This is the second article in the “Hairy Barry Chronicles,” a series about RV Camping with a newly adopted, absolutely adorable, extremely lovable, anxious dog.
Introducing Hairy “Houdini” Barry to a new household was stressful for our new furry friend. Add a handful of a quirky dog personality and blend with a family who likes to divide time between a house and a frequently moving RV. The result is the perfect recipe for dog anxiety, which was manifested in some “not-so-good” behaviors, including frequently running away from our house/campsites, severe Separation Anxiety, an over-active prey drive, and obnoxious barking at other dogs.
As we approach our second camping season with Barry, I am hopeful that RVing will be more relaxed and enjoyable this time around. We’ve been educating ourselves and taking steps that we hope will help Hairy Barry to settle in and settle down. We wanted to share the things that we’ve learned along the way in hopes that it can help our fellow RVers with dog anxiety issues.
#1 Give Him Time
We needed to be patient as Barry found (and continues to find) his way in his new world. During his first six months with us, The Hairy One was just being a stressed-out version of himself, in a new home, with a new family, who just so happened to camp a lot. Barry had a very long adjustment period.
The good news is that things are getting much better. We just passed our one year anniversary, and Barry is definitely more settled. We can now unhook The Hairy One’s leash right before he walks into the house and he doesn’t run away. Of course, with his history of running like the wind, that’s all we dare to do. Barry has trained all of us a little too well to hold onto his leash and block the doorways. We’re now afraid to let him go. Maybe someday…
Adopting Barry right before camping season could have made a stressed out dog even more anxious. Should we have waited until camping season was over before we adopted a dog? Would Barry have been less anxious if we had stayed home more? Maybe. Maybe not. The bottom line is we found him and fell in love. But this may be something to consider for those RVers who are thinking of adopting a pet. Should you wait until your life is more settled (whatever that may look like)? Only you know what’s best for you and your household.
#3 Get Advice
Barry’s “not-so-good behavior” was really freaking us out. We seriously doubted our ability to keep him safe and worried about whether he could adjust to a big part of our lifestyle. We sought the advice of several dog behavior experts, particularly in the first six months after adopting him. Additionally, the owner of the rescue welcomed our calls and offered loads of wisdom and support. Here are two things the rescue owner said that helped us:
- It’s possible that Barry didn’t think of our house as “home.” He might have been running because he was trying to find his “real” family.
- We needed to give him time to settle in, which can take some dogs at least 4-6 months.
Every dog differs based on personality, breed, age, etc. It isn’t fair to compare or set up expectations based on the behaviors of previous pets, a tv show or other people’s animals.
“A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” We were given this advice by a wise woman and we took it to heart. We bought a neat gizmo that attaches to our folding bike and started to take Barry for runs while we were at the campground. He LOVED it! Check it out:
An Exclusive Look-Hairy “Houdini” Barry Demonstrating His Bike Exerciser:
How It Helps:
- This gizmo works wonders for making Hairy Barry happy and tired. It allows him to burn off his excess energy and helps him to relax, which has a positive influence on his “not-so-good” behaviors. He pulls us all over the campground while grinning his big doggy smile.
- The kids can use it for taking Barry for a run. So it keeps the kids busy, too. It really works great!
How It Works:
- The Walky Dog Bike Exerciser is a brilliant tool. There are only two pieces- a clamp that attaches to your bike and the pole that securely clicks into the clamp.
- The other end of the pole is a leash that has a bit of extra give for different sized dogs. Because you can adjust the height of the clamp and also have the extra lead room in the leash, Walky Dog can be used with dogs of multiple heights.
- The bar prevents the dog from getting too close to your bike so you don’t run the risk of hitting your furry friend.
- When you are done walking the dog, the pole can be easily removed by pushing a button (the clamp stays on your bike).
Where I bought it: Amazon (click to see it here)
Word of warning, we also had to buy an “inescapable harness” to use with the Walky Dog Bike Exerciser. This harness has adjustable straps in three areas. Most importantly, it fastens below Barry’s rib cage, which prevents the harness from slipping over his shoulders.
We purchased this escape-proof harness after Barry broke free from the Walky Dog Bike Exerciser the first time we took him on a run. Barry lived up to his nickname and “Houdini-ed” his normal harness by pulling back while the bike was moving forward, causing his harness to slip right over his shoulders. He then chased a teacup terrier and then went Boing! Boing! Boing! into the woods at a campground. It wasn’t pretty.
As a precaution, we began to triple secure Hairy Barry to the running bar’s leash using his regular harness, a pinch collar AND his escape-proof harness. Escaping from this leash set up would be an act of magic that Houdini himself would find daunting!
Where I bought it: Amazon (click to see it here)
We sought the help of two trainers. The first one is described in the third article in the “Hairy Barry Chronicles” where we discuss strategies that didn’t work out. The second trainer spent about two hours with Barry and gave us some great advice:
- Training is not very effective on Separation Anxiety. Rather, we should be working on modifying his behavior and calming him down. The trainer recommended a two prong approach that involves calming Barry down with Prozac for a short period (4 months or so), while reintroducing him to the RV. Once he feels comfortable in the RV, we should practice leaving him in the RV by himself for short periods of time while in the driveway. He is in his seventh week of Prozac and we just got the RV out of storage. I’ve been taking The Hairy One to the RV with me to get ready for camping and also left him alone a couple of times for short periods. So far, I’ve only heard one little bark. I return quickly and give him tons of praise. I’ll let you know how this goes.
- The second tip will help the barking and prey drive. The trainer told me to cut up cooked hot dogs (or some other doggy delicacy) and place them in several bags that are easily accessible to the family members around the RV/campsite. I will carry a bag of this sliced dog deliciousness when I go for walks. When Barry sees another dog or a furry critter, I will divert his attention by holding and offering him a sliced hot dog. Again, I’ll keep you posted on this technique, but I really think it could work. (Always the optimist.)
A Thundershirt is supposed to have the same comforting effect on a dog as a swaddled blanket has on an infant. That being said, the Thundershirt does seem to calm Barry down in storms. However, it hasn’t helped with his Separation Anxiety. But maybe the Thundershirt will be more effective on Separation Anxiety now that he is on Prozac. I’ll keep you posted on this one, too.
Where I Bought It: Amazon (click to see it here)
It took some time to circle around to this, but we finally realized that sometimes it’s just better if Barry stays at a kennel while we are RVing. For everyone’s sanity, we came to understand that if we plan to do activities that aren’t dog-friendly, we should stop forcing Barry to feel comfortable in the RV. I sincerely hope in time that Barry can accompany us on all of our travels. But it’s nice to know that he has a happy and safe place to go, if needed.
I realize that having a kennel close by that you can trust isn’t always a solution for RVers, but maybe it’s something to look into or ask other RVers who have traveled through the area in a group on social media, such as the wonderful Facebook pages, “RV Happiness,” “Camping And RVing With Pets,” and “RV Adventures With Pets.” Or try a nationwide subscription service, like Angie’s list for recommended kennels.
Barry has allergies and gets itchy in the spring and fall. The vet recommended us to try Benadryl. Not only did it do a great job with keeping his itchy skin at bay, but it also make him a bit sleepy. Unfortunately, he was only tired at home. When he was at the RV, an antihistamine was no match for The Hairy Dude’s nervousness.
Barry’s anxiety is a work in progress. We’ll keep using the strategies described above (as well as trying new things as we learn about them) and look forward to continued improvement in his behaviors.
It’s important to point out that I believe we have a lovable dog that has some difficult behaviors. I am careful (and hopefully successful) not to portray Barry in the reverse – that is he is a difficult dog with a some lovable behaviors. By sharing the challenges we faced when RVing/camping with a newly adopted, anxious dog, and the strategies that are working, we hope to provide insight and reassurance to those in the same boat.
Update 4/17/16: This is difficult news to share. We lost Hairy Barry to Cancer. We were completely stunned to learn of this development and heartbroken to say goodbye to our beloved furry friend. Thanks to all for your delight at his antics and for caring about our journey with Hairy Barry. We’ve decided to leave these posts up for the time being because they help us to remember him with a smile. Also, because we want to help other RVers with anxious dogs. Hug your furry friends for us and say prayer for Hairy Barry.
Check Out All Of The Hairy Barry Chronicles: