How I Begin Training For Camping With Reactive Dogs

Having a reactive dog can really affect vacation or camping trips. In order to make time away with a reactive dog more enjoyable, and so that the dog doesn’t have to be left behind, training in advance of the trip can be a useful and prudent activity.

Training for reactivity issues goes hand in paw with other things that are done to reduce or prevent reactivity, but for now we’ll discuss the main things I work on with my dogs to help make camping trips, or vacationing at other  locations, better.

One Is Not The Other – Properly Identify Reactivity

When I first started working with dogs, I had not only a reactive dog but a human and dog aggressive one as well. It is important to note that reactivity and aggression are not the same thing, but often go together. Currently in my case, all my dogs are reactive to something, but not all the same things. And only one dog is what you could call truly dog-dog aggressive.

If you have a dog with true aggression it is crucial that you seek help from an accredited (and more importantly one that does not train with corrections) dog training professional for that issue.

If a dog is normally friendly, but reacts to squirrels, people walking down the street or birds etc, I can modify the behaviour somewhat to make it less embarrassing and less stressful on me and the dog.

Training is done in order to help reduce a dog’s stress level. Stress can cause or increase reactivity.

Now we will discuss TWO simple but important behaviours that I focus on training a dog to do to help reduce reactivity.


Name Recognition

I always make sure my reactive dog has really good name recognition. This is actually the most important thing anyone can teach a dog even if he is NOT reactive.

For example, a dog’s name usually precedes the recall word “come” or “here”, so it is therefore a way to get a dog’s attention, and it can be used to put a positive tone into a reactive situation. When I train my dog to respond in an instant to his name by practicing over and over again, I am giving myself a way to manage behaviour when the reactivity happens, but also a way to help PREVENT reactivity in the first place.

Teaching name recognition is no different from teaching any other behaviour to a dog. You don’t go to a highly distracting environment where the dog will be reactive and try to get him interested in food rewards or start badgering him by calling his name repeatedly.

Any behaviour I want to teach my dog you will need to start training in a place of NO distractions.

I always stay vigilant about knowing what is happening in the area I am camping. This way I will know what potential reactive situations will be coming up, often before my dog does. It might become a little tiring to alway be alert, but with really good name recognition, it should be able to get a dog’s attention and then divert it to something other than barking and lunging BEFORE the dog notices what is coming. By doing this repeatedly, the dog will get better at paying attention and redirecting towards me.

To train name recognition, I use food rewards and reward my dog, at first whenever he is looking at me. Then when he is doing that well, I start waiting until he is not looking at me, but is not overly distracted. Then I will say his name in a happy tone of voice. Even if all I get is an ear twitch in my direction, I click and reward (I use a clicker most often, but sometimes I will use the word “YES”). If my dog doesn’t react at all, I know we are in too distracting a location, and I will change locations or wait until later and try training again.

Once my dog is turning his head quickly in my direction on hearing his name, I will change to a more distracting location, and continue with the same procedure.

Walking On A Loose Leash

Keeping the leash loose is crucial to keep a dog’s stress level (and mine) under control. When walking a reactive dog, I always use a body harness that does not restrict the shoulders. If you have enlisted the help of a correction free dog training instructor, do what the instructor suggests you use. Each instructor will prefer a different type. It is an individual choice.


I personally use a harness for all dogs no matter whether they are reactive or not. My two choices are the Hurtta harnesses and the Sensible or Sensation harness. These are just my choices out of all the harnesses I have tried. I don’t get paid by these companies to promote their products. Both of these harnesses, WHEN USED CORRECTLY, do not inhibit shoulder movement at all.

To train proper walking on loose leash I practice A LOT and start by working inside the house in a place on NO DISTRACTIONS.

Below is a link to my Loose Leash Walking videos. This explains everything in detail and demonstrates how I do this with dogs who are not fully trained to walk on loose leash so you can see the process. You may want to do this differently but the videos show that it can be done without corrections.

Having said this about leash walking, your dog doesn’t have to walk perfectly on leash to go camping or hiking. Do your best and don’t make your dogs behaviour mean anything about you and how you train, or about your dog. Enjoy yourself.

In The Meantime…

While these two behaviours are being trained to a high level of reliability, I have to be careful to try to limit the number of times my dog becomes reactive to the things he is reactive to. When a dog practices a behaviour – even barking – he is creating a stronger habit of that behaviour.

If I have to exercise my dog, I do it in a fenced in yard where the dog can’t be as reactive to things. I do a lot of training. Training tires dogs out mentally and physically. I don’t rely on simply walking my dogs for their exercise. If I do walk my reactive dog I make absolutely sure I will not come into contact with what the dog is reactive to.

If I’m going camping with a dog who is still in training (which most are!), I do my best to prevent reactive outbursts so that they are not practised by the dog.

Training these behaviours alone will not necessarily reduce or stop reactivity, but it is a start.

Happy Training!


8 thoughts on “How I Begin Training For Camping With Reactive Dogs

  1. Tremendously helpful! I’ve been thinking so much about loose-leash walking lately (we have two reactive German shepherds) and the need for me to improve my handling skills as well as more actively train our dogs. I’m looking forward to watching (and re-watching) your videos for inspiration/reminders!

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  2. Thank you for posting this. My border collie is reactive. He seems to be frustrated that he can’t get to dogs. I don’t let him run to dogs, like a lot of other (annoying) owners do. So he gets frustrated and barks his head off at the dog, lunging, spinning.
    He will also bark at dogs and people passing our garden, so I imagine it’s not all just frustration. As I type this, i’m close to tears.
    This evening, I just took our other dog (ex reactive dog) for a walk to spend some one on one time. I got back and it was Sulley’s turn (BC) for a walk. But we literally got outside the gate and a neighbour came round the corner with his two dogs. So Sulley went from 0-100 in a split second. He lunged so much as I tried to hold him, i was almost pulled in front of a car (I’m working on his leash pulling). I had to hold his harness and collar and pick him up and move him into the corner where our hedges are. He calmed down as the people and dogs went out of view. Then a stray dog came out of nowhere and tried attacking my dog. So again I scooped him up and practically threw him into our garden. It was either that or have him bitten.
    To top all that off, a dog down the street was barking (its always barking) and made him bark all the more.
    He was so wound up by this point that we ended up staying in our garden and played football for a little while.

    I’ve had a behaviourist out to him and she said to walk him away from what he’s barking at. But that makes him worse, and more dangerous for me as he lunges. I’m just at a loss of what to do. I did BAT training with our other dog when she was reactive. That helped and she’s more or less fine now. She can still be a little wary of strange dogs running at her, but not reactive anymore. She was a rescue dog, so don’t know that much about her background.

    My BC i’ve had since he was 8 weeks old (he’s just over a year old now), so I feel like this could’ve been prevented somehow. Like i’ve done something to make him this way.

    I can’t wait for more of your posts on reactivity


    1. Oh I so sorry that this is happening. I totally understand. I think there is hope though so don’t worry.
      BAT does work but there is something else that I think would help you more.
      Try checking out the following link:

      This is the best information on reactivity that there is in my opinion. If you dog really has developed some aggression, this will still help. It might be a bit of work but it will be worth it.

      What I am writing here is sort of based on this stuff too. One thing though, about walking away from something that is making your dog reactive. This can make a dog worse, so you need to make sure that you can keep your dog safe and away from things that make him reactive as much as possible to begin with. Turning away from things is for emergency situations only.

      Don’t worry about what you may have done or not done to encourage behaviour. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is now and what you will do to help your doggie.

      I’m sure you can make some progress on this. If you have any more questions or need some moral support feel free to message me.


  3. Thank you for replying to me. I have read the care for reactive dogs page through and through now. I gave him a break for a couple of days from going onto our local fields. Instead, I took him to meet my friends two dogs and walk through the woods. The dogs get along so well and he’s learning to relax a lot more too. It’s also helping with his fear of the car, he actually wants to get in now. He’s getting more confidence, even in these past few days. He’s learning from my friends dogs, his recall is almost perfect now too.
    I introduced my other dog to my friends dogs on friday. She’s very nervous of strange dogs, so doesn’t have many friends. But she’s doing amazingly well and has made friends with the other dogs. Today I was brave and took them both out together in the car for the first time since the younger one was 4 months old. We met up with my friend and her two dogs and they all played off lead together. I’m so proud of how they are progressing.
    Thank you so much for recommending that website. It’s helped so much in just a few days.

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