Guest Post by Tadej Kožar
Would you love to bring your dog with you when you camp? What if your dog is reactive and not reliable outdoors? It is possible to take a reactive dog camping with you, but you will have to consider a few things before heading to a campsite or out in the backcountry.
The worst scenario can happen at a campsite that is crowded with other campers and their pets. If your dog will react to any of them even while just passing through you could have a stressful camping experience.
First, it is important to know why your dog is reactive so you work with him to fix the issue. Here are the most common reasons for a dog being reactive:
The lack of socialization
This is one of the most obvious factors for a dog’s reactive behavior. If your pup wasn’t introduced early on to various situations with people and other animals he can be reactive. It is best that you introduce a young puppy to new things as soon as possible as the brain is more perceptive in the first 4 months of a dog’s life.
Bad past experience
If you got a dog from an owner who mistreated him, this can be a problem. Your dog could associate people with pain and bad things and react negatively. It is important that he gets your trust. You will achieve this by working with him on a regular basis and reassuring him that he can trust people.
Your dog could be in pain
Your dog’s reactive behavior could actually be a reaction to his pain. Take your dog to a vet to determine if he has any health issues that make him reactive.
How to help a reactive dog when camping
Dogs with behavior issues require work, patience, and good techniques to overcome the problem successfully. Here are some tips for how to camp with a reactive dog:
Research the campsite
As the owner of a reactive dog, your responsibility is to find a more peaceful campground with not so many people, pets and events. Your dog will have an easier time coping with a new environment, people, and situations this way. Campgrounds that have adequate privacy between pitching plots are the best options.
Set up a dog-friendly camp
When you arrive at the campsite, let your dog research the place first. This way he will get familiar with the new environment. Then prepare a specific place for him so he can enjoy the quiet and rest undisturbed.
Get a pet-friendly tent
If your dog likes to sleep with you or close to you, get a tent that is appropriate for dogs. Some camping tents have a vestibule that is breathable and big enough for you and your dog to spend the night inside. You can even opt for a tent that has a vestibule floor made of material so your dog’s claws won’t tear apart and destroy the tent.
Set up a crate or an x-pen
If your dog is used to being outside, you can set up a place for him to relax, eat and walk. You can buy an x-pen, crate, or portable fence where he will feel comfortable and not so anxious.
If you have a very reactive pet you can cover up his crate or place where he relaxes when you have to cook a meal or collect firewood. Use tarps, blankets, or towels to cover the place where he stays so he can’t see “the triggers” that will make him react.
What to avoid
One big mistake dog owners make is putting their dogs on a short leash. If you restrict your dog’s movement, he can be even more anxious and aggressive. Instead, give him his own place (crate, x-pan, etc.) where he will have more freedom.
Enjoy the outdoors with your dog and make sure you provide activities that will make him calm and comfortable.
Take your dog for a long walk. He will be occupied with discovering new surroundings and sniffing around. Sniffing is the most basic behavior that makes dogs calm and this is exactly what your dog needs.
A walk will keep your dog occupied and mentally and physically stimulated so he won’t be able to react to the possible triggers. However, if he still finds a way to change his calm behavior, take him away from distraction and talk to him calmly.
Have a morning and an afternoon walk so your dog can explore and release his excess energy. The purpose of such action is to stop the reaction and offer him a better, calmer solution.
Play with your dog
Bring along your dog’s favorite toys that he can play with. With an interesting toy like a bone, rope, or a ball he will be occupied and less triggered by other factors and situations.
Change your dog's behavior in a moment
Changing your dog’s behavior is the most crucial thing to do when he starts to show signs of feeling uncomfortable. When you see a trigger that he is most sensitive to, take him away or give him his favorite toy so he can be focused on other more familiar things. It is important that you know what triggers his problematic behavior and to react accordingly.
Make your dog feel comfortable
Every dog that exhibits reactive behavior needs to feel calm and comfortable. Use your dog's name and talk to him quietly when he feels threatened. Try to get away from the trigger. This is an important step in the rehabilitation of a reactive dog.
Pack his gear
No matter where you take your dog camping you need to take care of his gear. He must have some sort of blanket or a bed where he can relax. If he is not used to resting in the vestibule of your large group tent then give him a sleeping area that reminds him of home.
Leash or harness
Use a leash or a harness when you walk with him. Don’t let him wander around the campsite by himself as he could get triggered easily by wild animals and smells. He can still enjoy a walk if he is restrained.
A treat pouch is basic gear for a reactive dog. It will come in handy on walks and when you want to divert your dog’s reactive behavior. Give him a treat from time to time when he behaves and also use a small treat when you want to divert his attention to a triggering situation, human or an animal.
Having a reactive dog demands a lot of work, patience, and techniques so you two can camp together peacefully. It is crucial that you know your dog's triggers so you can prepare for them while you camp.
Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash
Tadej Kožar is the founder of Camping Valley. The site is an extension of his lifestyle and passion for the outdoors. Tadej believes we live in a technological era but nature is reminding us more and more that we should go to the places where our heart and soul feel like home.