Are you getting ready to travel full time in an RV or camper? Are you going to be traveling with your dog? You’ve probably spent hours researching the type of camper, the logistics of downsizing to fit in that camper, and where you will go in the camper. Very often I meet fellow full time campers who planned and prepared for everything except their dog’s behavioral issues.
It makes sense! At home their dog caused no problems so they didn’t expect him/her to cause any problems on the road. However, the reality is that in a house dogs have a LOT of room so small behavioral issues are easily ignored. Furthermore, the routine and space of a house is a much easier environment for a dog to adapt to than a camper or RV.
Luckily, some planning and work BEFORE you start traveling will make both you and your dog’s lives much more pleasant and peaceful on the road. Here are 3 basic behaviors you should train your dog before you move into your camper or RV. (If you're on the fence about traveling with your dog read about why our dog travels with us.) If you’re planning to incorporate any air travel into your plans be sure to read all about flying with your dog!
1. The Default Sit
Your dog probably knows how to sit already, if he/she doesn’t here is a step by step guide to training “sit”. A default sit is simply taking sit to the next level, and turning it into a communication tool for you and your dog. A default sit means that your dog sits anytime he/she needs something from you.
For example, if your dog wants to go outside he/she sits by the door, if your dog wants a toy from a countertop he/she sits in front of it, etc.
The default sit gives your dog an appropriate way to ask for things from you (as opposed to inappropriate methods such as jumping, barking, nipping, etc.) This is particularly important for camping with dogs in a camper or RV because in a tight space those inappropriate communication styles will quickly become a nuisance.
To train a default sit begin asking your dog to sit before he/she receives anything they value. Things a dog values include: food, treats, toys, a seat next to you on the couch, an open door to go outside, an open door to go inside, putting a leash on for a walk, etc. Before you get started you may find it helpful to make a list of the things your dog values that he/she should sit before receiving. Or just keep this rule of thumb in mind: if it’s something your dog wants he/she has to sit before receiving it.
Be consistent with this, and before you know it you will find that your dog walks up to you and sits when he/she needs something!
2. Go to your Bed
For this behavior your dog sits on his/her bed when you say “go to your bed”. For dogs who are moving into a camper or RV I recommend using a portable “bed” of some kind so you can use this behavior to relocate your dog to other areas of the camper easily. Things you can use for a “bed” include a portable dog bed, a towel, a blanket, etc. You just want to make sure that you always use the same item as the bed for this behavior.
To train this behavior start by putting the bed in a common area where your dog is likely to sit on it. At first, anytime your dog sits on the bed reward him/her with a small treat.
Good examples of treats for this include: a single cheerio, a tiny soft training treat broken in half (most training treats are way too big, it should be no larger than the size of a pea), a tiny lick of peanut butter.
The next step is to sit very close to the bed with your dog, and pat your hand on the bed while saying “go to your bed”. When your dog sits on the bed reward him/her. Continue this step for a few days, while slowly increasing the distance between your dog and the bed.
Once your dog will go to the bed from across a room you can stop patting the bed with your hand and begin simply kneeling near the bed while you say “go to your bed”.
Once your dog is reliably going to the bed without you patting the bed, you can begin asking him/her to go to the bed without you standing near the bed.
Once your dog reliably goes to the bed without you standing near the bed you can begin asking him/her to go to their bed from another room of the house. Be sure that you still follow your dog to the bed to reward him/her when they go to the bed.
You can use this behavior to relocate your dog to different areas of your camper quickly. Also, training this behavior builds a strong positive relationship between your dog and his/her bed, so the bed can be used as a “safe space” if your dog is getting overwhelmed while traveling. You will find that camping with a dog is much easier when you have this behavior in your doggie tool belt!
3. Lay Down and Stay for Meals
For this behavior your dog lays down and stays while you prepare their food bowl, then you release him/her from the stay position to eat. This behavior makes feeding time much easier, and much more calm, which is very important in a small space. If your dog does not already know how to lay down or stay, use these step by step guides to train those behaviors first: Lay Down, Stay
This behavior is most easily trained with two people. Person One asks the dog to lay down and stay across the room from where the Person Two is preparing the dog’s food. Person One should stand in front of the dog, partially blocking his/her view of the food, and also blocking him/her from being able to run for the food. When Person Two has fully prepared the food and set it on the ground, Person One says “okay” and steps out of the dog’s way so the dog can go eat the food.
Over time Person One can position themselves closer and closer to the food preparation area, slowly increasing the dog’s self control. Eventually, Person One will be unnecessary and it will only take a single person to ask your dog to lay down and stay while the food is prepared. You should always release your dog from the stay by saying “okay”.
The reward in this training scenario is an entire meal’s worth of food, so dogs tend to learn this behavior very quickly as long as you are consistent and practice this every mealtime.
That’s it! These 3 behaviors will make traveling with a dog so much easier, and will help prepare your furry friend for an adventurous lifestyle traveling full time in a camper or RV. Curious about what it's like to live in a camper? Check out these 10 Reasons to Fall in Love with Camper Life!