I'm pretty sure that River was born an adventure dog. She was experiencing stimulation and experiences before she ever came to live with me. Her first big adventure was flying on an AIRPLANE with me! Pretty big adventure for an 8-week old puppy! She was a trooper, though, and had a calm, stress-free trip.
You can absolutely take your puppy with you on your adventures, but there are some critical things you must consider to avoid stress and injury. Here are some adventures puppy River went on before 6 months old:
Road trip up the North Shore
Road trip to Montana and back
Staying in a hotel
Hanging out at an agility trial
Now, on to the Tips For Adventuring With Puppies! Forewarning: the tips below may seem a bit cautionary. That's because this is such a CRITICAL period in a dog's life. We have a huge opportunity to mold a happy, confident adult dog, but we can also cause huge issues that take years to resolve. So, enjoy the pure joy that your puppy brings to your world! Drown in puppy kisses! But also be a smart puppy parent and do your homework. :)
Be Patient. Puppies are babies! They know nothing other than what we teach them. They need time to learn and a teacher to show them what to do. Remember to be patient and understanding with them. If there is any problem, it’s more than likely your fault. (sorry) Puppy raising becomes so much simpler when we take full accountability for everything our puppy does. You control the environment! Be patient and have fun.
Show & Guide. Teach your puppy the behaviors you want and expect. Have an older dog? Let them help guide the puppy, too. Show them that good behavior is highly rewarded and do your best to prevent “bad” behavior from happening in the first place. By shaping the experiences your puppy has, you’re shaping the dog your puppy will grow up to be. It’s powerful!
Set Boundaries. Along with being patient, you absolutely need to set boundaries for your puppy. Free rein will lead to chaos, as I'm sure you can imagine! Define for you and your family what is and not allowable so as not to confuse the puppy with mixed signals.
Create Structure & Routine. When going on adventures, maintain the same structure and routines that you established at home. This creates stability for your puppy and makes it easier to adapt to new places and experiences.
Keep Everything Positive. This is super important! Tons of socialization experiences are no good if they are mostly negative experiences. Watch your puppy for signs of stress, and make sure there is an element of choice available in all new experiences. If your puppy feels trapped with no way to say “no,” it can lead to a very bad experience. Have fun and bring peanut butter!
Go Everywhere, Do Everything. Explore! The biggest issue we see with dogs who were not properly socialized as puppies is a fear of the novel. Anything new makes them shut down or become fearful. Socializing your puppy is all about exposing them to many new things. Adventure puppies even more so. This does NOT mean saying "hi" to 1,000 dogs and 1,000 people. Pick the right puppy partners for your pup to meet, ones that will lead to a positive experience. It's less about meeting and more about experiencing. Go places, hear sounds, smell things, see stuff. The more new, different stuff, the better. The Adventure Puppy Club is a great place to get info on appropriate socialization.
Understand Your Lifestyle. I travel a lot, explore the outdoors, and also compete in dog sports. It’s important to incorporate many aspects of my lifestyle into socializing my puppy so that she will be exposed to those elements. River went to agility trials to hear the sounds and see the sights, lots of car rides, different outdoor places, different homes, even a hotel room. I wanted her to see many aspects of my lifestyle and learn that they are fun and not scary.
Do Not Push. If your puppy is afraid or saying "no" to something, listen. Pushing your puppy to do something uncomfortable or scary during one of their critical periods of development can mean that they retain a negative association with that object or activity for the rest of their life.
Have FUN! That's the whole reason for a puppy, right? Enjoy life, go on adventures, and have tons of fun! Play with your puppy and be silly!
The last tip is THE MOST IMPORTANT: Read up on growth plates and age-appropriate physical activities. Puppies SHOULD NOT do any repetitive jumping, long-distance hiking, strenuous activities, or movements that provide shock to the body. This is so incredibly important. Puppies ARE breakable, even though at times it may seem that they bounce well. They can easily damage the growth plates which can cause a huge impact on their growth and development. Please check with your vet before attempting ANY kind of adventure.
The two biggest scares I have with puppies are over-stressing them or causing physical injury. I see people taking huge risks with their puppies that can have life-long effects, physically and psychologically. If you want to have a happy, confident adult dog, do your homework on critical periods of development, socialization, and growth plates.
Don't be too scared, though! It's equally important to expose your puppy to many, many "novel" things in a positive manner! Socialization is key, but make sure it is always a positive experience.
Adventure On puppy-lovers!