as the sniffing machine she probably is, will love to map the world she lives in. Do not rush your dog when she takes her time to sniff whatever her nose is into. Their nose is their way of seeing the world. Keep that in mind next time your dog doesn’t respond to you, and eventually you pull the leash to continue the ‘walking’.
If you miss a jogging buddy your dog will be happy to be the one. Jogging is an excellent way to exercise and tire your dog. Not an option for sniffing champions though. They will ruin your jogging session.
Go somewhere new
Whether you choose to walk, jog, play fetch, or smell games, changing your route or destination is always recommended. New scents excite them, you’ll see. This will not leave much of your dog’s attention left on you, which is not ideal for off-leash time, and challenging for training.
5. How about a second dog?
That’s the best way to keep your dog entertained and exercised at all times. Two or more dogs that live together will form their own little pack. If done right, their friendship will enrich their lives more than any fetch or tug session will ever do.
Photo by Johanneke Kroesbergen-Kamps
If you look for the areas you need to improve, the best way to do so is to ‘ask’ your dog. Nobody else knows your dog’s individual needs and preferences better than you. Get insights from their unique personality about what you can do better.
Watch how it is they spent their days. Identify the areas that need work. Ask yourself how you can be a better leader and provider:
- Is a change needed here?
- What does my dog like? The sea? Me too. How can I go more often?
- Is there a better way to do things in order to enrich my dog’s life?
- Do I make the best out of our shared time?
- Is this or that advice applicable to my life?
Their individual preferences, along with everything that being a dog includes, will guide your efforts to improve their lives. Your dog will feel loved and taken care of, the greatest enrichment of all.
As always, complete this post with your recommendations, insights, or questions in the comment section (they are all answered). And if you feel like it, share it with other dog folks.