How To Make A Camping Trip Easier With A Reactive Dog
Step 12 of 25 in the Dogly Reactivity Channel
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate

Camping with dogs doesn't have to be daunting.

After my first week back since having my baby, we needed a bit of a getaway, so we headed out for our first ever dog-and-baby camping trip!

Even though I'm a professional dog trainer and work with dogs of all kinds in all sorts of situations, I learned and was reminded of so many things by living this camping experience firsthand. I want to share some tips for camping trips with reactive dogs to make it happy and comfortable for both you and your dogs!

Prepping for camping with reactive dogs

Taking a reactive dog camping might not seem like much of a relaxing getaway. I know taking your dogs camping with you can seem alternately dreamy or daunting!

On the one hand, getting away from busy city living can seem appealing as a wonderful break for reactive dogs and a beautiful time together. But on the other hand, camping can pose a lot of different challenges, and it can mean some limitations on your management options you might normally use to support your pup.

The great adventure you imagine is doable if you know how to set your dog up for success!

Let's dive into what we can all learn from my own reactive dog family's recent excellent camping trip adventure...


How to choose a camping location with your reactive dog

This is one major aspect where we could have done a lot better on this particular camping trip. We’re new to the area and kind of planned the trip on a whim without spending a lot of time researching different options (because let’s be honest - as busy working parents, it’s a miracle we found time to plan the trip at all!) 

Instead of going to the quiet, remote place we were hoping for, we ended up at a popular and busy national park. While this was still great for our baby who loves people-watching and being in the hustle and bustle of things, it wasn't so great for our reactive dog who gets easily overwhelmed by crowds.

The lesson:

Evaluate potential camping trip locations through your reactive dog lens. If it's better for your dog's comfort and happiness, it's better for yours, too.

What to keep in mind when camping with dogs:

Selecting your campground

Of course, your first criteria is that the camping area is dog friendly. Beyond that, the definition of what that means can vary greatly including the specific rules and access to surrounding activities (which trails, etc.). With dog-friendly national parks, for example, each national park has individual rules and regulations.

You certainly want to make sure the campground you’re staying at is going to have leash laws (for dog reactive dogs). For campgrounds on lakes/rivers/beaches, double check that the leash laws apply to the shorelines, too, as some places may require dogs on leash in the campsites but allow them to run free on the beach. At the very least, you'll want to know that anyone you encounter will have their dog leashed everywhere.

Space between individual camp sites

In general, you’ll want to look for campgrounds with ample space between sites, where you have a bit more privacy and aren’t going to be too close to other campers, who may also be camping with dogs (or have kids, or bicycles, or bearded men, or whatever your dog finds triggering).

Picking your spot within the campground

Within the campground, pick your spot strategically, too. We did actually look at this a bit, and tried to find a spot that wasn’t right on the water (the campground we stayed at is on a lake) where there would be lots of foot traffic and water play. We also wanted to be a bit away from the walking trail. 

Timing for more peace & quiet

If your locations choices are limited, you can also plan your trip during a less busy time of the week - weekdays instead of weekends, for example. We are lucky that our work “weekend” is Sunday/Monday, so the sites are presumably a little less hectic than they’d be for a typical Saturday/Sunday weekend.


BYOM - Bring your own management

The one thing you don’t have on a tent camping trip are four solid walls, but there are lots of management tools you can bring on the go. Of course, these are all super useful tools for management but you never want to leave your dog unattended.

Management options when camping with your dog:


A sturdy tether is a great way to be hands-free while in your campsite. Be mindful that some dogs can and will easily chew through leashes or ropes, but coated metal tethers are options for those dogs. A tie-out is not a good option in a high traffic area where your dog is likely to be exposed to his or her triggers often, but a good choice for quiet spots.

Carefully plan how much length you will give your dog that will allow your pup to be comfortable, and possibly explore a little, but will not make it possible to infringe on the space of others, enter trails or roads, or be a danger to passersby. Always supervise dogs on a tie-out or tether as they can become tangled and injure themselves. 


Having a crate available is a great option for a dog who needs a safe space to retreat to. We use soft-sided travel crates for camping with our dogs, which I love; however because they are cloth instead of metal, I do not consider them a reliable containment tool to keep a dog safe on their own.

You can bring a hard crate, which is a more heavy-duty option, too. Some people have crate set ups in their cars, which can be a great option for cold weather or if you have a good cooling system for the vehicle. If your dog needs a visual barrier, you can always add a blanket or cloth (again, weather permitting). 


You can use an x-pen to create a larger containment area for your dog. This would likely be a more viable option for smaller dogs, where there’s no concern about them jumping out, or knocking over the pen. A blanket or drape of some kind can also create a visual barrier in this scenario. 

Waist leash

One of my favorite all around go-to tools is a leash that clips around my waist. This makes me feel secure knowing my dog is close by at all times, while allowing me the freedom to use my hands. It’s important to feel confident that you’ll be able to maintain your balance in the case of an unexpected reaction from your dog, but I do generally feel that having my dog right by me allows me to see potential reactions before they arise and handle them quickly in the moment.


What to bring on a camping trip with your dog

These things aren't actually dog camping gear; they're those essential basics you always need for your dog. They're also not only for reactive dogs, but you may have a heightened appreciation for having them covered if your dog isn't always a go-with-the-flow type pup. It's good peace of mind to know you're set on the essentials when you're in the possibly remote, great outdoors.

Treats, treats, treats!

Pack a lot of treats - the really, really good stuff! And make sure you have them handy at all times. The only time I took my treat pouch off during this trip was when I was handing it to my husband while I went to the bathroom, or when I went to bed (seriously). Every potential reaction can be a potential opportunity to do some counter-conditioning and will help you create a strong reinforcement history for being around triggers in the wild. 

Dog food

Pack plenty of what your dog usually eats. This isn't the time to try something new for convenience or because your dog's regular food was somehow forgotten in packing.

Remember to bring a good supply of fresh water (extra of course for dehydrated dog food) since you probably won't know about availability of clean water in advance. A collapsible water bowl is a good idea for the car ride and hikes as well as at the camping site (along with a food bowl).

Dog bed, mat, or favorite blanket

Where will your dog sleep? Even if both you and your dog are good with sharing a sleeping bag, you'll still want to include a sleeping pad or mat or dog bed for a comfy, secure spot for your dog to hang out outside with you. You'll want to have one of these as a quiet, soft, resting option in your dog's x-pen or crate as well. The more options you can give your dog to relax around the campsite the more you'll be able to help your dog feel "at home" there.

Favorite toy, ball, licking mat...

You won't always be hiking or exploring on your trip. For all the time you'll spend relaxing at the camp site, you'll want to have your dog's favorite toy and/or ball handy. And to keep your dog occupied and de-stressed with enrichment, be sure to include a stuffable chew toy or licking mat or slow-feeder bowl your dog loves.

ID tags, pet first aid kit, poop bags...

Before you go, make sure your dog is up to date on vaccinations and ask which medications your veterinarian recommends as anti -inflammatories and pain relievers to have in your first aid kit for any bug bites, cuts and scrapes, muscle pulls, or allergic reactions that might come along. You don't want to be scrambling finding an emergency vet or searching for a pharmacy away from home.

Other must-haves you'll want in your kit: natural tick spray for tick prevention (staying on a path rather than wading through high grasses or thick woods helps too), tick remover tool, a small bottle of organic apple cider vinegar (universally great - has antiseptic, anti-fungal, insect-repellant properties, relieves itchiness), small safety scissors, and bandaging supplies.

Make sure your dog's ID tags are securely attached to your dog's collar or whatever your dog is wearing at all times even though your dog is most likely chipped. Two levels of ID are a good idea - things happen and most campers aren't likely to have a chip reader on them. By the way, if your dog isn't already chipped, before your trip is a good time to get it done to have your dog covered all the time, whether traveling or local.

And of course, you'll be taking all waste and trash away including your dog's waste, so remember to pack plenty of poop bags as always!


Give yourself some grace

It won’t be perfect and you’ll probably have a few “uh-oh” or "oops" moments. That’s okay! It’s all a part of the adventure.

At one point on this trip, we walked past a campsite with not only more than one dog, but three reactive dogs. We did see it coming, so we made it past with only one “boof” from Muchacho.

But what was a big challenge for us was also a reminder that we are operating from a place of heightened awareness of our dogs - and not every person with a dog is.

Sure, those dogs’ owners made some effort to stop their dogs - yelling at them a bit, restraining the largest dog as the little chihuahua lunged at us from the very end of her retractable leash. But they were casual about it and those behaviors were clearly no biggie to them.

I can honestly say that the overwhelming majority of “reactive dog owners” I’ve observed have probably never heard the term “reactive dog” and have little to no interest in modifying their dog’s behavior. It’s just something their dogs do.

Your superpower - having your dog's back, always

While we can't control what other dog parents do or don't do, it's always in our power to find ways to minimize our own dogs' exposure to triggers and to work on building positive experiences in the presence of other dogs. Our dogs learn we have their backs, and it makes all the difference in living our best lives with them.

So, here's to you and to setting up your dog for success to enjoy all the experiences you can together - including camping!

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Next up in the Reactivity Channel on Dogly

Now that you have a solid base of management skills, continue on with training skills from counter-conditioning to training games like "look at that" to leash-reactivity training here in Dogly's Reactivity Channel!

If you have any questions or would like to share your experiences with helping your reactive dog, jump into our Community Discussion. Continue in our Reactivity Channel where you'll learn everything you need to know for your dog from our community of Dogly Training Advocates.

If you ever need more individualized guidance, get started in your dog's training plan here.

Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Tressa because she sees training as a journey to better canine communication.

Tressa guides you

Anxiety - Kids & Dogs - Manners - Bite Prevention - Reactivity - Walking

Tressa is certified

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner - & Family Paws Parent Educator