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.

Can You Vacation With A Reactive Dog? You Betcha! | GoPetFriendly.com

 

Understanding and Traveling With A Reactive Dog

What is a Reactive Dog?

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.

Neptune Park on St. Simons Island.
Reactive dogs would find plenty of triggers on a sunny day at St. Simons Island’s waterfront park.

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

Start Small

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.

Can You Vacation With A Reactive Dog? You Betcha! | GoPetFriendly.com
How good is Honey? She managed to stay down despite two strangers on the swing flirting with her.

 

Travel During Shoulder Season

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.

Pam and Honey cross the dunes at Cumberland National Seashore.
It was cool enough that I needed a jacket in March at the Cumberland National Seashore in Georgia. But we had the whole beach to ourselves.

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.

Consider A Vacation Rental

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.

Try Camping

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

Woman in a tent with two dogs

Schedule Dog Friendly Activities for Weekdays

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.

 

Plan Ahead When Eating Out

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.

Dining with Honey in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
My idea of a perfect restaurant table–in a corner, shaded, and with a nifty ring I can attach Honey’s leash to.

And we avoid darling little places that have tiny tables crammed onto a tight patio.

Pet-friendly dining in Beaufort, SC.
Which do you think is better for your reactive pup–the crowded patio or the picnic area off to the side?

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.

Honey has her eye on some mint chocolate chip.
Do you think the man will get Honey’s hint?

 

Honey gets ice cream.
At least she’s too busy eating to notice anything else going on around us!

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?

Honey sits under the table at Iguanas seafood restaurant.
Sitting quietly under a restaurant table in a busy restaurant is an advanced skill for any dog.

Absolutely not!

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.

Just Do It

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.

Honey the golden retriever poses with one of the tree spirits in St. Simons Island.
Hunting for Tree Spirits on St. Simons Island in Georgia is a great activity when you travel with reactive dogs.

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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  • Thanks, Amy, for great articles. A little added experience I did with my dog. Learn the body language of our dogs. I used to start by watching the dog at home and rest, and then observe him outside. Learn the dog’s body language that shows when your dog is relaxed and when he is restless. When traveling when we know they are anxious, keep away from the crowd. Thank you for sharing useful articles.

    • That’s a great idea, Margret! Thanks so much for sharing what you’re learning and waggin’ trails to you.

  • One of the most important points you make is honesty about your pet and flexibility. Our oldest is incredibly shy around people. She will retreat until she is ready to meet people. Not reactive, but it does require being honest about who she is and how we think about being out with her in public. The situations while different require similar planning and thinking about when to go where but she still goes with us.

    The first thing anyone needs to do when thinking about taking a dog is be honest. How will your dog react in a public setting and what do you as the owner need to do to keep all parties safe and well. For the other 2 dogs the answer has been simple keep them on leash and watch for kids who tend to see a cute dog and grab. For our middle dog she requires planning as she will retreat as stranger danger is a real thing for her. Knowing this is being prepared for it.

    It is even more important if your dog is reactive that you have a plan to reduce the danger for the dog and others to those reactions.

    • Thanks so much for your note – I couldn’t agree more. We had a dog that was afraid of strangers as well, and it took me a while to really get honest about his capabilities and limitations. Once I got there – I wished I’d been more sensitive to his needs sooner!

      One thing we did to help was teach him a command that meant he should stand between our legs. (He was smaller, so it worked.) We called it “get in the garage” and once he learned it, he’d go there anytime we were in public and he was feeling uncomfortable. People are a lot less likely to invade the personal space of a human than a dog, so by putting Ty in out personal space, we were protecting him from unwanted advances. It worked great!

  • This was a great article, thank you! We’re going to Mexico next week with our 2 dogs, 1 is VERY reactive to other dogs so I’m worried! But this helped and I want to be able to take him on our road trips. I just need to be calm and relaxed and think again like you said!! :)

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