How to Train an Adventure Puppy
- Allison Hartz
Story and Photos Contributed by Ruffwear Ambassador Maria Christina Schultz
I made a huge mistake at the beginning with my new puppy, Bodie. I fell into the very common trap of expecting my third Australian Shepherd to be like my other two. I thought he was going to be an easy dog to mold into what I wanted him to be. After all, I was two for two with Riley and Kona, they were both fairly easy puppies for their breed since neither showed a lot of desire to herd things. But Bodie is so different! He is more of a typical Aussie with a LOT of herding instincts. He’s highly reactive to anything that moves: kids, balls, other dogs, bikes – if it moves, he wants to control it!
Another challenging character trait of Bodie’s is his love of people and children. He loves them so much that everyone is greeted with an exuberance that’s over the top. And by over the top, I mean he literally jumps up to eye level when greeting new people. He also clears fences, baby gates, and any other obstacle that comes between him and a shiny new creature. Managing Bodie’s excitement is a test of patience, and trying to be more engaging than whatever has caught his eye. Sorry, Bodie – you can’t herd kids!
Having an adventure dog means Bodie needs to ignore distractions we come across on the trails and in the water. The good news is, we still have time. Running, mountain biking, and long off leash hikes are out of the picture until Bodie is 18 months old. His growth plates need to close, and his ligaments and tendons need to strengthen before we can safely enjoy big adventures together. So, I still have 10 months to help Bodie quiet his instincts and develop the trail etiquette I know he’s capable of.
My plan for Bodie involves constant positive reinforcement, lots of play, bonding, and games to show him that working with me can be just as fulfilling as herding creatures. Of course, this plan includes some important tools of the trade – here’s a peek inside my training plan and the tools that are getting the job done:
Tools: The Front Range Harness & Leash, Treat Trader
Walking politely on a leash is vital for hiking adventures because it keeps us both safe. Pulling and lunging is unacceptable, especially on rocky forest trails, and even more so on steep terrain. I’m not a strict obedience trainer, I’m perfectly fine if my dog prefers to walk on my right, my left, or even in front of me – all I ask for is no tension on the leash. If Bodie starts pulling toward something, I give him a “with me” command and we walk the other way. I don’t allow him to interact with the object, person, or dog he’s pulling towards, because that would simply reward the pulling. Instead I reward him with praise and treats when he obliges and is walking nicely at my side.
I’ve found the best no-pull training tool is the Front Range Harness. Dogs that pull on collars can damage their trachea, while other no-pull harnesses restrict shoulder movement. The chest attachment point on the Front Range Harness is a safe way that allows Bodie to walk unrestricted with a reminder that pulling only directs him back to me. While Bodie is far from perfectly behaved on the leash, I’m very pleased with his progress considering his age and exuberance. He pulls dramatically less than Riley or Kona ever did, and this is a skill we work on several times a day.
Play Time is also Training Time
Tools: Two Hydro Planes
The act of chasing down a moving object and snatching it is incredibly satisfying for dogs. Bodie has no shortage of prey drive so this game is super fun for him. This is something I do to help teach impulse control, recall, and drop it.
Here’s how it works: Bodie and I head out with two Hydro Planes. I get him really pumped up, then I ask him to sit and wait. Once Bodie has collected himself I release him and toss a Hydro Plane. He catches it, and usually starts running circles with it, so I immediately show him the one I still have in my hand, while saying “Bodie come!” It never fails, dogs always want the toy in your hand! So Bodie runs back to me, and as he gets close, I say “drop it,” when he does, I reward him by immediately throwing the second toy. Then I pick up the first Hydro Plane and we start all over again. This teaches Bodie that coming when called means fun and that we get to keep playing. He naturally drops one toy for the other, and learns the drop it cue in the process. Sometimes I mix things up and ask him to sit or down before I toss the toy again to work on impulse control.
In the last few weeks we’ve graduated to playing with just one Hydro Plane. Bodie has quickly discovered the reward is the game, so he comes back to me after each catch and quickly drops it for another toss. Most of the time he sits without me even having to ask for it! It’s fun to see him light up when we work together and I can feel our bond growing as we play together.
Note: Since Bodie is still growing this is something we only do a few times a week for very short sessions. I also keep my tosses low so he doesn’t have to leap into the air. Jumping is hard on a puppy’s joints - it’s really important we don’t injure anything before his growth plates close.
Building Toy Drive and Bonding
Tools: Pacific Loop
I love that Bodie is food motivated – it’s so much easier to train a dog who wants to work for food than one who doesn’t. But with Bodie I want to be more than a treat dispenser! I want him to value playing with me as much as his love for beef liver. Enter the Pacific Loop. This is a special reward that I have been using as a reward since Bodie was tiny. When I’m working with him I’ll mix things up between food rewards and play rewards.
Here’s what it looks like: I ask Bodie for about five behaviors I know he knows. After the fifth behavior he’ll get a big reward, a play session! This says to Bodie – “like everything you just did, isn’t it fun? Want to keep going?!” It keeps him excited to work, and it’s also super fun for me.
I also pull out the Pacific Loop (usually kept hidden inside my jacket) when he has a breakthrough. When we’re walking and we pass a dog and Bodie doesn’t react, I immediately pull out the Pacific Loop and we play tug. It’s a super high-value reward for the behavior I’m encouraging!
Training a dog is an adventure all on its own. The journey is long but the view at the end is a smiling dog with a spark in his eye that says “you are my whole world." This is always worth every setback, every mistake, and every puppy tantrum. As I write this at Bodie’s 9-month mark, I know I still have a long way to go, but I’m excited with his progress so far. This is a journey we’re on together – herding instincts and all, he’s going to be an amazing adventure buddy!
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Thank you for these extremely valuable tips. I have a rescue Aussie Cattle Dog. She came to me at the age of two. We immediately began hiking and soon were trail running. Every other 4 days her knees would hurt and we’d have to take a break. I never push her but we have kept it up until last month when she appeared to jump or torque her left knee. She was in pain and couldn’t walk without slow painful limping. When taken to the vet it was discovered that my dog has two torn knees, one worse than the other. She is now facing ACL surgery (in dogs, called TCL) on both legs. I am in shock. The cost will be more than I have. I miss running the trails with her.
Is it possible that my dog’s legs hadn’t fully grown before her knees were damaged? I just don’t know how this happened… (?) At what age can we assume a dog is developed enough to do trail runs? I have to believe that my little dog is younger than I think, and probably came to me with leg tears. I’ve had her now for 8 months, and we are awaiting the ACL surgery. Thank you so much.
Wonderful article. I’m wondering if the front range harness would fit well and stay secure on a Minnie Aussie with one front leg that has been amputated?
These are really great tips that I’m hoping will help me in correcting some negative behavior from my coonhound! Great read and very practical!
Loved your article AND the pics of Bodie.
Kasie, my 7mo American Water Spaniel is a Brodie match except her inclination is to hunt. She moves with nose to ground. In addition she combines intelligence with stubbornness, if it’s fun I am a go; if not make me if you can.
For her the Front Range Harness with the Front Range Dog Lead are necessary to secure her attention. My hand in the loop at the attachment end enable simultaneous lifting of her nose and front paws whenever she breaks. She spoils her fun and self corrects.
Christi D McGinness
Excellent article! Thank you! I’m getting a new puppy soon, and am grateful for the reminder not to compare dogs, and the need for play to help a pup learn.
Wonderful article with great insights. Similarly, I face the same challenges with my sheltie, Luka. He is 14 months now and has very high herding instincts and also loves to greet everyone. As many have said, it sounds like I was reading about my own dog. We will definitely be integrating your tips into our routine. Thank you so much!
Wow I feel like I’m reading my story about my second Aussie, Willow. My first Aussie, Roxy, was so much more mellow! Well mellow for an Aussie. Willow is the exuberant one! Loves everyone and everything but is a tad rough! Like a bull in a china shop. She will be three in August. She has gotten better but is my little lovable challenge!
I have an Australian Shepherd and he is 15 month old. I love the story about Bodie. Toby is normally a very good pup but when he is outside he destroys everything. Do you have Any tips that might help me with this really big problem. I cannot even leave him in my truck. Also he eats what he destroys eg. the stuffing in his dog bed. I’ve tried Bitter Apple and it didn’t work. HELP HELP please. PS your 3 Australian Shepherds are beautiful.
I have an Australian Shepherd and he is 15 month old. I love the story about Bodie. Toby is normally a very good pup but when he is outside he destroys everything. Do you have Any tips that might help me with this really big problem. I cannot even leave him in my truck. Also he eats what he destroys eg. the stuffing in his dog bed. I’ve tried Bitter Apple and it didn’t work. HELP HELP please
Love the helpful tips and its always nice to know you’re not the only one with Training challenges….
Thank you! This helps bc I have a crazy assie puppy too!
Great tips & appreciate the detail, Maria!
This is great advice for an adopted adult dog as well. My AmStaff is 2.5 years old, but still full of energy and craziness. I had to switch to a gentleleader because she was too stubborn to stop pulling with the normal training process…but the rest is perfect for changing things up for me. Thanks so much!
Hi! I adore your products and so does my sweet miniature schnauzer, Tito. We would like to put in a request for your dog toys in a smaller dog size. Tito is not quite 20 pounds. Thank you for your consideration! ❤️🐶❤️
I’ve been working with my Aussie with 2 soft frisbees for a while, yet when someone walks by, or drives by on the street, he loses focus and wants to herd. I have an invisible fence so he can’t actually go in the street to herd the cars or pedestrians passing by, but I can see it is disturbing to them having this dog charge to the edge of the yard. He is 2 1/2 now and I am unsure of how to break the distraction behavior. Any thoughts you can share would be appreciated. I’m thinking the addition of treats during our play may help as he is very food driven also. Food and frisbee are his two greatest loves I think. Thanks!
Thank for sharing your wisdom
I have 7 month old Dobermann puppy that
I too want to walk trails and hike with
Keeping him busy at my age is hard
My front range harness has the loop in front and it is not reinforced like the clip on the top. My dog can rip through the loop in front in no time. I would make the loop in front just as strong as the metal one on the back side.
Bodie and my puppy are twins separated at birth! Different breeds but the same pup and traits! We just ordered the harness! Thank you!
I have a deaf adventure pup! Have been training her since she was 6 weeks old and she goes off leash hiking, paddle boarding, swimming and adventuring with us now. Each dog is different but the bond you make and the belief you have for your dog is very important. We’ve had a lot of people tell us along the way that there are so many barriers for deaf dogs but we ignored them.
Believe in your dog and take the time and patience to train them, the opportunities are endless!
Great post! I think your advice works for even older rescue dogs! A lot what you suggested was helpful for our 2 year old cattle dog mix. She’s now 4, soon to be 5 but is really starting to come around! We love our adventure dog however, squirrels are tough! Always a work in progress! :). Thanks for sharing your story!
Excellent Guide & Lesson Plan.
Excellent Guide & Lesson Plan.
Thank you for reminding me about growth plates! My pup is 6 months old and has discovered a ball! I’ll keep sessions shorter now! Also, I’m gonna get the tug toy! He loves to tug on his leash! That would be so much better!
Very informative post! I think I’m rushing Scout and going too hard at just 14 months. He’s just such a big guy with so much energy. I’ll try to implement what you’ve outlined here until he’s 18 months old.