Road tripping with a reactive dog? Am I crazy? Maybe a little, but I couldn’t imagine leaving Odin at home while I was off hiking and having a good time. However, bringing a reactive dog complicates traveling and it takes a lot of pre-planning and flexibility. But it can be done!
This trip, we are heading to Oregon and stopping at Shasta, Eugene, Portland, Astoria, and Newport. Today we traveled from Livermore, CA (Home) to Dunsmuir, CA. Along the way we stopped at Shasta-Trinity National Forest and hiked the Bailey Cove Loop. Pulling into the parking lot, we noticed another dog getting out of a car. We waited for the dog and his owners to head out on their hike and gave them an ample head start. Since we knew this was a loop, we thought it would be best to go the same direction so we wouldn’t pass them on the hike. While out on the loop we notice the top of someones head around the corner coming towards us, and we stop to wait and see if they have a dog with them. They do. We start to back track on the trail before Odin has a chance to notice the oncoming dog. We found a nice place to pull him off the trail and prepare to get him focused on us rather than the dog. We play our reactivity games while waiting for the other dog to pass (“Engage-Disengage” game and “Find it” game). Odin does eventually notice the other dog and he does get reactive, Not as bad as his usual reactivity, but still not exactly the behavior we want. The owner that passed by was understanding and smiled and waved at us as she passed by with her happy-go-lucky pitbull. Once the other dog had passed, we play a little with him and have him hop onto a tree stump, which helps reset him from the stress of reactivity. The rest of the hike was great and uneventful.
Next we were headed to Dunsmuir. Dunsmuir is nestled at the base of Mount Shasta. A cute, quaint little town with a historic downtown and lots of hiking. We settled on the Hedge Creek Falls Trail which was a short out and back hike to a scenic waterfall. We made it about halfway to the waterfall, when I see a great pyrenees heading towards us. I quickly turn Odin around and we head back up the trail to the trailhead where we knew there was ample room for the dog to pass without triggering Odin over his threshold. Although this doubled the time we spent hiking, it was well worth it to avoid Odin from going over his threshold. This type of flexibility with unforeseen circumstances is important for the success of a reactive dog. We completely avoided a reactivity incident by inconveniencing ourselves for a couple of minutes. We didn’t even notice or mind re-walking the beginning half of the trail because we were so proud of Odin’s success and avoiding a reactivity incident. We made it to the waterfall and had a great, reactivity free time!
During this trip we plan on doing a lot of hiking and that requires us to be prepared. Odin is moderately reactive towards other dogs, so preplanning into trail selection and scheduling is very important. Below are 4 tips for planning hikes with a reactive dog:
1. Try to select less traveled/less popular parks
Trying to select a hiking spot that is dog friendly yet secluded can prove to be difficult. While planning a trip, I try to stick to National Forests as they are less popular and tend to have less dogs overall. Most are dog friendly and there are plenty of hiking paths to choose from.
Both of the hikes we did today were listed as “lightly trafficked” on Alltrails.com. We try to avoid places that are listed as heavily trafficked.
2. Avoid the crowds
Hike when other people are less likely to. Hike at odd hours. Try an evening or early morning hike when less people are less likely to be out. Or go out in less than perfect weather; a light drizzle keeps most people off of hiking trails. While others would rather be inside, hit the trails. In addition, try to avoid traveling during the weekends. During the weekdays, people are more likely to be at work or in school, leaving the parks and trails empty.
During our trip, we plan on spending Saturday and Sunday in Portland. Since we know there may be more dogs out and about, we got an Airbnb with a backyard and that allows for dogs to be left crated while unsupervised. If there are too many dogs in Portland, we can bring Odin back to the Airbnb while we can head back out to explore the city. The Airbnb has a backyard so we can play frisbee with Odin to ensure he gets the necessary physical activity on these days.
Also, this was one of the reasons why we were okay with doing the trip during the rainy/snowy season in Oregon. We knew there were going to be reduced crowds due to the less than desirable weather.
3. Don’t be afraid to turn around
While out on the trail, you might run into another dog (or another trigger) and sometimes you just need to turn around and go back. Yes, it might mean that either you don’t get to see everything on your hike or during your travels or that the adventure might take twice as long, but this flexibility will help keep you and your dog relaxed (instead of going over threshold).
We needed to do this today while hiking the Hedge Creek Falls Trail in Dunsmuir. Flexibility is important in your dog’s success. Sometimes there will be things and other dogs you cannot plan for and sometimes you will need to turn around and retrace your steps. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that bad.
4. Rank your top hikes
Rank your hikes so you know which are worth it for you spend more time at. If there is a trail that you want to hike and that way if unforeseen circumstances make you spend extra time on the hike, you can easily eliminate a hike you now do not have the time for off of your list for the day.
This happened to us today on the Hedge Creek Falls Trail. Since we needed to turn around and head back to the start of the trail due to an oncoming dog, we ended up spending more time than we planned at this location. Because of this, we needed to eliminate a hike we had planned at Mount Shasta due to time constraints. It was an easy choice to make because we had already planned for this in advance.
Also, sometimes reactivity happens and there is nothing you can do about it. Try not to let it ruin your trip if it does happen. Remember that most of these people you will never see again. Reactivity is hard and challenging, and although you may not be having the vacation you planned, just remember that you are having fun with your family and your dog and that is what’s important.