All dogs are reactive to something.
This could be to 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. Sometimes your dog will bark at something that is far away and then won’t react at all to something up close.
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 and reactive behaviour.
Take heart though, as there are some things that you can do to help yourself and your barky/reactive dog enjoy camping more.
What IS Reactivity Anyway?
It is important to remember that reactivity is not necessarily connected with aggression, but sometimes it is.
Reactivity occurs when a dog is stimulated, sometimes into a frenzy, by something in the environment. A reactivity trigger is different for every dog, but results in much the same way. Reactivity can include but is not limited to: barking, growling, lunging, chasing, whining, panting or just generally getting into a tizzy upon seeing a trigger.
Dogs who are reactive to small animals and want to chase and kill them, for instance, may be the world’s friendliest pooches to humans. A dog who would bite a person, may not be reactive at all before biting. Some dogs will react and be truly aggressive at the same time. This is something you need to examine in your dog and know what your are dealing with before you start training.
If you are unsure of whether or not your reactive dog is potentially aggressive or if your dog has already bitten you, someone else or another dog, please seek professional help. This is very important as nothing in this article will be applicable to you and you dog if you neglect getting help.
The Five Tips
We travel with our dogs of medium and large size. In the past, we have had up to six dogs of the same size camping and travelling with us at the same time. Over the years, we have come up with some things that help reduce or eliminate the reactivity that inevitably occurs. The following tips, done properly, are what helped to start modifying our dog’s reactivity while camping and got us on the road to a better and more enjoyable camping trip.
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 (shown below) 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.
See the video below for an example of a good reactive dog campsite and a bit of real life training.
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. (buy a harness directly from the company, rather than a middleman).
If you want to use a tie-out with your dog take a look at my blog post about using tie-outs.
NEVER leave your dog alone on a tie-out. They are only to be used under specific circumstances and under direct supervision.
3. Exercise your dog during vacation, mentally and physically. 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. However, some types of exercise can also be a stimulant to some dogs, and get them worked up with adrenaline and ready for more. Often, mental exercise such as indoor scenting and other search games, or simple stationary training (cross paws, eye contact, long duration sits and downs etc) can be more effective at keeping your dog tired out and calm.
If you opt for some physical exercise, walk in a safe location where there are no possible triggers for your dog. While doing that you can also 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 away from the campground i.e. at home. 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 is not an option.
Training should be fun and rewarding for the dog. Using corrections (pinch collars, choke collars e-collars, yelling, hitting, etc) 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.
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. Remember, if your dog has shown any aggression towards a human or another dog, you need to consult a professional.
You can also check out my article on starting to train your reactive dog for camping.