Travelling with a reactive dog can be a challenge but that doesn’t mean you have to leave them at home or only hike abandoned trails. Depending on your dog’s triggers and what causes them to react, you can still explore new places and activities.
What is a Reactive Dog?
A reactive dog may lunge or bark at other dogs or people. A reactive dog isn’t a “bad dog”; they just have what we may think of as "inappropriate emotional responses".
Training a reactive dog is an ongoing process and much of it can continue while travelling. Management plays a huge role in helping a reactive dog. I’ve found that giving them lots of space from their triggers is the best and easiest way to help them. That and tons of treats when they look or move away from what’s bothering them. If you have a reactive dog, figure out what you can do to help them before you take them travelling.
King reacts aggressively to other dogs out of fear. Lilly reacts to people and dogs because she’s excited and wants to meet them. Leo, being the sensitive little guy that he is, looks terrified at all the commotion. Piper could be reactive to some dogs. Then there was Jack who somehow attracted other dogs to him; I don't know what it was but they were fascinated with him until he eventually snapped at them which would set off Piper who had to be the tough big sister. As you can imagine, I've had a bit of practice managing my pack of misfits.
My dogs like exploring as much as I do so finding things that we can all enjoy can sometimes be difficult. Here is a list of some of my favourite activities with dogs, even the reactive ones.
Fun Things to do With a Reactive Dog
Take a Walking Ghost Tour
This is one of my favourite outdoor activities with dogs in a city. The tours are often at night so there are fewer people and dogs out on the street. The weather is usually cooler at night too so you don’t have to worry about doggy paws on hot pavement or risk overheating. Most of the tours that I have taken stay out of buildings so you don’t get left out while everyone else goes inside. Not to mention it’s a great way to learn about the gritty and scandalous history of a city.
Visit a Garden or Plantation
I cannot keep plants alive at home other than hot peppers so I enjoy wandering around beautiful flowers whenever I get the chance. Depending on the location, there may be lots of space to move around so you can get away from other people and dogs. Shrubs and hedges can block the view of possible triggers and give shady places to rest. These photos were from a trip to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina. Leo was especially upset with me because I didn't let him go swimming; obviously he didn't see the alligators that were creeping up on us.
Take a Distillery Tour
Dog-friendly distillery tours are becoming more common and are a fun way to learn about your favourite spirits, often with samples (yum). There may be some buildings that you cannot go inside because of health regulations but the tour guides will let you know before the tour. The tour may even be free since they’re banking on you picking up goods to go.
Visit a Dog-Friendly Brewery
Dog-friendly breweries are popping up everywhere. Some have huge patios which give you the ability to sit far away from other people and dogs.
Have a Picnic
This is a great way to have a meal together and can be a way to work on reactivity to triggers in a low-stress manner. If you’re able to find a spot in a park far from the travelled path it can give your dog space to decompress. Some special treats can go a long way too.
Enjoy a Boat Tour
It’s easy to avoid other dogs if you’re the only one on a boat or if the boat is big enough to avoid each other. If your dog is generally the nervous type, this may not be the best option unless it’s a very large boat and they won't feel the waves.
Tips to Remember
A quick phone call to the tour organizers or business can go a long way to increasing the chances of a smooth visit. Be honest and explain to them that you have a dog that doesn’t like something, be that other dogs, people being too close, loud noises, or whatever their trigger is. Ask them if this would be a good place for your dog to visit or if there are times when you should not stop by; if there’s a dog walking group that stops in the brewery every Tuesday at 11:00 am, that’s good information to know.
If you’re interested in a boat tour, you’ll want to know how large the boat is, how choppy the water gets as well as how long you will be out on the water. If you can, exercise or play with your dog beforehand so they aren’t super hyper. It is also a good idea to avoid giving them a large meal right before you cast off. The last thing you want to do is have to clean up a puddle of motion sickness vomit.
Ask if there is a refund policy or the opportunity to re-schedule in case something shows up that does trigger your dog or if your dog just can’t settle. Yes you may have been there first or been really excited to take this tour but do you really want to be “that person” with the dog that makes everyone else miserable? Not to mention how stressed out your dog would be.
Talk to Your Tour Guide
Be up front with them about your dog’s triggers and ask them if there is anything that you need to be aware of. There may be a house with a dog that charges the fence, or the tour walks next to a dog park, or you may go through a crowded area. The best tour guides will tell you ahead of time and suggest that you cross the street, or a different route to meet back up with them, or let you know that something is coming. I was part of one tour when everyone in the group gave me the heads up when a dog was approaching.
Visit During Shoulder Season
There’s often fewer visitors at popular attractions during the shoulder seasons (before and after peak tourist season) which means there’s also fewer opportunities to cross the path of other visiting canines and people. Even better is that there may be reduced admission prices.
Be Respectful of Others and of Significant Areas
I know it’s crazy but not everyone likes dogs. Or they may like dogs too much and crowd you and your pup. Travelling is the best time to advocate for your dog to have space because you will likely never see these people again. Not that you should have to worry what people think about you doing what’s best for your dog but let’s be honest: there are people that will get cranky if they can’t pet the puppy.
Also be respectful of historically or culturally significant areas. Don’t let your dog pee on monuments or poop in delicate gardens. It’s hard enough finding areas where we can visit with dogs, don’t ruin it by letting your dog do whatever they want.
Be Prepared to Leave
Your dog doesn’t care if you’ve always wanted to wander among the roses or go hunt ghosts in New Orleans. If they are feeling overwhelmed, it’s best to leave and get them settled.
Where to Stay When Travelling With a Reactive Dog
There are a few options for places to stay when travelling with dogs. As with many things, it usually comes down to cost and amenities.
While there is often a lot of selection based on location and price, these may not be the best places for a reactive dog. No matter how solid the walls, you can still hear people walking by in the halls and the noise from an ice machine can be jarring. Let’s not forget that many places will charge a pet fee or deposit and have limits on the number or size of dogs.
If you book through a third-party app, it is always a good idea to call the hotel or motel directly because the information on the app may have changed. I’ve been caught one time too many with surprise pet fees on supposedly no fee hotels. If you mention that you’re going to book through another site for the points (and if you can why not?) the hotel may give you a better rate or room.
These are places rented through sites such as AirBnB or VRBO. If you’re going to be staying in one place for a while, it may be worth the expense of renting a place more like a home to give your dog that sense of consistency and calm. I’ve always had wonderful hosts at every place we’ve stayed. We’ve even come back after a day of exploring to find dog treats hanging on our door more than once.
This is my preferred accommodation when we travel. It’s often the cheapest option and we are in the middle of nature with lots of opportunities for hiking or swimming. The time spent setting up and breaking camp more than offsets the convenience (and expense) that comes with a hotel. If the tent life is not for you, you can rent trailers or RV’s for a bit more comfort.
Living with a reactive dog can be difficult but that does not mean that you cannot still give your dog the best adventure life. Do you have activities that you like to do when travelling with your dog? How do you help a reactive dog on the road? Let me know in the comments below.