With the warmer weather making an appearance, many nature lovers are excited to head out and explore the great outdoors.
But a weekend getaway isn’t complete without our best friend by our side.
While most dogs will thrive in a tent or RV, camping with an anxious dog can be a stressful experience.
Here are our tips for managing dog anxiety while camping.
What Causes Anxiety and Reactivity in Dogs?
Before we dig into the steps you can take to improve your next camping experience, let’s start with the basics.
What causes anxiety and reactivity in some dogs?
Reactivity and aggression are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t to be confused.
While reactivity can lead to aggressive behavior, not every reactive dog is aggressive.
A reactive dog is simply a dog that overreacts to certain situations or stimuli.
Reactive dogs are those that overreact to specific kinds of stimuli or situations.
This includes barking excessively, growling, lunging, pulling at the leash, snapping, twirling repeatedly, or bouncing.
While both aggressive and reactive dogs may appear to show the same initial reaction, their intention is where the two are very different.
A reactive dog isn’t necessarily looking to lash out or inflict any harm. They are just so excited, stressed, or overstimulated that they can’t control it.
That means that these behaviors may be able to be managed effectively by calming your dog down and restricting the stimuli that he is being exposed to.
11 Tips for Camping with an Anxious Dog
Preparing to Camp with Your Anxious or Reactive Dog
A successful trip starts with some careful planning.
This includes making sure that you have everything that you are going to need throughout your trip.
It also means making strategic choices to set yourself and your dog up for success.
Here are a few tips to consider when planning your next trip camping with a reactive dog.
1. Focus on training first
Before heading out on an adventure together, make sure that your dog is solid with their basic obedience skills. This will help you prevent a potentially dangerous situation.
One of the most important skills that you can focus on before camping is your dog’s recall, even if you are planning on camping somewhere where leashes are always required.
If your dog breaks a tie out or escapes from the tent because they are anxious, you want to be able to secure them as soon as possible to prevent any problems.
Another valuable command is the “Look” or “Watch Me” command.
This allows you to easily redirect your dog’s attention from a potential trigger to you.
Teach your dog commands such as “watch me” before your trip.
If you are walking a reactive dog and see a potential trigger in the distance, the “look” command will make it possible for you to refocus your dog’s attention on you in order to maintain control and remove your dog from a potentially negative situation before it occurs.
2. Choose a private or low-activity location
If you are planning on camping with a reactive dog, your choice of campground and site is important.
Avoid overly popular areas where you know there will be a higher flow of traffic like near bathrooms, parking areas, garbage collection, or near the public beach.
Instead, you want to try to find a more private campsite, where possible.
Choose a site that is distanced from its neighbors with a buffer of rocks or vegetation where available.
A narrow entry into a site can usually be blocked with a vehicle to prevent your dog from seeing traffic on the roadway.
You can also use your tents, trailer, or even a tarp to remove that element of visual stimulation.
3. Familiarize yourself with on-leash and off-leash areas
Some campgrounds have both off-leash areas where the dogs are allowed to run loose and on-leash areas where a leash is required.
If your dog is reactive, having a strange dog run up on him can create an incredibly dangerous situation for all parties.
Know where the off-leash areas are to prepare yourself for loose dogs.
On-leash areas offer a higher level of control over when and how your dog meets others.
Make sure to find out where the off-leash areas are at the campground so that you can steer clear during your trip.
Tips and Tricks While at the Campsite
Now that you are at the campground, there are a few more things to consider.
This includes everything from the way that you set up your site to the ongoing training that is required when camping with an anxious dog.
4. Consider line of sight when setting up
Any time that you are traveling with an anxious dog, you want to consider your surroundings from their point of view.
What can your dog see that may cause stress or anxiety during his time there?
By removing the visual stimulation, you can reduce your dog’s anxiety.
Travel trailers, tents, vehicles, and dining shelters with privacy walls can all be used to limit what your dog can see from his designated area.
For example, if you notice that there is an opening in the trees that allows for a view of the site next door, consider setting up the tent directly in front of that area.
5. Secure your fog with a harness and tether or dog Pen
There are different ways that you can safely secure your dog while at the campsite.
The most popular choice is to use a tie-out.
Make sure that your dog is wearing a secure harness so that he or she can’t slip free and check your tie out for signs of wear and tear with each use.
Having an enclosed pen can make it easier to control your dog.
Another option is to keep your dog in an enclosed doggy playpen or exercise pen.
This is a great solution for leash-reactive dogs that may experience increased anxiety from being tethered.
Choose a pen that is large enough to provide your dog with room to move around and tall enough to prevent escape.
6. Never leave your dog alone
When dealing with an anxious dog, being left alone can be a big trigger.
They worry not only about the unfamiliar surroundings but also about the fact that their protector is now gone.
The more stressed your dog is, the more likely he is to respond with bad behaviors like barking excessively.
Not only is this highly stressful for your dog, but it can also disturb everyone else that is camping nearby (and it will get you kicked out of many campgrounds).
7. Include plenty of exercise in your daily routine
When determining how to help your dog settle at camp during your vacation, exercise is very important!
Pent-up energy can increase your dog’s anxiety, causing him to react even more.
Getting your dog’s energy out during the day can help them sleep better.
Make sure to plan for daily walks, hikes, swimming, or other high-energy activities that will help to wear your dog out.
When you return to the campsite, your dog will be happy to curl up and relax.
As the old saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog.
8. Reinforce good behavior
Make sure to bring plenty of your dog’s favorite treats, or training treats, and keep them on hand throughout the trip.
This is a high priority when deciding what to bring on your next trip!
Throughout the day, when your dog remains calm and avoids reacting to sights or sounds at the campground, reward them with a tasty morsel.
Be consistent. Over time, this is going to reinforce the behaviors that you would like to see.
If you are taking your dog camping for the first time, be realistic with your expectations. Everything is new and different.
You will need to teach your dog how to respond appropriately to the sounds of nearby campers, dogs barking in the campground, and people walking past your campsite.
As your dog starts to learn your expectations, you will notice that it takes less effort on your part to keep him or her calm.
9. Provide positive distractions
For dog owners that are worried about how to stop barking when camping, this is a great solution.
When you are hanging around your campsite and want to keep your dog calm and quiet, try offering a food puzzle toy filled with some of his favorite treats.
This could be an elaborate food puzzle where your dog has to figure out how to unlock a treat or a simpler option like a Kong or other treat toy stuffed with food.
If you are planning on camping in a tent trailer or RV with access to a fridge and freezer, you can fill these toys with all sorts of delicious options and freeze them to keep your dog entertained longer.
Having a distraction like a puzzle or a treat can be helpful.
Providing a cold or frozen treat is also a great way to cool down on a hot day outdoors.
As long as your dog’s attention is on the food puzzle, they are less likely to react to nearby sights or sounds.
10. Create a calm, relaxing atmosphere
Your dog senses and responds to your emotions.
If you are stressed or experiencing anxiety, this will increase the chances that your dog will too.
Even if the situation isn’t ideal, try to stay calm.
Avoid yelling or over-excitement on your campsite that could get your dog worked up.
11. Give your dog a natural calming supplement
Ideally, your dog would be able to self soothe and calm themselves down through training, your guidance, and repeated exposure to upsetting stimuli.
But that usually takes a while and some dogs are so anxious that this level is never achieved.
Instead of just hoping your dog will tolerate the stress, you can help them remain calm in stressful situations by administering a natural calming supplement.
The one that works best to calm my dog’s anxiety is CBD for dogs.
Read my review of our favorite brand HempMy Pet HERE.
Remember, Not Every Dog will be a Camping Dog
While there are things that you can do to make your anxious or reactive dog more comfortable, we also need to be honest with ourselves.
Not every dog is going to be comfortable in a camp setting.
If you know that taking your dog camping is a source of great stress and anxiety for both you and your dog, it may be best not to bring him along.
Consider booking them a relaxing stay at your local doggy resort during your next camping trip and you can both come home from vacation feeling rested and refreshed.
Do you camp with a reactive or anxious dog? If so, what are some of your tips for a successful and enjoyable trip?