We’ve been camping recently, and I’ve fallen back in love with it. There is something pretty magical about just being stuck in the woods in silence for hours on end and camping with dogs. Plus, who doesn’t love a good campfire and s’more?! I’ll admit, at first, I was worried what Buster would do. Was he going to bark at every single sound? If our campsite was next to people, was he going to bark at them nonstop? Oh god, what if they had a dog?
As per usual, my fears were all for nothing. So, let this be a gentle reminder, stop worrying about things you don’t know or have no control over! Sure, take time to educate and prepare yourself, but stop stressing and worrying! Long story short – Buster loves to camp! We went a few weekends ago and were at a campground with campsites quite close to each other. We had people all around us, and we had a pretty loud dog directly across from us. Buster didn’t care! He seemed so genuinely happy to be camping! He was so relaxed that his usual triggers truly weren’t bothering him.
Then it occurred to me, I think camping may actually be the best activity for reactive dogs! Think about it – you’re relatively secluded (especially if you follow my tip in #1). You’ve likely been exercising more, because typically when you camp, you are also walking/hiking a good bit, so your dog is likely more tired. Because you’re out in the wide open, while your dog may be interested in all the sights and smells, they may be less apt to react simply due to the fact that they are less on edge from a) being tired from the exercise and b) being out in the great outdoors! There are studies about how being outside is hugely beneficial for people, so I’m pretty sure it’s the same for dogs.
Now that we’ve gone over the fact that camping may actually be the best activity for reactive dogs, here are my tips for camping with your reactive dog.
choose the appropriate location
There are tons of places you can camp these days. Your options range from national parks to state parks to campgrounds and more! But, they are all set up quite differently. In my experience, national and state forests are the most remote. For example, this weekend we camped at Green Ridge State Forest in Flintstone, MD. At our particular campsite, our closest neighbor was about a mile away. Our campsite was also down a fairly rough road that I’m pretty sure only an SUV or truck could go down, unless you wanted to scrape up the bottom of a car. Of course, this is primitive camping at its best. There are no facilities. The closest store is about 20 minutes away.
Now, on the other hand, state parks typically tend to be more developed. The campsites are on a true campground. Each venue will differ, but in general, your neighbor is relatively close. Thank god for the trees for privacy right?! While these still may be primitive, there are usually full bathrooms and other facilities (sometimes a lodge with vending machines and sometimes even a restaurant!) somewhere in the state park. There are also usually developed recretion areas – like little lake or river beaches, large playgrounds, and even golf courses or shooting ranges.
While most venues have their maps online, it can still be challenging to determine the exact distance you are to your neighbor or what the road is like to your campground. I recommend doing a quick Google search and seeing what other reviews say about the place. Other than that, going with the flow and figuring out how to make your campsite work for you is just part of the adventure that is camping with dogs!
With good management techniques, a reactive dog could easily camp at either kind of venue; however, clearly you are likely to experience more triggers at a more established campground like a state park. I personally prefer camping more remotely. When I’m camping, I don’t really want to see or hear people at all. I just want to be in the woods.
exercise your dog
Part of the fun of camping is that you should be walking and hiking to do some sightseeing! When you’re doing this, make sure you take your dog with you! I know you want to sit down by the campfire eating s’mores, so exercise your dog during the day so that at night he will happily lay by your feet by the fire. Even though this may be a little mini vacation for you, you still need to get your exercise in!
bring a dog run
You’ll need to be able to secure your dog while you’re setting up and tearing down camp, so make sure you have some sort of dog run. It’s a pain in the butt to constantly hold a dog leash, and you’ll likely need to keep the doors of your vehicle open to unload, so you can’t put him there. The dog run also allows him to check out and smell the area safely while you can sit by the fire!
There are all sorts of ways to use a dog run. I’ve used a long line through a cargo hook on my SUV, and some vehicles even have external hooks you could use. You could also get one of the dog runs that you screw into the ground (although personally, those terrify me, and I’m afraid of the dog pulling them up.) My personal favorite (and maybe even the cheapest) is to buy 50’ of paracord, 2 eye hooks, and a carabiner. Tie the eye hooks on the ends of the paracord. Taughtly string the paracord between 2-3 trees and secure with the hooks. Place the carabiner on the line and hook your dog’s leash handle through the carabiner. Now your dog can effortlessly glide along the run! Dogs tend to get tangled way less using this method since their leash is hanging pretty vertical in a tight manner. Some companies sell readymade dog runs like this, but they can cost upwards of $60!
BRING A CHEW TOY
We’ve been over this time and time again, but chewing helps dogs to release energy, and it makes them calmer. Buster chews on his West Paw Hurley bone every single night, and he has for about 5 years now! (1 bone lasts about 4 months, so yes, every 4 months or so I really do buy a new bone.) I absolutely see a difference in his demeanor before he chews and once he is done. He is much calmer after chewing, even if he’s only chewed for 10-15 minutes. So make sure you bring some sort of chew with you! You could bring a toy they like, or even something like a bully stick.
Bring some music!
I love listening to the sounds of nature, but sometimes, those sounds can be scary for dogs. Reactive dogs that are highly sensitive to the environment and environmental triggers may be more apt to bark at things like limbs falling. Music can cover those subtle sounds, so your dog is less on edge. Plus who doesn’t love good music while eating s’mores?
So now that you’re well prepared with 5 tips for camping with dogs, tell me in the comments – do you take your dog camping? Is your dog reactive? What’s your biggest fear about camping with a reactive dog?
I really hope you’ll utilize these tips to help you feel better about getting out and about and maybe even trying a one night camping trip with your dog!