Preparing Your Reactive Dog For Camping Season

Camping/travelling season is coming up fast. It’s time to prepare your reactive dog.

If you haven’t been out much with your dog over the cooler part of the year, and will be doing some travelling and camping, you will want to prepare your dog for seeing new things, people, smells and other dogs.

A normally “friendly” or calm dog can become overly excited when starting to do things that he or she has not done in a while, and a reactive dog can get completely overwhelmed by this.

This is why preparing your dog for this change is important to the both of you.

Training The Three

When we start getting ready for travelling to dog shows and camp sites in the spring, I always go over with my dogs the stuff they already know.

All my dogs are reactive to something. Emmett is reactive to squirrels. Tommy is reactive if people come to the door or into the campsite. Ira is a puppy and everything is exciting to him right now.

So, in order to help modify any exciting situations, the three most important things your dog needs to know are: his name, sit, and giving in to leash pressure or “follow me” (a type of recall).

Luckily, these three behaviours actually go together well in real life and in training which can reduce the difficulty of finding time to train.

When teaching your dog a good recall or to follow the leash, the first thing I do is train name recognition. This is really the start of the recall because you say your dog’s name first, before you say “come” or “here”. Your dog is conditioned to look at you quickly.

Then, you can train your dog to come to you, and ideally sit in front of or near you.

This is a behaviour progression that I like to train well so that the dog doesn’t even have to really think about it. It will become such a habit that the dog does it automatically, if properly trained.

Name Recognition

To train name recognition, simply start by having food rewards visible to the dog in an area of no distractions. Say your dog’s name and immediately give a reward. You are not looking for any behaviour other than your dog taking the food reward.

Do this in short sessions of about 10-20 reps, over several days.

Then start waiting for your dog to not be paying attention. Stay in an area of no distractions. Do the same procedure except reward your dog when he looks towards you when you say his name. Work on this for several days.

Increase distractions as your dog gets better at looking at you quickly when you say his name. Make sure your dog can do this around high distractions before going into a very distracting situation.

The video below shows how to start training the name recognition with a dog who has not had any training at all, or who needs a good refresher. This video is for all breeds but the directions should be followed especially for purpose bred dog breeds.



Most dogs do not know how to hold a sit for an extended period of time. This is a simple training issue and can be remedied by learning how to properly train a long sit. For info on how to do this training, check out my article on how to train your dog to do a really good sit.

Giving Into Leash Pressure or Follow The Leash

This is an extremely important behaviour for your reactive dog to know. This is because you will at some point need to get out of a situation quickly or make a fast turn and have your dog willingly come with you. Doing so reduces stress on both you and the dog and prevents escalation of a potentially reactive situation.

To train this behaviour, have your dog on a front attach harness in an area of no distractions. Have food rewards on you. Put a small amount of pressure on the leash and harness and back away a few steps as you call you dog’s name (which you have already worked on!). If you have to lure your dog towards you with the food do so. When your dog reaches you, release the pressure on the harness and give a food reward.

Continue training in this fashion and slowly increase distractions but not to the point of reactivity for your dog.  Just work around normal distractions that don’t cause your dog undue stress.

You want your dog to move readily towards you when there is some pressure put on the leash and harness. This will help you get you dog out of situations or potential situations quickly and more easily to avoid reactivity.

How These Work For Reactivity

For the reactive dog, I use the dog’s name to get his attention if the situation warrants it. This could be if your dog sees a trigger in the distance and starts to alert or even if something surprising happens close by and your dog reacts. You will especially need this is you notice a trigger coming that your dog has not seen yet. This can get your dog focused on you while you move him out of the sight of the trigger, preventing reactivity. You can also use your dog’s name to have him move towards you more easily and give into the pressure of the leash.

It is crucial that your dog knows his name well.

The sit helps keep your dog near you in a more relaxed position in reactive situations rather than straining at a leash or charging the door or window. It helps give your dog something to focus on while the distraction goes by.

If you are camping, hiking or travelling, training “The Three” – name recognition, sit and follow the leash – are the most important things to teach your reactive dog well.

Happy Training!

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