This post is written by guest author, Britt Kascjak, from Shed Happens.
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Traveling and camping with your dog is a great way to spend quality time together, explore the world as a team, and strengthen your bond. Before you pack up your vehicle and hit the road, there are a few important factors worth consideration to be sure that both you and your dog are prepared for the adventure.
Today, we’re going to look at how basic obedience training can improve your experience when tent camping with dogs.
If you share your home (and your heart) with a high-energy dog or a curious dog that thrives off exploring new environments, camping may be the perfect solution. There are few moments where a dog can just ‘be a dog’ the way that they can when they are out in nature.
However, with that fun experience also comes new risks and necessary precautions.
The situations that you may encounter while exploring outdoors may differ slightly from what you are used to facing at home. Many of the risks are out of your control, such as those that come from the local wildlife or vegetation in the area. What you CAN control is how your dog will react. This is where training comes in.
Each of the tips below will look at training that you can focus on at home before heading out on your next adventure. Not only will this focus on basic training help when camping and hiking with your dog, but it will also have a positive impact on your dog’s behavior at home. After all, we all want to have a well-behaved dog. Right?
So, grab your dog’s favorite training treats and let’s get started…
Be Prepared for Tent Camping with Dogs by Focusing on These 6 Training Tips
Proper Socialization Skills
For many people, the purpose of camping is to get away from other people entirely. However, that isn’t to say that you aren’t going to encounter people on hiking trails or at dog beaches, among other places. For this reason, socializing your dog properly is an important part of getting ready for outdoor travel.
If you know that you have a dog that tends to be reactive or aggressive around strangers or other dogs, then you need to take steps to prevent any problems from arising. This includes always keeping your dog on leash while you are travelling and considering the use of a muzzle for added safety.
Muzzles are often viewed negatively, however, they can be a great tool when properly fit and used accordingly. Be sure to choose a muzzle that will allow your dog to fully pant while wearing it. Panting is your dog’s main way to cool down on a hot day and preventing that could lead to overheating or heat stroke. It should also be sturdy enough to prevent your dog from biting if the situation were to go south quickly.
Minimize Your Dog’s Barking
While barking is an expected behavior from dogs, especially when they are in a new place with new experiences, you should do what you can to keep your dog’s barking to a minimum. This is especially true if you are camping in a park or campground with other campers nearby. While you are choosing to bring your dog along on your trip, your camping neighbors may not all be “dog people”.
This isn’t to say that your dog must perfectly behave the whole trip. Most people will be understanding that a dog is a dog if you take steps to address any barking quickly. If you know that your dog is overly vocal at home, this is something that you should start to work on before booking your next camping trip.
Does Your Dog Come When Called?
Recall is a necessary command when considering your dog’s safety, especially when you are in a new environment. Most parks and campgrounds will require your dog to be contained or on-leash at all times, but there is always a risk that your dog may get loose. Leashes break. Dogs can slip out of the tent when someone is coming or going. Accidents happen (and they don’t mean that you’re a bad dog owner).
Your dog’s ability to come when called may be the deciding factor between resolving the situation quickly and safely or starting the search for a missing dog. Don’t forget that your dog is not familiar with the surroundings when you are visiting somewhere new, which can quickly add stress to the situation.
Take time to work on your dog’s recall skills at home before heading out on your next trip. After you and your dog are confident with their recall skills at home, try using a long leash in a public area, such as a park, to practice recall with the distractions that come from a more populated area.
The Importance of the ‘Leave It’ Command
The ‘leave it’ command is often overlooked when considering travel-friendly skills, however, it could be argued that this is the most important skill that you will teach. Why? As we previously mentioned, a new environment means new risks including vegetation that may or may not be toxic to your dog. Not only can your dog come in contact with naturally occurring toxins, but there is also the risk of garbage or other items that have been discarded by other campers.
If you see your dog picking something up and you’re unsure of what they have, you need to get that item out of their mouth as soon as possible. No one wants their camping or hiking adventure to end with a trip to the local emergency veterinarian, or worse.
Adjust Your Dog to the Tent at Home
While this isn’t technically a training command, it is an important step to take in preparation for your vacation. If your dog has never stayed in a tent before, the experience can be a lot to take in. Unlike a building with fixed walls, tent walls allow for the sounds and scents of the surrounding vicinity to travel in freely.
If you have a yard, back deck or garden that could fit your tent, try setting your tent up for a trial run at home. This will give you the chance to work up to sleeping in the tent by allowing your dog to explore, investigate, and become comfortable with the atmosphere. Alternatively, you can set up the tent indoors and give your dog the opportunity to check it out. This will take some of the unknown out of the experience for an easier transition.
For dogs that are crate trained, it is recommended that you bring your dog’s crate along for their first couple of trips. This will provide a safe and secure place for your dog overnight so that you can sleep without worrying. If your dog isn’t comfortable with the crate, keep them on leash all night in the beginning so that you can stop them from getting away, if necessary.
A big non-training related tip is to use a carabiner for your tent zipper. Dogs are smart and mischievous, and, given time, most dogs will figure out how to unzip your tent door and make a break for it. Zip your tent door up to the top of the door and then attach the two zippers together with a small carabiner. You can also eliminate temptation by keeping windows zipper up high enough that your dog doesn’t mistake them for an open doorway.
Use the ‘Place’ Command in the Tent
In addition to familiarizing your dog with the tent, you can use the ‘place’ command to help prevent any escape attempts. For those that aren’t familiar with this command, it tells your dog to go to a specific place such as their bed or a mat and stay there until they are released.
When entering the tent, this will allow you to send your dog to the designated place and know that they are trained to stay there throughout the night. You want to make your dog loves their ‘place’ so that it’s seen as a positive thing and not a form of punishment. Consider offering a new chew or a new toy when your camping trip kicks off and they first go to their place. Moving forward, be sure to praise your dog every time they go to their place and settle in.
To train your dog, you should start at home with a mat or bed that can easily be packed up to travel with you. We use a specific blanket for each dog so that it can be moved from bed to bed as needed. In the beginning, you want to praise and reward them each time that they give any attention to the mat. As they become comfortable, have your dog lay down on the mat and then slowly extend the time that they are spending there and the distractions they face.
While there is no fool-proof way to prevent all accidents, these 6 training opportunities will help to create a camping experience that both you and your dog will love. Most importantly, be prepared for the fact that your trip is likely not going to be perfect, especially the first time. If you can roll with the punches and laugh at the minor setbacks, you can both enjoy the journey together!
Have you ever tried tent camping with dogs? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments, along with any tips that you may have for newer campers!
About the Author: Britt is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs Daviana and Indiana and their 2 cats Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.