How to Train an Adventure Dog

There's much more to it than sit, stay, and fetch. Here's how to turn your puppy into your go-to adventure buddy
April 23, 2016Words by Amanda Ciesielczyk

The trade was simple – we'd get a dog car, and then we'd get a dog. Because a dog wasn’t going to be roaming around our 2011 FJ Cruiser. So last March, after looking at various Land Cruiser models for over a year, we finally found our match. (A ’73 FJ 40.) And, of course, I started looking at pups online that same day. 

Within a month, we had found a fluffy black-and-white blue heeler-border collie mix from a local puppy rescue. It was truly love at first sight and a day later Rana — Spanish for “little frog,” as she was quite the jumper — was part of the pack and in the back of the Land Cruiser on the way to her new home. A feisty, spirited little one, she was soon renamed Reina — Spanish for “queen” — and was reigning over the house.

So, now what? Sure, Adrian and I had family dogs growing up, but never our own and never together. We’re constantly outside and traveling, so how were we going to fit a dog into our active lives? We quickly realized that we’d just have to raise her to take part in our adventures, and so we jumped right into it. One year later, here is our firsthand guide for training your own adventure dog. 

Think about size, activities, and your daily routine when picking out an adventurous breed to join the family.

Number One: Be thoughtful about the breed you pick.

Every pup is adorable. Am I right? So when we started looking at dogs, I pretty much wanted the first one I could get my hands on. But Adrian was a bit more level-headed than I and knew he wanted a cattle dog, likely a red heeler. 

I couldn’t be more grateful for his more poised decision, as now I couldn’t imagine having any other breed. (Though compromise is key, as we did end up with a blue heeler/collie mix.)

Think about size, activities, and your daily routine when picking out an adventurous breed to join the family. I love Reina’s easy-to-pick-up 38-pound weight, the amount of room she takes up in the car when it’s loaded up with a bunch of gear, and her enthusiasm for trailing our mountain biking 12-plus miles. 

Make sure the breed you ultimately choose meets your lifestyle. If you’re always at the beach or on the river, a water-loving retriever may be a good fit. If you’re an avid trail runner, consider an agile vizsla or Weimaraner. And if you’re a passionate hiker, maybe a Bernese mountain dog or husky. Of course, I’m a big fan of active-breed mixes. 

Number Two: Bring your pup everywhere possible. 

We’re always on the move. Whether headed up to the high country for some spring snowshoeing, hitting the desert for a weekend of camping, jumping in the car to go see family 900 miles away, or just spending an evening down by the river with local brews and trivia — as much as we possibly can, Reina has been along for the ride. 

The dog would always rather be with the pack, right? So bringing Reina along in the Cruiser, even for a quick trip to the grocery store, began to teach her the ins-and-outs of how our pack works and the discipline to listen to our commands in every and any new situation. I highly recommend committing to having your dog by your side, whenever you can, during those first six months. This may mean sometimes missing out on activities that your dog can’t tag along on, but trust me – it will be worth it in the long run. 

Find out what your dog excels at and feed their ambitions.

Number Three: Learn what adventure your pup loves and quickly nurture it.   

As a cattle dog, we quickly learned that Reina has loads of energy, and that energy needs to be channeled. Because if it’s let loose in an open space without much thought or direction, she will literally sprint circles around you. She’s a herder. So we started taking her on short hikes and mountain biking trails at a young age and she immediately found her stride.

She’s also a protector and always needs a job. On the trail, for example, we taught her to carry a stick and make sure she doesn’t drop it or leave it behind. She even carries junk mail home from the post office and loves it. 

Find out what your dog excels at and feed their ambitions. Maybe your dog is a retriever and fetches like a champ. Or maybe your dog just LOVES the water and wants to get a swim every day. Dogs were bred to achieve various tasks and your dog is itching to get the job done. Let them do it.

Number Four: Build mutual respect and trust. 

Once you’ve gotten through basic puppy training, it’s good to keep up with commands and discipline. But your dog is getting older and more mature so this is an excellent opportunity to give them some room to test their limits. 

As quickly as we thought we could trust her, we started letting Reina jump out of the Cruiser and walk into the house off-leash. When she listens, she’s rewarded with praise and encouragement. And when she doesn’t, she loses some of that freedom. 

Now she’s capable of being off-leash on every hike and, since she’s still only one year old, is getting more and more trustworthy every time we hit the trail. One day, we hope she’ll be as good as some of the steady dogs we see walking alongside their owners down Durango’s sidewalks, completely off-leash. 

You got an adventure dog to go on adventures. So get out there.

Number Five: Keep challenging your pup and yourself. 

You got an adventure dog to go on adventures. So get out there. And keep challenging your dog and yourself to do more, see more, and be more active!

I recently took up trail running, partly in order to get Reina out on the trail even more often. Now, I am not a runner, and for so many years I loathed running of any kind. But I’m actually growing fond of it these days. Getting Reina out to stretch her legs and challenging myself to accomplish new goals has been pretty rewarding. 

Historically, we’ve been resort or side-country skiers. But Reina LOVES the snow and it’s hard to leave her in the car for the day when she just wants to be out having fun with us. So, now that she’s a bit older, next winter we’ll be getting into a lot more ski-touring and taking her along for the adventure. 

So, don’t forget, there’s always more to do with your adventure dog. Take a longer backpacking trip. Teach them how to hang out at the river while you fly fish. Tackle some rougher single tracks. Road trip to a new camping destination. The biggest reward is in the journey for you – and your new adventure buddy. [H]

• Sit. Stay. Come. Down. Leave it. These are the five essential, and very worthwhile, commands to teach yourself and your pup, ASAP! Cesar’s Way has an excellent breakdown to learn more.

• We took Reina to puppy classes and highly recommend signing up for some at your local pet store or doggy daycare. We also rented Training the Best Dog Ever from the library and learned a lot of details to remember and be consistent about.

• A local company that we’re big fans of for natural treats is Zuke’s. They have a pretty helpful blog, too! 

• “Worst breed in the house – that’s exactly the breed I want.” This is one of my favorite quotes about dogs and is a go-to mindset when raising an adventurous pup. This energetic and entertaining Outside magazine piece has always been a favorite of mine; it's definitely worth a read.

Amanda Ciesielczyk is a writer and co-founder at BoldBrew. Based in Colorado's San Juans, she is fond of camping at high country lakes, Wolf Creek powder days, and her heeler pup, Reina.


Images ©: 1, 3, 8-10; Alison Vagnini. 2, 4-7; BoldBrew.

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