Monday, July 24, 2023

Camping with Dogs

Camping with Dogs can be fun and challenging at the same time!

I'm not going to go over a full packing list because their are hundreds of them online to choose from. One item that no one should forget is a longline or tie out cable and the prior training that goes along with that!

No matter what style of camping you're doing, you're going to need to unload and do some basic set up. Having a longline so that you can anchor your dog to the vehicle or a tree while you get set up is a must. Depending on how your dog does in new environments, you may need to take them on a sniff-a-bout first. Otherwise you're likely to be interrupted with lots of barking and tangles in the line. Azul has been conditioned to having his line attached to my vehicle so I can get things done. On our last camping trip though we had Roz and Finnegan who hadn't had previous training for this. I spent the better part of the first hour dealing with dogs; getting them all attached to secure trees, food & water, untangling the lines, asking them to stop barking, etc. This is a great example of train for the moment, not in the moment! 
If you're going to be cooking over a fire, you're going to want your dog secured on a line a safe distance away from the open flame. While I teach my dogs to lay by my side around the fire pit, I don't want them distracting me while I'm cooking. And I don't want them getting the opportunity to sneak food from someone else around the fire pit. I'll set up my longlines at a safe distance away from the fire and any tables that will have food on it. Then I'll use a 6ft or shorter leash for relaxing around the fire. On the longline the dog can play or do whatever they want, but on the short leash I expect them to lay calmly by my side. Training a relaxed settle is also something you want to train before you go camping. Keep in mind that exciting environments make settling more difficult, so be sure to have realistic expectations based on your dog's previous training.

If you're hanging out around a bon fire in your backyard, your dog may be able to train your dogs to be off leash while you relax. Please! Please! Please don't allow your dog to be off leash while you're camping! I know from the moment I pull out of the driveway until I return home my dogs are going to remain attached to a leash of some sorts. There is no way we can predict all the distractions while we are camping so recall is going to be way more challenging. On our last camping trip 2 campsites had parrots with them! On a recent day trip we came across wild chickens in the woods. I'd expect to see wild turkeys, but Azul doesn't know that word. Yet when I exclaimed, "Those are Chickens!" Azul easily pulled the leash out of my hand and went on his own adventure. 

Off leash dogs easily create problems for other people nearby too. Even if your dog is totally friendly, it's rude to let them say high to other people and dogs without permission. Please don't be that person to exclaim, "It's ok, my dog is friendly!" I used to be that person until I started working with fearful dogs and people. On our recent trip to a campground we had 4 off leash dogs or groups of dogs come our way. Most happened when we walked down the road on sniff-a-bouts and most were able to recall their dogs. The one that bothered me the most was a repeat offender camping next door. Apparently the young dog had a door dashing problem and kept leaving the camper without permission. Every time, the poodle would head straight for our 3 dogs. I offered the caregiver a leash if she needed one to keep her dog from invading our space. My offer was not out of kindness. They declined saying they had a leash and walked away. My daughter went over and had a long discussion with them about how their dog invading our space was unsafe for everyone, especially their dog and how their dog was interfering with a Service Dog who may or may not be working at the time of the invasion. Thankfully after that, the dog was kept on their campsite. Most campgrounds have leash requirements! My next camping trip is on private property and I still expect my dogs to be on leash the whole time.

Dogs Need Sleep!

Camping greatly impacts everyone's energy level and quality of sleep! Dogs and kids are bound to be super excited when you first arrive to your campsite. Be prepared to manage that excitement! If you're in a group and people are arriving at different times, be prepared for your dog's excitement level to go up with each new arrival. You may have to help your dog maintain manners for calm introductions or go for a walk just before someone arrives to help move past that increased excitement.

You are spending way more time outside than you typically would and your dog is on leash therefore following you around more than normal too. This can lead to a very tired dog that may struggle with napping around all the distractions. We all know that a tired puppy becomes a naughty puppy and the same holds true for your older dogs when you're camping. If you're dog goes from being well behaved to being extra needy or doing behaviors they typically wouldn't, you're probably going to want to find a quiet place to rest together. They are not going to rest on their own so use this time to allow yourself to rest a bit too!

When I'm camping I tend to be one of the last people to bed and one of the first people awake. This means my nights are really short! My dogs are used to having 10-12 hrs of down time each night, but might only get 6 hrs of rest due to my schedule. This can be even more challenging if your dogs can't settle wherever you want them to sleep due to the new environment, wildlife noises, activity from other campers, etc. Be sure to take a blanket or dog bed that they've used at home to help them settle in. Just like we may need coffee to help us make it through the early morning, our dogs might need a special treat that takes them awhile to enjoy; a frozen lickmat, a bone to chew, whatever they love and will help them relax as people around you try to get a few more hours of sleep. Be sure to provide your dog a safe place to sleep if they are asking for some more rest.

Since I'm typically camping with family or friends, I plan at least a few quiet walks or even a drive with just me and my dog(s). This gives us all a chance to decompress a bit and have some silence. My dogs often use this time to sniff which is relaxing and they often go potty too. Some dogs struggle with going potty around strangers or away from home, but getting away from camp for some quiet time can really help. And once my dogs learn that this will happen, they typically won't poop in the areas people relax in. I'm cleaning it up either way, but I'd rather not have them going where we will be playing and eating all day. This is also a good time to think about how your dog lets you know they need to potty. At home it's generally by going to the door, perhaps ringing bells or using a potty button. But when your outside and you don't have doors, bells, or buttons available, how will your dog tell you they have to go?

Connecting with the Environment

When our dogs are adding lots of work to our camping trip we may need to remind ourselves why we want our dogs with us in the first place. Spending some quiet time each day enjoying the nature around us and connecting on a heart to heart level with our dogs can be the highlight of the trip! Yet it's one of those things that we seem to forget to do while we are camping. If your a morning person, you may find some yoga in a tranquil spot rewarding for both of you. If your an evening person, a sunset on the beach might sound better. I'm more of an afternoon person so that usually means hiking through the woods to some hidden spot and relaxing in the shade without any technology (my phone is typically buried in my bag for safety) and simply watch the world go by; leaves falling, birds chirping, chipmunks running, etc.

It can be very hard for dogs to be able to hold still and take in the environment with all kinds of potential distractions around them. I typically let me dogs choose their activity during this time so they can sniff the area we are settling in, play with each other or me, or relax for a drink of water. If I can find a spot near a lake or river, then we found a slice of heaven! My dogs can play in the water, splashing around and making me laugh. I can't wait to take my shoes off and put my feet in water every chance I get! If you want your dog to be calm and you think the environment is going to be too stimulating, take a lickmat or long lasting chew for them to enjoy while you hang out together. 

Very rarely will I invite anyone along on these excursions. It has to be someone who loves my dogs nearly as much as I do or someone who has their own dog to love and everyone loves hanging out together. I'm a very social person, but sometimes we all need "ME" time and sometimes that means we need that break from our dogs too.

Leaving Your Dogs While on Vacation

This can be one of the most challenging parts of camping with your dog! Most of us have dogs that can stay home alone for at least short periods of time. If you happen to have a dog that suffers with separation anxiety then you may need to work even harder if you need to leave your dog somewhere during your vacation. The goal should be to set up in a way that leaves both you and your dog feeling safe, calm, and happy during your separation.

I'll be staying in a tent this coming weekend. In no way can I leave the property with my dog enclosed in a tent or other temporary structure and feel like they are safe while we are gone. Dogs can easily chew or dig through tent material if they want out. My dogs are a Service Dog and a Service Dog in Training so legally they can go with me anywhere I go. However, it's quite hard to enjoy a trail ride in a JEEP with 2 large dogs on my lap. We will also be taking a canoe trip that put us away from our camp for 4-5 hrs. I can easily take 1 dog on the canoe trip, but 2 would be too hard. Last year we had 4 dogs on the river in our group, but I was only responsible for Azul. This year I'm faced with either choosing to stay behind and not go canoeing or choosing which dog to leave behind. We do have family members who don't go on this trip, but most are older and would struggle to manage a leash with one of my large dogs attached. I'm not exactly sure what I will do for this excursion yet, but that will probably be in an upcoming blog.

Here are some steps that I do to make sure my dogs and I feel safe, calm, and happy while we are separated.
  1. I'll be taking a crate that can be set up under a shade tree or inside a pole barn where it is cooler. This will depend on predicted weather while I'm gone. But if it's too hot, this will not be a safe solution.
  2. I'll have longlines set up and secured to minimize any leash time another person may need. We have 2 main areas set up at our camp; a bon fire area and play/games/gathering area out back in the shade. I will have a longline secured in both areas so that the human watching the dog only has to move them from one line to the other if the human is changing areas.
  3. I'll make sure the human my dogs will be staying with and the dog that will be staying have created a relationship together and have learned how to communicate with each other. Azul has been to this location 4-5 times and often sleeps with me inside my sister's camper. She has known him since he was a puppy and even though they only see each other a few times a year, Azul knows she always has something good in her ice chest! This will be the first time Roz has been to this camp, but she's so social and food motivated that she's going to have everyone begging to watch her when I leave.
  4. I'll have a backup plan! You never know what is going to happen while you are gone. We've had 1 hour trail rides turn into 4 hours when a vehicle breaks down on the trip. We've had storms pop up suddenly drenching everything that couldn't run to cover. There is no way to prepare for everything, but do your best to have a plan that is communicated with the person who is caring for your animal. 
    1. Typically my dogs don't need to eat if I'm going to be gone an hour, but if something happens, the caregiver should know where the food is.
    2. If the babysitter needs to stick the dog somewhere due to weather, where is your safe space. Cam would have preferred to be in the car should a sudden storm roll through. Azul would prefer to be in my sister's camper or the pole barn depending on where all the people are.
    3. What should your babysitter do if an off leash dog or wild animal wanders into camp while your gone? I'm sorry but there are not many family members that I would trust to be able to hold back my dogs in this situation! Even if I'm there, I'm going to quickly load my dog into the car to deal with the other animal. Can my babysitter do that safely? If not, what else can they do? What other ideas can we give them to help when the unexpected thing happens while your gone.
If you can't feel safe, calm and happy about leaving your dog at camp then you probably shouldn't be leaving them. This might be hard to do, but sometimes the choice to stay behind is the best choice. Will you really enjoy that out if you're worried about your dog the whole time your gone? This one was really hard for me when Azul was younger. I lost my first Service Dog due to an unforeseen accident and I don't take unnecessary risks with Azul! You could even say I don't take any risks with Azul! While Azul doesn't have separation anxiety when we are apart, I sure do! This is common among Service Dog Handlers, but many pet parents struggle with this issue as well. I wish I had more advice on this issue, but basically if you can't enjoy yourself while your gone knowing your dog is safe, calm and happy, then perhaps you just shouldn't leave them during your vacation. 

Here are a few more pictures for you to enjoy from my last camping trip! 

Next up: Taking Your Dog to the Beach!

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