A First-timer's Guide To Going Camping with An Anxious Dog

Miranda Merchant 
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So you are planning on taking your dog along with you on their first camping trip. That’s great: camping provides dogs with the opportunity for plenty of exercise, fresh air, positive socialization and playtime. On top of this, you get to enjoy their company rather than leaving them back home.

Perhaps this will be the first time that you are taking your dog along with you or maybe you have tried going before but your dog has been displaying anxious behavior. Click here to view the complete guide to going camping with dogs.

However, camping with dogs can be challenging if they are not used to it and this is especially for dogs that are anxious. But fear not, a doggy camping trip is still a possibility.

According to a study carried out in Finland on over 13, 000 dogs published by Scientific Reports, which was the largest ever study on dog behavior, over two thirds of dogs displayed at least one anxious trait.  Better understanding your dog allows you to offer them better care, and all pups deserve the best care they can get.

Behavioural trait of dog

Image: https://www.nature.com/

In this guide we’ll be looking at how to keep your dog stress free so they can make the most of their trip away and you as well. We can break down the factors to be successful in two parts: preparation and application.

So, if you want to take your dog camping but they are prone to being anxious and overwhelmed by new surroundings, fear not, this guide has you covered.You and your dog will be well on your way to having an epic trip.

Preparing for your first camping trip with your dog

Along with knowing how to read your dog's behavior, you need to correctly prepare for your trip before you leave. As well as applying these handy tips once you have arrived then you that we will view later. In fact, camping with your dog can actually be highly beneficial for their mental state and help on their journey to becoming less anxious and more happy-go-lucky. On the flip side taking your dog out of their usual setting is a disruption in your dog’s routine. Naturally, they can take some time to adjust at first, which is only amplified in dogs with anxious behaviors.

  • Offer your dog stability

As we know, dogs are creatures of habit and stability. Camping is a break to their daily schedule. At first, it can almost be a shock to the system since it’s a change to their usual environment. Therefore your dog will look to you to provide them with stability and a calming presence, and then they will follow suit. Maintain the same standards with your dog as you would at home. Your dog will mirror you, being the pack leader, and your energy, and they will relax or tense up accordingly. Provided that you do this, your dog will be well on their way to making a great camping companion. It is important that as a pack leader you remain constant, remember to reassure them and don’t be too nervous.

  • Expect the unexpected

The new smells, people and dogs alike along with plenty of little animals to chase and more means that your dog can quickly become over-stimulated on a campsite. Campsites can be alot to deal with for an anxious pet, which is especially true for a rescue dog for instance. In the event that something unexpected does happen, it’s of course best to be prepared. And as with everything in life, the prevention is better than the cure. Here are a few common instances to bear in mind when it comes to unpredictable occurrences:

  1. Even if your dog behaves well and is not aggressive, other dogs might be. Remember to keep your dog on a leash at all times. So keep your eyes peeled.
  2. Bringing a doggie first-aid kit is always a good idea. For example, in the case that your dog picks up a tick, you will have some tweezers to remove it.
  3. Many dogs are scared of thunder and lightning so be mindful of the possibility of bad weather. Being in a tent or caravan with an anxious dog is beneficial to no-one.
  • Chips, Collars and Jabs

Before embarking on your adventure, make sure that your dog has a collar with a tag containing your contact info, in case they get lost. Equally it is important that they are up to date on their vaccinations. They should be protected against rabies, distemper and parvovirus, amongst others. If your dog is microchipped and they escape, it will make finding them so much easier. Someone that finds a lost dog with a collar is likely to bring them to a vet where the dog’s chip will be scanned and you will be contacted. It’s recommended to take a visit to your vet prior to embarking on your first camping trip together.

  • Consider your dog's temperament

Some pups are quicker to adapt than others. Since all dogs are different and you know your dog better than anyone else, you will have to use your own judgment as to whether your dog is ready. A dog that has anxiety will not be the quickest to adapt due to their past experiences, so taking baby steps is vital. If your dog doesn’t react well to strangers, then perhaps it’s worth considering going free camping - be sure to check the local laws in regard to free camping. Anxious dogs that become nervous around other dogs or people and lash out, unfortunately just are not suitable for campsite life. No matter if they are tied up, they could break loose. Please, don’t take unnecessary risks. It’s important that your dog is trained and obeys your commands. Also you need to know your dog's limits, don’t over exert them physically.

  • Pack your bags

Make sure that the accommodation that you are staying in is suited to your dog's needs. It is preferable to go in a RV rather than a tent when camping with a dog, although a spacious multi-compartment tent can do the trick depending on your preference. Bring all the necessary accessories and kit to make your dog as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Try to bring the necessary gear whilst not overpacking. Buying novelty camping items for your dog is not necessary, just make sure that they have a comfortable and dry place to sleep, water to drink, food to eat, an adequate leash and of course, their favorite toy. Click here to view the guide on what you need to pack for your dog when going camping. It is a good idea to not go away for too long for their first trip away.

  • Research your destination

There is nothing worse than arriving at your destination only to see a ‘No dogs allowed’ sign, especially if you have already paid your lot fees. It is best advised to go to a campsite that doesn’t receive too much traffic, as to not overwhelm your dog. Be sure to consult the campsite’s policy regarding our four-legged friends, knowing the rules and regulations of the campsite will help keep your dog and the other camps safe. So make sure that the campsite that you are heading to is not too boisterous. If people are up all night partying or there are fireworks this can be very stressful for dogs. If you are going camping off site, consulting the local amenities and environment is equally as important. Check the weather forecast in case of extreme weather or thunderstorms.

  • Be aware of the other campers

It is important to remember that campsites are communal places. When a dog is barking all night, that will keep everyone else awake. So if your dog is barking it’s likely that they are anxious or want something from you, so consider the reason as to why they are barking and try to resolve it. Also, keep an eye out for other campers interacting with your dog. For instance children might run up to stroke your dog, so you need to be sure that your dog will not snap in this scenario. Even if there is an inclin of doubt in your mind, use a muzzle or reconsider your camping trip. This doesn’t mean that they are a bad or aggressive dog, it just means they are overwhelmed and scared because of their past and that is their way of coping. For the sake of clarity, I repeat again: keep your dog on a leash whilst on the campsite.

Applying the correct practices to keep your dog calm

Now that we have prepared all that we need, and have the right mindset and we are confident that your dog will not pose a danger to others, we can move onto applying these ideas into action.

Understanding the triggers for your dog’s nervous behaviors

Perhaps you have a good grasp on dog psychology although it is necessary to revise this since having a grasp on this is key to handling your dog in a new environment so you can know how to act when you sense that your dog is visibly scared.

The Central California SPCA state that ‘The most common reasons for anxiety in a dog is abandonment, fear of being home alone, loud noises, traveling, and/or being around strange people, children, or other pets. We've also seen the anxiety in dogs that have been abused or neglected. The best way to treat your canine companion is to determine the cause.’

Anxiety is something that takes time to work on, in dogs as in humans. However this shouldn’t stop us from partaking in fun activities. On the contrary, it can help a dog gain confidence and become at ease with new environments over time. Remember that preparation is key, yet you need to remain flexible to cater to your dog's needs. The key to working on reducing their anxiety is changing their negative responses, such as barking, to their triggers where their anxiety stems from, to positive reactions. In order to reduce those responses that are negative, you will need to reinforce positive behaviors by rewarding the positive responses to triggers like praise and treats, such as not behaving aggressively towards guests or being scared of human interaction. Just remember that you cannot push a dog into not being scared, it takes time. Bearing all this in mind, camping really does offer a great opportunity to teach your dog, they are very adaptive creatures, our four-legged friends, after all.

Tips and techniques

  • Listen to your dog

Be observant of your dog's behavior and body language. If they are stressed and anxious they will show it in how they carry themselves. Learning about how anxiety works in dogs and the signs they exhibit to recognize it is essential.

  • Walkies

Take them for a walk to immediately get them away from what is stressing them. If your dog is showing signs of being stressed or overwhelmed, remove them from the situation and go for a short walk.

  • Give your dog a safe space

It’s important that your dog can have a calm and quiet place to go to so that they don’t feel trapped and feel as though they can escape from the source of the stress. Pets need a safe refuge in their mind to feel reassured.

  • Good training

Make sure your dog obeys your commands. Training your dog is an ongoing process, but they need to be able to respond to your commands when you need them to, on the campsite or out in the wild, for their own safety. If they don’t, practice training your dog before attempting to go camping with them.

  • Give high value treats

Bring their favorite and most delicious high value treats for rewarding their positive behavior to their triggers and make them feel as happy as can be. A high value treat is something they get on rare occasions that they love and that will make them extra receptive to your training. Besides being a great method of teaching your dog to adopt positive behaviors, what’s cuter than seeing the excitement on their faces in anticipation of a tasty treat.

  • Lay down some towels

This one can be very useful. Laying some towels down on the floor where you and your dog will be sleeping can prevent a messy situation. In case of a little accident or your dog is not the best house trained, they could urinate in the accommodation. The towels will make it much easier for you to clean up.

  • Keep them by your side

Keeping your anxious dog occupied and not leaving them alone is the best way to prevent them from being anxious because they will have their mind on the current activity, which should be enjoyable for them. Obvious signs to look for are tail wagging and their body will look relaxed. Stay with your dog because being with you will make them feel happy and relaxed.

  • Introduce something familiar

Going camping is a disruption to their daily routine, so introducing something that reminds them of home will help retain some consistency especially since that a dog’s strongest sense is their sense of smell. This could be something like their favorite blanket, toy, or even something that has the scent of a loved one, such as a t-shirt.

  • Don’t rush things

If you think that your dog isn’t ready to go camping, trust your instinct and don’t try forcing the matter. Ask the advice from your vet as well as friends and family that have experience with dogs.

To summarize

Hopefully this guide has answered your questions about going camping with your dog for the first time and now you feel confident to get going on your first trip together. Now that you're all set and well prepared for your camping trip, all that's left to do is have fun and enjoy your time together! Happy camping.

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