Camping with your dog can be a joy or a pain, depending on the dog, the location and/or your tolerance level. There are some things that definitely make it easier and some that complicate it. One of these is the use of tie-outs in a campsite.
I have used tie-outs for my dogs while camping for years. The main reason I used them was that I didn’t really have any other option nor could I figure anything else out at the time. If you are a dog “owner”, then you know that having a dog with you in public can be a challenge, never mind in a living situation in public – i.e. in a campground.
What Is A Tie-Out Really?
The purpose of using a tie-out is so that your dog can have some “freedom” around the campsite and not have to be in a crate or confined inside all the time. Many people, me included, find it inconvenient to hold their dog on a leash while they are trying to do things around the campsite. If there are multiple dogs, you will have an even more difficult time trying to keep everyone happy. We camp with multiple dogs so having them all on tie-outs at once is not really possible.
Tie-outs can be made of many different materials. Unfortunately, most tie-outs can be chewed through or broken at some point. Your choice of material should depend on your dog. You know your dog best. Has he chewed through a yellow poly rope before? Most dogs don’t like the feel of it in their teeth, but some dogs don’t care. You will need to know this in advance. Some tie-outs are metal cord or chain. This can be difficult to break, but could also cause injury to the dog or people.
Actually, any type of rope can cause severe burns on hands or ankles, which could potentially become infected and progress to cellulitis. This is bad and I have seen it often.
The rope or cord is usually tied to something stationary like the trailer or a post in the ground. We have also used picnic tables. One time I had two dogs tied to a picnic table. There was a loose dog in the next picnic site ( which is another serious issue we will discuss again and again on this blog). The dog started to come over to us to explore and our two dogs attached to the table started to PULL the table across the picnic site. Yep, a recipe for disaster. Of course, the tie-outs were not to blame here but you can see how things can escalate very quickly.
How Tie-Outs Affect Dogs
There are two main problems with how tie-outs affect dogs. They can promote reactivity in dogs and a dog can liberate himself from the tie-out. This is especially true if you are using it on a collar around the dogs neck. Anything that causes pressure on a dog’s neck is highly irritating. Combine that with preventing a dog from seeing what is going on outside the campsite, particularly if there is some noise with children or other dogs and you are setting up a reactive or escape situation.
Solutions To Tie-Out Issues
Firstly, I know I don’t really have to remind everyone of this, but I will.
A pet dog should NEVER be left alone on a tie out.
Luckily, I have not had any personal experience with serious occurrences and tie-outs but I know people who have. This usually happens when an unsupervised dog is reactive to other dogs and people passing by a campsite or if a dog is bored and tries to escape. Even looking away for a split second can result in a disaster where dogs are concerned.
Not all dogs should be on tie outs in campgrounds or anywhere for that matter. If you know your dog is already reactive, you may want to think of other management techniques that would reduce or prevent his reactivity. When a dog is allowed to practice being reactive in a situation in which you do not want her to be, it is actually training your dog to be reactive. If you have a dog that is a danger to other dogs or people, and you do not have him properly managed and trained, it is likely better not to take your dog to a campground at all.
There are also situations in which working dogs need to be on tie-outs. Herding dogs often need to be on tie outs in order to keep them from going after stock inappropriately or in certain particular training situations. Livestock guardian dogs also need to occasionally be on tie-outs as well. Across-the-board prevention of the use of tie-outs or passing laws to keep people from having dogs on tie outs only makes it more difficult to have working dogs. There is always going to be a few people who misuse these tools, but eliminating them completely because of one or two incidences is ridiculous. Eventually laws will be passed that we can’t have dogs anymore because someone’s dog accidentally got off leash (because all dogs are required to be on leash) or pooped in the wrong spot.
Train your dog well for the situation. Training your dog to handle a variety of situations is really a requirement of living with a dog. When you have your dog with you in public, anything can happen. This is the stressful part of living with a being of a different species. To be prepared you will need your dog to respond to your cues in very highly distractive environments. This means lots of training. This is the most boring part of having a dog – doing repetitive actions to help your dog learn how to behave in public. It is a lot of work but it is so extremely important.
Training helps dogs adjust to what you need them to do. If you need your dog to be comfortable on a tie-out in a campground, while seeing other dogs and people pass by, training him for that situation is crucial, maybe even more so than having the right kind of tie out. I can’t go into training specifics here but I will address it in another blog post.
Don’t make the tie-out too long. Having a long tie-out obviously gives your dog more space to explore the campsite. This is not really good. The longer the rope, the more chance the dog has to be out of your sight. This you do not want. Keep tie-outs short. attach them to a place close to where you are or where you can see your dog best. I like to keep my dogs as close as possible in case for some reason I have to quickly take them inside. One of these things could be a bear or other wild animal. Another one could be someone’s dog who got loose from their own tie-out.
Use a body harness instead of a collar. Collars can almost never be tight enough to prevent a dog from slipping his head out. If they are tight enough, then they are uncomfortable and possible inhumane for the dog. I have never used a body harness on a tie-out for a dog. I am on the fence about this. I don’t know whether a harness could or even should be used and if used, should it be front or back attach? So I’ll just say that that is something you will have to decide for yourself based on your dog. Harnesses can be slipped off easily if the dog is motivated and pulls in the right direction. I had it happen to me during regular walks so caution is warranted here as well.
Again, train for the situation. Not enough can be said about training for the situation. This include training yourself to deal with emergencies and how to handle a dog that is over the top reactive. Staying calm is the best course of action here. Make sure your dog knows your cues well and you have a plan in place for different issues that will come up. And they likely will.
What We Do Now
So, having said all that, I don’t use tie-outs very often anymore. We keep our dogs in a ex-pen in front of the trailer if we are at dog shows, and only certain dogs are OK to be on a tie-out in a campground. If I take a dog out to be outside the pen, the dog is on a leash that I am holding. This is how we sit at the campfire in the evening, with a dog or two on leash and the rest in the pen or in the tent or trailer. If you have one dog, a tie-out may work for you. With multiple dogs, you need to use your own common sense.
On two occasions, we had a bear in our campsite. This was when we had just started to take camping trips and hadn’t worked out all the kinks yet. Luckily, nothing happened in either of those situations, but it made me think what could happen if I couldn’t get to my dog to release him from the tie-out? Also, when there are squirrels running around taunting the dogs in the campsite, dogs are usually lunging on the tie-outs. I don’t like this for previously explained reasons.
So Now What?
If you can, try to avoid using tie-outs. If you feel you need to use them, make sure you are prepared for anything and take care about using them. Even though some bad things could happen, you don’t really need to walk around being worried. Being prepared and knowing what is possible is the best way to deal with having a dog. Dogs are not actually all that unpredictable as many people think. Dogs are creatures of habit. If you know your dog, and you have gone anywhere with her, you have probably experienced most of what she is capable of. And the best thing about dogs is that they are lots of fun when properly trained and managed.