All dogs are reactive to something. This could be the doorbell, moving objects, other dogs or animals, people – adults or children or just about anything your dog feels like barking at. When you are camping, everything that goes by the campsite, including people out for an evening stroll can be fair game for a reactive dog.
If your dog does something like this, you may prefer NOT to go camping with him at all. It can be highly embarrassing and annoying to have your dog bark at every moving thing, not to mention the stress of worrying whether or not this could escalate into something worse such as aggression.
I actually know several people who avoid going camping because they have stopped enjoying outings with their dogs due to barky behaviour.
It is important to remember that reactivity is not necessarily connected with aggression, but sometimes it is. Dogs who are reactive to small animals, for instance, may be the world’s friendliest pooches. A dog who would bite a person, may not be reactive at all before biting. But some dogs will react and be aggressive together. If you are unsure of whether or not your reactive dog is potentially aggressive, please seek professional help. This is very important.
We travel with SIX dogs of medium and large size. Over the years, we have come up with some things that help reduce or eliminate the reactivity that inevitably occurs.
1. Choose an appropriate campsite. The best sites are ones with more trees and brush between the sites. This helps screen the road and other people’s campsites from your dog’s view.
Also, pick a site with a narrow driveway so your vehicle can screen out most of the view there as well. If this is not possible, then you may have to park the vehicle and place the tent or camper in the position that best screens your dog’s view from the activity.
2. Don’t tether your dog by the neck. Anything around a dog’s neck is an irritant, making it more likely that your dog will be reactive. Instead, keep your dog with you on a leash and a front attach harness, in an ex-pen or in the tent or trailer.
If you want to use a tie-out with your dog take a look at my blog post about using tie-outs.
3. Exercise your dog during vacation. Exercise keeps your dog occupied and helps use up excess energy that she could use to bark at anything that goes by. It also helps keep her mind occupied with new sights and smells.
While you are walking in a safe location where there are no possible triggers for your dog, you can do some training sessions. It doesn’t really matter what you train for specifically, only that you work with your dog in different locations. This helps to keep your dog’s mind active and your training skills good. Anything that you can train your dog to do, helps to build the bond between you and your dog.
Make sure you work with your dog ON leash to prevent any potential problems.
4. Camp during the less busy season. Fewer people camp during May, early June, late August and September. Weekends are usually a poor time to camp if your dog is barky. Stick to off season camping for less activity from other campers.
5. Train your dog. The most important thing you can do to reduce barking and reactivity is training.
Whether you do this on your own or need help from a professional, training will translate into a happier dog in all environments, not just during camping.
Training should be fun and rewarding for the dog. Using corrections to train results in worse reactive behaviour and a dog who fears you or doing anything “wrong”. Training with corrections can increase reactivity, which is the opposite of what you want.
So my advice is train with food rewards.
Things that would be useful to train a reactive dog to do (and which I will be discussing in future blog posts) are:
name recognition: your dog needs to respond immediately to his name with a “head snap” turn towards you.
the about turn: you will need this to avoid any reactive situations that may come up quickly and without warning. This is a 180 degree turn that you have trained so many times that it is second nature to you and your dog. This will help you avoid those times when you are walking and something shows up unexpectedly, and you need to EXIT THE SITUATION FAST.
sit: again another behaviour that your dog should be able to do wherever and whenever you need it.
These points have worked for us and our family of dogs. If you feel at all uncertain about your dog’s behaviour, seek out an instructor who teaches dog training using food rewards and without using corrections.
You can also check out my article on starting to train your reactive dog for camping.