My current dog, Honey, is like Mary Poppins—Practically Perfect in Every Way. But my previous dogs have not been perfect travelers. And yet we managed to vacation together. Do you have to stay home if your dogs are uncomfortable out in public? Not necessarily! With these management tips, traveling with a reactive dog can be fun for you both.
Calling a dog “reactive” is a nonjudgmental way to describe a dog’s behavior in certain situations. It simply means a dog reacts strongly to particular stimuli.
Some dogs dislike strangers. Others fear dogs. My friend’s dog becomes a fuzzy little psychopath at the sight of a man with a beard. And not all reactive dogs are fearful – some become over-aroused in the presence of specific trigger.
If your dog barks or lunges on leash when another dog or stranger walks by, you may have a reactive dog.
Training can help your dog’s reactivity, and you’ll definitely want to start working with your dog to decrease her reactions. But you can also use some management tools in the meantime. Management is the key to enjoyable travels with a reactive dog.
READ MORE ⇒ Visiting San Diego With Less-Social Dogs
The first step to traveling with a reactive dog is to start small. Large, noisy cities and crowded dog beaches will be too much for a dog just learning to control her reactions. Why not set your dog up for success by choosing a small town or remote area for your vacation?
We used to regularly visit the seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey with our pups who reacted to other dogs. Cape May, while not being famously pet friendly like Carmel Beach, California, had plenty of pet friendly activities. But it wasn’t overrun by people visiting with their dogs.
When you’re researching where to go, choose a spot that has some pet friendly amenities, but isn’t drawing the pet friendly crowd. By avoiding places known for being pet friendly, you’ll have an easier time managing your dog’s reactions.
Of course Cape Cod is lovely in the summer. And Key West is a treat in December. But if you’re vacationing with a reactive dog, plan your visit during shoulder season—that period right before or after the rush of tourists.
You and your dog will find it much easier to enjoy your vacation without the mobs of people who think the best time to take a vacation is when everyone else does.
During the shoulder season, many resorts and restaurants are open and rental can be gotten at the off-season pricing. Best of all for your dog, there is less to react to.
Even mellow Honey perks up when she hears loud voices in a hotel hallway or the racket of a nearby ice machine. For a reactive dog, the routine noises of a busy hotel can be too much to bear.
So why not rent a vacation house of your own?
It’s easier than ever to find pet friendly rental properties, and they’re are several advantages. Renting a pet friendly house for a week is usually less expensive than staying in a hotel or inn. You can save even more money by preparing some of your meals instead of eating out. And you’ll have the option of hanging out on the deck or back yard together!
But most importantly, your reactive dog might feel more comfortable in a quiet house. And you will feel more secure if you need to leave your dog behind for short periods of time while you do things that aren’t pet friendly.
If your pup also feels anxious when being left alone, or you don’t know how he’ll react to the new setting bring a few supplies with you. A baby gate, crate, or whatever you use to keep your dog confined comfortably at home, his bed, and a few familiar toys can help him settle in more quickly.
Camping is another great option when traveling with a reactive dog, and it’s gotten easier for newbies to try out.
You can rent pet-friendly RVs or campers vans. Some U.S. state parks have pet friendly cabins and cottages. And outdoor clubs rent tents and sleeping bags if you don’t want to invest a lot of money so find out if you like sleeping on the ground.
Whether you and your pup are rugged or prefer “glamping,” you’ll find a vacation option that will be fun and keep your reactive pup from getting anxious around crowds or other dogs.
Of course, squirrels may be another matter!
READ MORE ⇒ Camping With Dogs – A Beginner’s Guide
Even if you vacation during the shoulder season, you’ll find crowds increase on weekends. People will come for day trips and you’ll find more dogs hanging out with their people.
But on the weekdays, you’ll have quiet beaches, hiking trails, and pet friendly restaurants all to yourselves.
You don’t have to starve just because your dog is reactive. A little training before dining out with your dog goes a long way. We used all the following strategies when dining out with our less-than-social dogs:
Eat during off hours – If you dine before or after rush times, your pup will have more room to settle in. We’ve had “linner” at 3:30 and had an entire pet friendly patio to ourselves.
Pick your seat carefully – Even with sociable Honey, I choose our restaurant table carefully. The best seats are in the corner where Honey can scoot in around the table and be out of the way of servers and other diners.
And we avoid darling little places that have tiny tables crammed onto a tight patio.
Build your dog’s confidence – Pack her dinner into a Kong or other food toy and let her work on it while you’re eating. While enjoying her meal without reacting, she’s learning that being calm in a restaurant brings delicious rewards.
We’ve found that feeding Honey while we eat also gives us a little peace. There is nothing like a golden retriever drooling on your foot to make you lose your appetite.
Plan an exit strategy – You can’t prepare for everything. Someone might walk by your table with a Yorkie in her purse. Despite your best efforts, if your dog starts to react, get out of there. Ask a friend to pay the bill and pack up your food.
Which leads me to another thought …
Dining out if your dog just isn’t ready – Not every dog will be able to sit calmly under a restaurant table. Or maybe you’re just starting to work with your dog on his reactivity. Does that mean you can’t enjoy special meals together?
We’ve rented houses with lovely barbecue grills and bought fresh shrimp down on the docks. I swear our meals were more delicious than some I’ve had at restaurants!
I’m also a big fan of picnics. There is no restaurant setting in the world as attractive as a picnic on a rock overlooking a waterfall or at a table in a redwood forest.
And these meals give your dog the opportunity to practice his “eating out” skills without the pressure of being in a crowded place.
If you have a reactive dog, you are always vigilant. You look ahead in all directions for possible “situations.” You worry about off-leash dogs rushing up. And you dread the moments when your dog barks and lunges at strangers who pass.
But the more you work with your reactive dog, the less they react. Progress is slow. But it is also hard to see your dog’s improvements if you’re stuck in vigilant mode.
Eventually, you must take a chance and let your dog show you what she can do.
Remember, no dog is perfect. With a little planning and a lot of management, traveling with a reactive dog can be fun. And you might just discover some wonderful destinations you would never have found if you weren’t traveling with a reactive dog.
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