Last updated on 6 May, 2023
So many dogs love to camp. The great outdoors, the chance to get lots of exercise, get dirty and be with their people what is there not to love. When your dog is reactive, camping can seem like an impossible task, but with our tips for camping with a reactive dog, it is possible.
Also as a bonus, from our experience, reactive dogs thrive when camping. And it is so good for us, their owners to be out and about too.
I am not a professional dog trainer, so this article does not have specific training advice. I do, though, say (briefly) what skills I have trained my dog to have that have helped to manage her reactivity.
The other important note is that reactivity presents differently in different dogs. The tips below are some ideas for you to try; these may or may not work for your dog or you.
Related read: Should You Travel Australia with Your Dog?
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Any commission is greatly appreciated as it helps to keep Our Wayfaring Life online.
- Why You Should Take Your Reactive Dog Camping
- 10 Tips for Camping with a Reactive Dog
- 1. Pack Your Dogs Familiar Belongings Camping
- 2. Start with Short Camping Trips
- 3. Choose Quiet Dog Friendly Campgrounds
- 4. Request or Find a Secluded or Quiet Site
- 5. Put Up Screens or Visible Barriers
- 6. Create a Safe Space for Your Dog
- 7. Securely Tether Your Reactive Dog at Your Campsite
- 8. Ensure Your Dog is Exercised, Stimulated and Gets to Rest
- 9. Have Clear Ways to Communicate that Your Dog is Reactive
- 10. Find Support and Understanding
- Our Story Camping and Travelling with a Reactive Dog
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Why You Should Take Your Reactive Dog Camping
The Potential Positive Outcomes
Often we protect our reactive dogs from triggers to prevent harmful behaviours that may cause injury to our dog, us or others by taking them out less or avoiding many situations or places. It is understandable when a reactive dog’s behaviour can also trigger feelings of frustration, fear, anger, sadness and incompetency in us.
Camping, done with some planning and prepping, is a feasible way to get out and have fun with your dog. More than that, camping can also:
- Be a boredom buster for you and your dog,
- Give yourself and your dog plenty of time to bond with each other,
- Give your dog space and time to thrive through new experiences and make great memories together,
- Let you observe your dog’s behaviours more thoroughly and get to know your dog better, and
- Helps you to have more time to enjoy the lovely qualities your dog has.
Chika, our reactive dog, has thrived in so many ways in the years we have travelled with her full-time. You do not have to travel full time to get the benefits of camping for your dog and yourself.
Camping with a Reactive Dog will NOT Always Go Fantastically Well
Camping with a reactive dog is never straightforward and needs careful consideration, planning and prepping, but the rewards can be far more than you might expect for you and your dog. The truth is, your reactive dog is still the same reactive dog you have at home, so it is unrealistic to expect that there will be no reactivity.
To put in perspective, after travelling full time for nearly five years with our reactive dog, we are still:
- Hyper vigilant and do not go anywhere without being ‘on watch’ for potential triggers,
- Plan where we will camp primarily based on our dog’s needs,
- Have feelings sometimes of frustration, being judged by others, resentment and just being tired.
The above is also not all we do. We have fun, see new places, do new things and make great memories.
10 Tips for Camping with a Reactive Dog
How is it possible to camp with a reactive dog and make it a positive experience? Follow our tips below for some practical ideas that have worked for us and our reactive dog.
1. Pack Your Dogs Familiar Belongings Camping
Belongings that are your dogs, such as their bed and blanket, food and water bowls, toys and lead, will help your dog feel more settled when camping in unfamiliar places. There will be enough new experiences not to need these things to be unfamiliar too.
2. Start with Short Camping Trips
One or two night camping trip not too far from your home is the best way to introduce your reactive dog to camping. Make the aim more about it being a (mostly) successful trip than about the amount of time.
3. Choose Quiet Dog Friendly Campgrounds
A quiet campground will generally mean fewer triggers for reactive dogs. The fewer triggers there are, the more likely the camping trip will go well for everyone. If it goes well, the more likely you will do it again.
The ways to find quiet campgrounds is to:
- Go camping in the shoulder or low season and avoid peak season,
- Look for bush campgrounds (many are free) or private campgrounds that have a minimal number of sites (check out Hipcamp) and stay away from big caravan parks, and
- Try, if you can, to camp on a weeknight, especially on your first attempt to avoid weekend campers.
4. Request or Find a Secluded or Quiet Campsite
When booking or choosing a campsite ask for or look for a one that:
- is away from thoroughfares,
- is a good size (for more space for your dog), and
- has the least amount of other campers nearby; it is worth asking for a campsite where there is not a campsite behind yours.
5. Put Up Screens or Visible Barriers
Many reactive dogs get triggered by something they can see, like another dog or a person. Putting up a screen or visible barrier will help limit what your dog sees from your campsite and help to keep them feeling safe and calm.
A caravan awning with annex walls or privacy screens or a portable gazebo with side walls are ways to put a barrier between your dog and everything else.
6. Create a Safe Space for Your Dog
A space for your dog is somewhere they can go that makes them feel protected and safe at your campsite is probably one of the most important things you can do for your reactive dog. Safe spaces for your dog could be:
- Their dog bed, perhaps inside your tent or caravan,
- Under your caravan (this is our dog’s safe place),
- Inside a portable pet carrier or crate with their bed inside, or
- In your car, perhaps with the windows covered.
Preferably make it a space your dog can get into themselves. It may be necessary to train your dog to use the safe area. Our dog chose under our caravan as her safe space. She has always liked dark places such as under houses, so it was no surprise.
Related read: Where Should My Dog Sleep When Camping? 11 Great Ideas
7. Securely Tether Your Reactive Dog at Your Campsite
Stopping a dog from wandering away from your campsite is something all dog owners need to do, but more so for reactive dogs. Generally, the most common ways to tether a dog while camping are by using:
- A rope,
- A stake and cable,
- A dog cable dog run or zipline,
- A portable pen, or
- A portable fence.
8. Ensure Your Dog is Exercised, Stimulated and Gets to Rest
Generally speaking, a dog that gets exercised, stimulated, rested and fed is a content dog. Plan and organise to have activities or things both within your campsite and out and about, such as:
- Sniffing walks
- Varied types of exercise, walking, running, swimming, playing or chasing
9. Have Clear Ways to Communicate that Your Dog is Reactive
Anyone with a dog that is reactive to other dogs or people knows how endlessly frustrating it is to have your dog approached without your permission. I mean, yay for them that their dog is non-reactive or they have never had a dog react out of fear, but if there is one thing I would want everyone else to know, it is stay away from my dog unless you get my permission to approach.
Broadly, it is not that others want to trigger a reaction in your dog. They are unaware. So, make them aware by using good communication, like:
- Using a big loud voice.
- Directly and assertively stating not to approach your dog (without apologising).
- A muzzle on your dog tells others your dog is known to use their teeth.
- Get your dog to sit and focus on you, ignoring anything else (through regular training).
- Have your dog wear a vest or bandana that says they need space.
10. Find Support and Understanding
This tip does not relate directly to camping with a reactive dog. It is instead pointing out that you are not alone. There are many of us with reactive dogs and many of us travel with our reactive dogs.
Travelling with Reactive Dogs Australia is a terrifically supportive group on Facebook full of people that understand and want to help.
Our Story Camping and Travelling with a Reactive Dog
A Bit About Our Reactive Dog, Chika
One of Chika’s triggers is a fearful response to other dogs. Generally, her reactions to other dogs looks progressively like this:
- The other dog is a fair distance away, she will briefly watch them and if they show no interest in her, she will ignore them,
- The other dog comes closer but is not right up in her personal space, her body language will communicate she is on high alert; her ears will go back, her posture will stiffen in preparation to lunge and she will stare intently at the other dog.
- The other dog is in her personal space (a bit more than a length of lead away), she will snarl and if they ignore her warning, she will snap or bite.
Her other reactivity trigger is some loud noises, including thunder, power tools and air compressors. She reacts by running tight circles really fast until complete exhaustion (if allowed).
How We Introduced Chika to Camping and Eventually Full Time Travel
Our first camping trip with Chika was at a free quiet state forest campground for two nights. There were very few other people around and they were far enough away not to be a concern to Chika. At night, we slept in a swag while Chika slept in her bed in the back of our car.
The next time Chika camped was on a solo road trip she and I did for two weeks staying at free camps. Again on this trip, we stayed at free quiet campgrounds with me sleeping in a swag and Chika in my car.
Now she travels to Australia with us full time in our caravan.
What We Have Learned Camping and Travelling with a Reactive Dog
Over the years of camping and travelling with Chika, we have learned:
- Chika loves camping, the outdoors and exploring new places through walks and sniffing.
- Chika has thrived because there is a better balance between stimulating activities, exercise, rest and eating than we could manage for her when we are in a house.
- Travelling with Chika has given us more opportunities to observe the different stages of her reactivity, better understand her body language and train her (and us) to respond more safely or remove her from the situation.
- We have to be patient and forgiving of both ourselves and Chika. It is unrealistic to expect nothing negative will ever happen with a reactive dog, so it is vital to have some resilience and not let it be a reason to give up.
- It takes time to build up confidence in your skills as an owner of a reactive dog and trust between you and your dog, and camping is a fantastic way to do this.
- Communicating assertively with other dog owners to avoid many incidents is essential. Unfortunately, breed bias is a real thing meaning it is assumed dogs like Chika, a border collie, are always friendly or bull terriers are aggressive. It never ceases to amaze me when other dog owners say, ‘but my dog is friendly’ when I tell them my dog does not like other dogs.
My final word is to remember to be kind to yourself. It is not easy owning a reactive dog, but with your support and patience, they can live their best life. Camping with a reactive dog is possible and potentially a lot of fun.