Thursday, May 17, 2007

How to Get Started

This is an article I wrote for the Tip of the Week we send out at WOOFology. Each week we send a dog behavior article or Q&A to our e-list, and I figured this would be a good topic so close to Memorial Day! You can find other tips on dog behavior on the WOOFology Tips page.

Camping With Dogs
By Devene Godau, CPDT, CBC

Have you always wanted to take your dogs camping, but were worried about how they would act? With the proper preparation, camping with your dogs can be tons of fun for both of you. Here are some tips to get you started.

Learn or Brush up on Obedience Skills
Even if your dog responds to all your cues at home, how sure are you that they will respond in an area with tons of distractions (the great outdoors, other campers in close proximity, the smells wafting off the grills, just to name a few). Take them to a class where they learn to work in the presence of other dogs and people. Take them to parks and work with them. If you can't get their attention at the campground, you will spend a lot of time being irritated.

Here are cues that I use all of the time at the campground:

  • Down-stay. If something in the environment is getting them riled up, I redirect their focus on me and put them in a down to help calm them down.
  • Leave it. There are about a thousand reasons to teach this. Like if they want to help themselves to the food on the grill, or if they are trying to approach another animal or person at the park. When you are camping, your whole family unit (including your dogs!) will be in closer quarters, so that means temptations are so much closer, making
    them even more tempting.
  • Controlled walking. All camping parks have rules about keeping dogs on leash. So make sure your dog walks well on a leash without pulling your arm off at the first site of a squirrel.

Know Your Dog's Social Limits and Respect the Social Limits of Other Dogs You Meet
y dogs gets extremely nervous when rushed by other animals. So when we are on walks, if I see someone else walking toward us with a dog, I simply move away to give my dog some space. I don't expect too much out of him. And by giving him his space, he has become a lot less reactive to other dogs.

Last summer, there was a family a few sites down from us that kept their dog off lead. I was unprepared for this, so when the dog came running over, I retreated as fast as possible, pulling my shy dog behind me and using my more tolerant dog to block. Of course the dog's owner simply yelled, "don't worry, she's friendly." I put my dogs in the camper and walked the visiting dog back to her site. I told them that that the park has a leash rule and that not ALL other
dogs that his friendly dog may meet are friendly and I would hate to see her run into a problem because of it. He said that if my dog was aggressive, I shouldn't bring him camping. I said that I MANAGE my dog and he does just fine, why should we have to pay the price if other people won't do the same?

By the way, my "aggressive" dog has never bitten anyone (man or beast) but I manage him and reinforce him all the time anyway, because I want to keep it that way.

So my key points are as follows:

  • Don't push your dog to be social with dogs (or people) beyond their comfort zone. They are already in a strange place, so their tolerance threshold will be reduced. Most people will understand if you ask them to back off from your dog.
  • If your dog loves all other dogs and people, don't use that as a license to let your dog run up to all other dogs and people. Not only could it scare them, but if your dog runs across the wrong dog (or person for that matter) it could make of a very traumatic experience
    for everyone involved.

Home Away From Home
What are you planning on camping in? A tent, a pop-up, a trailer or a motor home? Whichever you choose, make sure your dog gets used to it before you hit the campground. Think of all the new sights, smells and sounds that your dog will be expected to tolerate at the campground. The more you can get him used to beforehand, the more relaxed he will be. We put up our pop-up a few weeks before we take it out and just hang out in there. We will eat dinner in there, and
we leave the door open so they dogs can go in and out. Whenever they choose to relax in the camper, we reward them with treats so they start to pair relaxing in the camper with great stuff!

The same can be done with a tent. Put it up in your yard on a weekend and hang out in there. Feed your dogs in there too.

Also bring favorite dog beds or blankets to make your dog feel even more at home.

Have Barking Under Control
If you spend time at any campground, it is not unusual to hear dogs barking. And no one seems to mind a little bit here and there. But camping is supposed to be about peace and relaxation, so excessive barking will be a buzz kill for both you and your neighbors.

If your dog is a barker, be ready to manage it. Also, determine why your dog is barking. Is he barking because he is under socialized, so the dogs that walk by over stimulate or scare him? If that is the case, invest in some Trainers Academy, LLC Daycare, which will help him become more relaxed in the presence of novel dogs. Is he barking because he is bored? Bring a steady supply of chew treats and toys to keep him busy. Also make sure he has ample exercise. Is he barking to get your attention? Start training him now that barking does not get him attention, but quiet calm behavior does. If you need help with any of this, consult a trainer. Especially if barking is a fear response, it is very important that a qualified behavior counselor work with you to insure that the fear does not grow.

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