WOOF! Traveling with a reactive dog

Whenever I’m preparing for a trip, I get a twisty, angsty feeling in my chest because I hate leaving my dogs behind.

Lots of places in the Pacific Northwest welcome dogs, but they wouldn’t necessarily welcome leash-reactive Leo. Since I don’t consider it socially acceptable to take him on walks where he barks and lunges at our neighbors, I hardly consider it socially acceptable to take him to a crowded dog-friendly campground or motel.

I searched and searched for an appropriate place to take the dogs for the Fourth of July. I was leaning toward tent-camping in the middle of nowhere until I discovered the Chevy Chase Beach Cabins in Port Townsend, Washington:

Chevy Chase Beach Cabins and the adjoining beach is a haven for dogs! We allow dogs at Chevy Chase Beach Cabins because we are dog lovers ourselves and love to vacation with our furry friends!

Dogs are welcome in all seven of the cabins, and the beach is private.

Scout is the resident dog at Chevy Chase. We were lucky to inherit Scout from the previous owners (life is too good for her here, no one could picture her as a city dog!). Scout is very friendly, loves children, tolerates other dogs, and loves meeting and greeting guests. 

My fantasy was that the grounds would be one big dog park situation, where leash-reactivity would not be an issue. Leo is well socialized and plays nicely with other dogs off leash. He only barks and lunges at them when he’s on leash, sees them from afar and can’t get to them. This is called barrier frustration.

We booked an adorable yellow cabin for two nights. No one was around when we first arrived. We strolled downhill to the private beach, which was everything I hoped it would be. I’ve let Leo run free at an uncrowded beach before, dropping his leash and letting it drag. Here, we truly let the dogs off leash and they romped in the water. No joggers or bicycles lured him into temptation.

Back at the cabin, we needed to let the dogs dry off before we let them inside. Mia remained off leash, we tethered Leo to the cabin door with a 30-foot leash, and we sat in the Adirondack chairs on the porch. Total perfection.

Until a landscaping lady, to whom Leo already had been introduced, headed straight for us. Guess who barked at her?

And guess who got anxious when the guests in the other cabins returned? Me. It was me who got anxious. These guests included several small children and no large dogs. When the first little girl raced for the tree swing near our cabin, I hustled Leo inside.

Was that my plan, to run and hide every time another guest went by? No, I remembered. I brought cheese for this very reason.

I took Leo back outside and gave him cheese every time a new person came into view. He smiled, took the cheese calmly, and didn’t bark at any of the strange people. Not even when they ran.

He did, however, bark at people who walked by our cabin when we were inside. And he barked at Scout, the resident Lab mix. I had gotten so excited by the description on Chevy Chase’s website that I glossed over a code word: tolerates. Scout merely tolerates other dogs. She had no interest in playing with Leo and Mia. She lurked in the yard by the main house, as was her right, and every time he saw her, Leo barked his scary bark.

So that wasn’t ideal.

But this weekend away was about the best an owner of a reactive dog can get (without the angsty feeling of leaving the dog behind). Leo got to do fun things like romp off leash on a beach. We sat in the sand and read our books with our dogs beside us. If the worst thing Leo did was startle a few people by barking from inside our cabin as they walked by, I’ll take it!

Why it worked:

  • We found a fairly secluded spot that was exceedingly dog friendly.
  • I used potential triggers as opportunities to counter-condition Leo.

Epilogue: Leo usually wears a Calming Cap in the car, but we took it off him for the long winding island road, not anticipating we would see so many bicycles. I created a secondary reinforcer by saying, each time Leo noticed a bicycle, “Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, Good boy!” I had no cheese in my hand at the time, but it did have a reassuring effect on him, and now I’ve added that cue when I give him cheese in the presence of bicycles.

Do you have a reactive or fearful dog? Please join us and share your story. The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, August 17, hosted by Oz the Terrier and Wag ‘n Woof Pets.

Oz the Terrier

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7 thoughts on “WOOF! Traveling with a reactive dog

  1. I totally get the “twisty, angsty feeling” in my chest when we leave the dogs behind, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. The last time we went away without them, Sheba had just licked her paw raw and Kobi had been throwing up. I was sick to my stomach until I finally heard from my sister that night that everyone was OK. That’s exactly why I want to be able to take the dogs with us.
    I’m so glad you found a place to get away too that worked out pretty well. It encourages me to keep looking for a place like that as well.
    BTW, I am almost finished your book and I just have to say WOW, you really went through a lot, and I admire how you have stuck with your dogs and do not give up on them.

  2. Your beach cabins do sound about as good as it gets for a reactive dog respite, much like my experience at the dog friendly B & B.

  3. That sounds like a great place to go with a reactive dog. I bark at other dogs, but we usually know where to expect them. Mom and I are more “city” so we usually stay in a hotel and go shopping. BOL!
    Hugs,
    Pepper

  4. That looks like a fabulous spot – but my radar totally went up on that word “tolerates”. I’d have definitely been worried about how Rita would do with the resident dog. Need to remember to bring a lot of cheese when we go on our next trip with Rita! 🙂

  5. Ma hates leaving me at home which is why we go camping a lot…most campsites allow dogs and we can participate in activities together. Sometimes, I must be left home though. I think it is great that you found a place that was so open to having dogs in the hotel and on the beach! Cheese is always a great motivator for good behavior. Glad it went so well!

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