6 Tips To Get Your Dog Ready For Adventure

Regular Something Wagging readers know we’re getting our dog Honey ready to live aboard a sailboat.

Many of the things we’re doing for Honey might help you even if the only adventure you’re planning is a trip to the vet, a long drive, or a kayak trip across a pond. Here are a few of my best tips to get your dog ready for adventure.

Honey eats dinner on her latest adventure.

How come all our adventures lead to me eating dinner in some parking lot somewhere? Couldn’t we have an adventure to a 4-star French restaurant with linen table cloths?

Get Your Dog Ready For Adventure

Tip #1 Expose your dog to expected new sounds, smells, and motions before your adventure.

We’ve hung crinkly tarps from the clothesline to expose Honey to the sound of sails in the wind. And we’ve taken many walks in marinas so she can hear the clanking of halyards against the mast on a windy day (note to non sailors: halyards are ropes used to lift sails into position; they have metal hardware that bangs against the vertical support for the sail, or mast, in the wind when the sails are down).

Honey the Golden Retriever practices being calm near a blowing tarp.

I don’t know why people find sailing so romantic. There’s nothing appealing about this noisy tarp blowing around.

If your vet insists on having your dog stand on a cold, metal table for an exam, look for a similar surface for your dog to slide around on at home (the bottom of a metal sliding board at a playground work great, but not when it’s hot). Move your kayak around on dry land and let your dog sniff it. Or let your dog jump into your car or RV without going for a ride so they can find a comfortable spot to lie down.

Tip #2 Find special treats your dog will only get on your adventure.

I’m saving a squeaky toy for Honey that she’ll only get once we move aboard the boat. We gave her a new plushie when we took her sailing for the first time. She was so happy squeaking her hedgehog she didn’t seem to care that we were living in a moving home.

Golden retriever loves her squeaky toy.

I love you, Hedgehog. You were with us all too short a time.

I know you love giving your dog goodies all the time. But save the stinky bully stick or new tug toy you know she’ll love for adventure time.

And don’t forget to put it away once you get home.

Tip #3 Take your adventure under the best possible circumstances.

My husband and I laugh about a story we heard of a man who wondered how he could convince his wife to move aboard a sailboat with him. Every year, he and his buddies took a long sailing charter around the British Virgin Islands (BVI). And despite having taken his wife for a similar trip in Lake Ontario he couldn’t convince her to adopt the life.

The woman telling the story suggested that if he was sailing the warm, tropical waters of the BVI with his guy pals and cold, murky Lake Ontario with his wife that he didn’t really want to convince her to go sailing with him at all. Otherwise, he’d take her to the islands.

When we took Honey on her first sailing charter, we stayed in port when the wind was high. And motored in when conditions changed while we were out.

Honey the golden retriever surveys the boat from bed.

It’s cold and blowing like stink out there. I don’t mind taking a nap at the marina while my person reads her book.

Don’t take your dog to the vet on their very busiest day. Don’t make your first kayak trip with your dog one with baking heat or high winds. Don’t make your first RV trip last an entire day.

Make that first adventure easy and fun.

Tip #4 If something doesn’t work, cut your adventure short.

Adventuring with your dog is not the time to say, “Darn it, we’re going to have fun if it’s the last thing we do.”

I love taking Honey to public events. But when she tells me she has had enough, we go home.

Honey and Pam at the Ithaca festival.

Okay, enough walking around crowds and taking pictures. Let’s look for something to eat.

You can’t tell your vet in the middle of a visit that your dog is tired and you want to take him home. But perhaps you don’t stay for the complimentary nail clipping or extra blood work. You can always make a short appointment with a vet tech later.

And the car trip should be fun for everyone. If your dog isn’t having fun, you won’t either. So end early today in hopes of building up your dog’s tolerance for a longer adventure later.

Tip #5 Use an activity your dog loves to introduce them to an adventure.

Nose work games make everything less frightening for Honey.

Hiding treats near a scary object and telling Honey, “Find it,” makes what could be a tense moment into a game.

A close up of Honey the Golden retriever's nose.

When my nose starts working, my fear stops.

Tossing a ball in front of the vet’s office is one way to create positive associations for your retriever. And hiding a sacrificial stuffy for your prey-driven dog to shred in the car is a great way to start your driving adventure.

Tip #6 Pick an adventure that will work for both of you.

Okay, you can’t do this if your “adventure” is taking your dog to the vet.

But does your double-coated dog really need to hike across a desert with you? And who would take a bull dog who sinks like a stone swimming?

That long car trip might be perfect for your couch potato dog who’s happy to sniff around when you stop at a scenic overlook but who’d just as soon sleep the day away. But it could be torture for your herding dog who needs at least a few hours a day of bossing someone around before he settles down.

Honey the golden retriever in the car.

I’m always happy to go for a ride.

Honey is a cuddly dog who likes sticking close to us. So life in a small boat where we’re on top of each other every moment is her idea of heaven. No more wandering around a two-story house trying to find the perfect spot to keep an eye on both of us.

Anything Can Be An Adventure

If you have the right attitude, a walk around the block is an adventure.

But if you’re trying something new, even a normally calm dog can get a little nervous.

Treat anything new you’re trying with your dog like the adventure they’ll think it is. Lead up to it slowly. And make sure it’s a happy adventure for both of you.

Honey the golden retriever sits on a bed with her Nylabone.

My latest adventure? Seeing how long I can balance a Nylabone on the edge of a bed.

Your Turn: How have you prepared your dog for “adventures” you’ve taken?


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  1. Sounds like you’ve thought of everything possible to make Honey’s transition a smooth sail (on intended). I think once you watch her adapt and adjust quickly, you’ll exhale and start to live your dream! So proud of you Pamela.

  2. Nothing will ever make my dogs like the vet’s office. They won’t take treats before the appt. so no positive associations there. They even know the car ride that ends up at the vet, so they fight getting out of the car! I guess I need to take a different way there to fool them.

    Other than the vet, my dogs need no prep for adventure. They just go with the flow, but they truly prefer that the adventure includes water, and of course food!

  3. We are pretty good about adventures since we are always doing new things.

  4. All of your tips are great, but I especially like tip number 5. Doing an activity that Haley likes seems to work really well for her. Maybe it makes her feel like things are “normal” or maybe it’s just the distraction from whatever new thing she’s feeling uneasy about.

  5. I think it’s really cool that you’re going to go live on a sailboat! I bet you’ll have lots of adventures to tell us about! Also, great tips!

  6. Really great tips. I will often recommend bringing your dog to the vets office just for treats. No medical care, just a pleasant visit.

  7. Thank you for pointing out that you must be willing to cut the adventure short. That is my number one piece of advice for anyone who ever asks me how to get out and about with their pets and, sadly, that usually ends the question asking. But things happen. If I was sick, I’d go home. If Jason was sick, we’d both go home. So if the pets are done, we are done. Now all that being said, I REALLY hope that Honey doesn’t decide she is all done with living on a sailboat right after you move in! :)

  8. Great tips. I brought my dog on an international trip to Brazil for five months. There wasn’t a ton we could do to fully prep him, but we made him as comfortable as possible and he’s settled in like a pro – at 10 years old too! (we adopted him at 9 and swear he’s younger than they say, so much energy and spunk). Enjoy your canine adventures!