Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Camping with your DPDO Dog: It Can Be Done!

Snug as a... Corgi in a tent (Photo by Laura McKinney)
I will be the first to admit, I have not been camping with my dogs in a long time, and I don't think Marlo has ever been (although we did stay in an RV once!)  However, many of my clients and some of my friends take their dogs camping, and there are some steps and equipment that you can use to make your camping experience with your reactive dog as easy as possible.

My first recommendation is to make sure that your dog will actually enjoy the trip, and that safety is appropriately considered.  Dogs who don't care for other dogs or people in their space but who are generally able to relax in new places are the best candidates for camping trips.  Dogs who are always hyper-vigilant, highly reactive to sounds or visual stimuli, or extremely fearful will not enjoy the experience as much, and since camping is supposed to be a vacation for you the human, these dogs will almost certainly be happier left at home with a trusted pet-sitter. Continual barking is not fun for you, your dog, or the other campers.  The same goes for those dogs who have serious bite histories: it would be irresponsible to visit busy public campgrounds with them.

Don't let your reactive dog do this!

Next, consider where you are going to be camping.  If you are hiking into the great beyond and making camp along the way, your setups are going to be a bit easier than if you are camping in a busy, noisy campground with dogs and people all around.

Camping in out of the way spots gives you more freedom for set-ups (photo by Laura McKinney)

I'm going to focus on the latter category, since most of my clients participate in that sort of camping, and offer five steps to low-stress camping with your reactive dog.

Step One: Pick a good site with a good set-up.  Beware of campgrounds where the sites are bare patches packed together like tiny garden plots.  With visual stimulation coming at your dog from every angle, it will be much harder to relax.  Ideally, a site that backs up onto non-occupied space, or has barriers with RVs on each side will  make your dog feel more secure.  You are looking for a campsite with a "private" feel.

You are looking for a site like this.

Not like this! 

Step Two:  Make sure your dog has a safe place at your campsite.  If they're noise-sensitive, perhaps a trailer or RV is the best way to go, so your dog has a familiar place they can rest and have a break from the stimulation of the campground.  Just like at home, you can use fans, music or window film to make your RV a quieter and less visually stimulating rest spot (for you too!)  If you're tenting and your dog is more chill, an x pen makes a great safe place, especially if you're camping with multiple dogs (they can each have their own safe zone).  You can use sheets for visual blocking as appropriate.  And if your dog does not know Relax on a Mat, I strongly recommend you train this behaviour as soon as you can!  It will make it so much easier for them to settle in the camping spot.

An example of an x-pen and crate "safe spot"

Your dog decides where they feel safe :) (Photo by Shanda Drawdy)

Step Three: Make sure your dog is safely secured.  Most campgrounds require dogs are on leash at all times, which is an essential safety rule.  For reactive dogs, this is even more important.  If your dog respects an x pen, you can make a larger set up for them to hang out in while you're at the site (leaving them alone in an x pen while you're away from the site is not recommended).   Another option is a secure tie-out.  Use a harness, not a collar, and secure them to an immovable object (no picnic tables for big dogs!)   Make sure that should your dog run out to the end of their rope, they cannot reach or scare any person or dog passing by.  For example, tether them to something at the back of your site so they can't run past where you're sitting.

A dog on a safe tether (photo by Kayte Lawrence)

Step Four: Bring stuff for your dog to do.  A busy, mentally engaged dog is less likely to be looking for things to react to.  If you've got a trailer with a freezer, bring stuffed Kongs for all meals, frozen bones or animal "parts".  If you lack freezer space, bully sticks, pigs ears, or food-dispensing toys and puzzles are all good choices.  Be prepared with lots of food treats too, as even less-reactive dogs may be more on alert in a new place:  playing some games of "Find it!" to create positive associations with sudden noises or sights of other dogs will make your lives easier.

Busy happy camper! (photo by Laura McKinney)

Step Five: Exercise smart, not hard.  As many parks will be full of other dogs and strange people, if your dog has issues with either, be careful about how you exercise.  Pathways through campsites may have loose dogs at some point or another.  Finding alternate walking routes or driving a small distance to go for a walk may help.  If you're just doing a short weekend trip, you may be able to provide enough exercise for your dog at your site (tug, fetch, tricks etc) and so can avoid busy pathways.  Having another person with you to help navigate new areas and politely dissuade off leash dogs or friendly strangers can be a big help with a nervous dog.

There you have it: my five steps to enjoying camping with your reactive dog.  Have I left anything out?  What are your favorite tips for making camping fun with your dogs?

Surveying the domain (photo by Jenn Gill)

EDIT: Bonus tip!  After returning from your trip (or even if you've been away and not taken your dog with you), it is not unusual to see a regression in any behaviour problems you've been treating.  A change in routine and additional stress can manifest in more barking, more anxiety, a lower threshold for reactions, etc.  So do you and your dog a favour and do a few low-key days when you return: play some mental games, do some easy and fun obedience games, do some relaxation work, plenty of chews, and just relax together.  Then you can return to working your way through your dog's challenges.

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