Keep Your Dog Quiet When RV Camping: Know Why He Barks
It’s safe to say that many RVers love bringing dogs on our camping adventures. More than 60% of RVers plan to bring at least one dog with them when they RV.
RVing can be an activity that dogs and their people love. But nobody loves the sounds of constant barking, especially when trying to enjoy the beauty of natural surroundings. For dogs, barking can be a sign that they are worried, freaking out, or that they want something.
There is no doubt that dogs of some breeds are instinctively more likely to bark than other dogs. Luckily, nearly any dog can be taught to be quieter at the RV campsite. In this article, we’ll delve into why dogs bark. Of course, we’ll also tell you the best ways to keep your dog quiet when RV camping.
Why do dogs bark?
There are 4 basic reasons your dog barks at the RV campsite. Each of these reasons requires a slightly different approach but never uses corrections or collars designed to cause discomfort.
Causing discomfort to dogs makes them associate things in the environment with the correction. Then they are less likely to relax and be quiet. They are more likely to bark when there is an opportunity to bark and not get a correction.
Our goal will be to teach your dog to relax and chill out when camping. Always set your dog up for success by working at an easy level where they are likely to succeed.
Reason 1: Alarm barking when there is a potential threat
Every dog is born with the instinct to bark when there is a potentially threatening environmental change. This is called alarm barking. In some breeds, alarm barking is the result of selective breeding. As an example, German Shepherds and Schipperkes are purposefully bred to be alert.
Sounding an alarm if there is a potential threat is a desirable trait for these dogs. This type of barking tends to happen throughout the day and night. It’s the barking that gets the most complaints from other campers. So, what can you do about alarm barking?
The Look At That (And Back At Me) Game
The Look At That game is the most effective way to prevent alarm barking. It also teaches your dog to relax when things are around that used to stress them out.
Everything novel in the environment is going to be a cue to look at you instead of barking. Our goal is to completely change the dog’s emotional response to environmental changes. Environmental changes can include a dog or person walking past the campsite.
The fantastic treats are only going to happen when you play the Look At That (and back at me) game. And the Look At That (and back at me) game is only going to happen when environmental changes happen. It’s best to practice this in the RV at home before you take your dog on a camping trip. But if you are unable to practice at home, then try it at the campsite, starting inside the RV.
To play the Look At That (and back at me) game, you will need the following:
- High-value treats. 1/8-inch bits of soft, moist, fragrant treats like cooked meat work best for this exercise. Dogs will be more impressed with many tiny delicious morsels than they will be with a few big pieces. Plus, they won’t fill up as fast.
- A training pouch
- A six-foot leash
- A harness with a leash attachment point on the chest (Ruffwear Front Range or Petsafe Easywalk are good choices)
- A novel toy that your dog is interested in but doesn’t always have access to.
Start with your dog on a leash attached to the front attachment point of a harness, even though you will be working inside the RV. You’ll pair a reward marker (a click or “yes”) with a treat about 5-10 times. At this point, you are just giving a treat 1 second after the reward marker.
Don’t cue a “sit”, “look at me”, or anything else. You’ll just be showing the dog that whenever a certain sound happens, a fantastic treat happens. This part is called priming the reward marker.
After 5-10 repetitions of priming the reinforcer, you are ready to give the reward marker only as soon as the dog looks at you. Repeat 10 times.
Now it’s time to add a novel toy that your dog will be interested in but doesn’t normally have access to. Put the toy in your clicker hand.
Pop the toy out from behind your back and click and reward 5 times. Now wait for them to look at the toy and then glance back at you before clicking and rewarding.
When your dog is successfully glancing at the toy and then back at you, it’s time to make it harder by having a familiar person pop out from behind a doorway or from behind a counter instead of a toy.
Repeat the exercise exactly like you did with the toy, but with the human surprise instead. Repeat 10 times.
When the dog is always looking back at you when the familiar person pops out, it’s time to add challenge and go outside.
Repeat the process outside of your RV. Sit in a chair and relax. Wait for a person or dog to walk by, and before your dog begins to stare at them, make a kissy sound and mark and reward for checking the person out and then looking at you. As long as that person is in view and your dog isn’t staring, they will get reinforced with a reward marker and reinforcer.
If at any time your dog begins staring, lunging, or barking, silently take them behind a visual barrier that blocks their view of the perceived threat and wait for them to get a longer distance away. Once they have completely calmed down, take your dog back to the original location and try again.
From your dog’s point of view, this game changes potential threats into potential opportunities to play a fun game with great prizes. For most dogs, barking will stop before it starts.
Dogs will have a harder time staying calm in new environments. When you are walking the environment is constantly new, so practice many repetitions in the same stationary spot before you try this on a walk.
If you have to tether your dog, don’t tether them in isolation from family activities. Your dog will be more likely to bark if they are by themselves. You’ll also be able to quickly distract your dog if they begin to be aroused by a passerby.
This video illustrates this game very well.
Reason 2: Barking to get something they want
When a dog barks to get things they want (a treat, toy, attention, etc.), they are barking because it works (even 1 out of 100 times). Dogs are like us; they do things to get what they want, and when that doesn’t work anymore, they will try doing something else.
Never give in to the barking and teach your dog new behaviors to end their demand barking. When your dog is not barking at you, teach them some basic behaviors such as “sit” or “down” so they can get the things they want instead of barking.
Demand barking is not the kind of barking that elicits a lot of complaints from neighbors when we camp, so we won’t delve into it too much, but here is a great video on how to deal with it:
Reason 3: Distress barking
This type of barking is common with dogs who are left alone, whether tethered by themselves in the campsite or left in the camper alone. Even though dogs have lived in human families for thousands of years, puppies have an instinct to bark to try to locate the rest of the pack if they get separated.
If a puppy is gradually introduced to spending time alone during the critical imprinting age of between 3 and 16 weeks, they’ll learn that being by themselves doesn’t mean the world is going to end soon.
If your dog didn’t learn that being alone isn’t the end of the world when they were a puppy, they’ll get anxious when left alone. They’re not going to learn to be less anxious in the strange environment of the campsite.
Dealing with separation anxiety
If your dog barks because they have separation anxiety, then don’t leave them alone in the RV. Your four-legged friend is having a literal anxiety attack when you leave them alone. It’s not something they can help (without your assistance). If they only have separation anxiety in the camper, try camping in the RV in a familiar environment before your planned vacation, interspersing their routine with short periods of your absence.
If your dog has separation anxiety at home, don’t expect them to magically be able to maintain a level head when you are away from the RV. When you are still at home, work under the guidance of a dog trainer who has a solid background in separation anxiety. You can even take an online Separation Anxiety course from the world’s leading expert in separation anxiety, Malena Di Martini. Click here for more information.
Reason 4: Barking as part of play behavior
Some dogs bark when they are excited and playing. If playing immediately stops as soon as the dog barks, the dog will stop barking. Don’t say “no” or anything else. Simply stop whatever game you are playing with your dog, take a break, and then try playing again in 5 or 10 minutes when they are settled.
Play barking isn’t usually a big problem when we are camping, but it’s good to remember that behavior that gets reinforced will repeat, so if the dog gets a ball thrown after they bark, they will bark more to get you to throw the ball. If the dog sits or lies down and then the ball gets thrown, they will tend to sit or lie down to get you to throw a ball.
Knowing how to keep your dog quiet while RV camping is part of good camping etiquette. Some dogs are genetically programmed to bark than others, but barking can be minimized in any dog. You’ll never have to resort to using punishments such as spray bottles or collars designed to cause discomfort. When you meet your dog’s physical, mental, and emotional needs, you will find they will calm down and be able to relax. When your dog is relaxed and chill, they won’t bark.
If you have a dog who barks aggressively at people or other dogs, or if you are afraid they might attack another dog or bite somebody, don’t take them camping. It’s always your job to prevent your dog from biting other dogs or people. Working with a professionally certified dog trainer can help to make camping stress-free for everyone involved.
One of the best parts about RVing is engaging with the community of traveling enthusiasts. iRV2 forums allow folks to chat with other RVers online, and get other perspectives on everything RVing, including products, destinations, RV mods, and much more.
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Lynne lives, travels and works full time in the R-Pod 180 with her 2-pointers, Jolene and Annabelle. Lynne began full-time RVing as an experiment in 2019, but she quickly fell in love with the convenience, freedom and minimalist lifestyle offered by full-time RV living. Lynne is a professional writer and has been a professional dog trainer since 1995. You can read about her travel adventures on her R-Pod Adventure blog, R-podyssey at: http://www.rpodaventure.com