Pet Corner: A camping adventure for Reba


Hi, everyone. Remember me? Yes, I know it’s been quite a while.

A lot has happened with me the last couple of years, and every time I get back to writing, life happens again. Then I fall out of the habit of writing. Then, I’ll get some inspiration, get a couple of articles done, and then that darn life gets in the way again. Well, I am determined to get back to writing, so, here goes…

A little over two years ago, I came home from an RV trip to a dog show with a little 12-week-old female bloodhound. I named her Reba, for short. Her litter was a red litter, and they all have call names, or short names, of famous redheads.

Unfortunately, shortly after I came home with Reba, Bo, my male, developed degenerative myelopathy. It is similar to MS in people. The short version is his body began attacking itself, damaging the nerves. First, he would start losing use of his rear legs, then it progresses to the front legs, then internal organs, and last would be the brain; however, most dogs don’t make it that far.

There is no real treatment for it, but there are some things to try to lessen the progression. Short walks and water treadmill therapy helped to slow Bo’s progression of the disease, but nothing seems to stop it yet. So, for about a year and a half, I was doing hospice care, etc., for Bo.

Poor Reba got partially neglected. Oh, she got fed, played with and the basics, but, unfortunately, I was spending so much time and energy caring for Bo, she never got socialized. She only went to the veterinarian, and sometimes we did “farm calls,” where he came to the house. Reba never went out anywhere. She didn’t get around people, places, dogs, noises, etc. She was already a bit of a timid personality when I got her, so the timidness just increased.

So, now I have a sweet, gentle dog who is afraid of everything. I decided it was Reba’s time. So, I cleaned out my little RV, which also hadn’t been used for much more than storage for the last two years. I made sure everything — at least everything important — was working. I filled the propane tank, filled the gas tank, filled the fridge and freezer, and decided to take a little three-day excursion close to home.

We went to the Delaware Seashore State Park. Being I am a very inexperienced camper myself, I wanted to be close to home in case something happened and I needed help. So I made reservations, and we went for Monday 1 p.m. check-in and Thursday noon checkout.

I had hoped to just hang out with Reba, read books, do a little writing and maybe a little fishing. I had even driven my car down there previously to make sure I knew what I was doing and where I would be parking and everything.

So, Monday, I double-check that we have everything, I loaded a big crate in the RV to take with us and a smaller one for her to ride in on the way there. There’s not enough room for her regular 48-inch crate inside the RV, so I had a smaller one for her to ride in.

We head down there to the park. I got there, I found my camping spot and pulled in. (I made sure to reserve a pull-through spot — no backing up for me if I can avoid it.) I plugged in my electric and turned the fridge on. Then I got Reba out to take a little walk, hopefully, to do her business.

She was curious about stuff, but she was a frightened little girl. Her tail was tucked so high and tight under her butt a flea couldn’t have squeezed through. However, she was curious. She was looking everywhere, she was sniffing the air. Every noise startled her, though. She would jump a little at every little thing, but she never hesitated to walk with me.

I took her for a little 15- to 20-minute walk. Of course, Reba is use to running free in a big yard to go potty, so there was no potty on this little walk. I figured that’s OK, we will go back to the RV and get stuff set up, and then go for a longer walk. So, back to the RV we go, with her tail still tucked tight to her butt and belly.

So, I put her back inside the RV and started setting everything up. Being new to this, I only knew of a few things to bring for outside — a grill, a chair and a big crate for Reba so she could hang out with me outside. So I got them set up.

I have never been any where that they had water and sewer hookup, but I had bought my special drinking water-safe hose. (Supposedly, there are chemicals and stuff possibly in garden hoses that make them unsafe to use for drinking water. At least those more expensive RV hose companies tell you that. I didn’t bother doing research to look into it. I just decided to suck it up and buy one beforehand.)

So, hooking up the hose is easy. There’s a faucet there by the campsite, and there’s a spot on the RV that says “city water,” so you just screw the hose to them each and flip the lever.

Now, the sewer? …While I was setting stuff up, I met my nice neighbor to my left. Her name was Marty, and she is from Frederick, Md. We chatted for a few minutes while I was setting some stuff up. I had explained how I was new to this camping world and that I didn’t know a lot of the camping world stuff. She said not to worry, that if I had any problems or questions just ask and someone would be more than willing to help me.

So, I asked about how to hook up the sewer, and she said she would have her son come help me as soon as he got back and, sure enough, he walked me through it, and it really isn’t all that difficult. In fact, almost all of the people camping there were very friendly, warm and welcoming. Everyone says hi, everyone chats and everyone is always willing to help each other.

Reba learns people aren’t scary after all

Now, for Reba…

Poor Reba, like I said, has had no socialization. She didn’t know how to walk on a leash. She adjusted quite well, though. Now, the first day, she did not potty until after 2 a.m. She woke me at about 1 a.m., and it took about three or four trips outside before she just couldn’t hold it any longer.

Day 2, she finally went on her own, but she had to try to “hide” in the woods as much as possible. Day 3, she started to become more like the average dog, realizing what walks are for — well, besides just the pleasure of a walk.

Reba also started learning that people aren’t all that scary after all. At first, she wasn’t even sure she wanted people to come near her. By the first evening, she had decided that, well, just maybe, they could come close. By the next morning, she had decided that we will act scared but curious and let everyone pet her.

In fact, the first day our neighbor two doors down had spent so much time visiting with me that Reba would actually look toward her setup every time we would go past, to see if she was out so she could pet her.

Reba, being a bloodhound, recognizes scents. Every time we would walk past this one vehicle parked near us, Reba’s tail would go up and wag, and she would sniff around the vehicle. She didn’t seem to pay attention to most of the other vehicles. Well, as we came to find out, the vehicle belonged to Reba’s new friend two doors down.

By the end of the first evening, Reba’s tail was still down, but not tucked any more — meaning she was a little less stressed. By the middle of the next day, she was sometimes even carrying her tail high and proud. She still would jump at many noises, but she was starting to recover more quickly. She was being very observant of everything around her. She would watch, listen and sniff.

I was also very careful not to give her permission to be nervous or scared. I made sure I did not give affection or words of comfort when she would act skittish. Some people may read that and think that’s cruel, but for dogs it’s not. Once she stops reacting to the sound or whatever is scaring her, I praise her for stopping the reaction.

In fact, she had a big test one morning when we were out for a walk.

Reba hates trash trucks. Well, we were right by the four Dumpsters when the trash truck came. I made her sit and stay calm while they dumped three of the four Dumpsters. She started to try to jump and run as they were dumping the first one, and I told her, ‘No, sit.’ Once she sat, I petted her and praised her.

As long as she stayed sitting calmly while they dumped them, I would pet her. If she started to react to the noise, the petting stopped. Once they got finished, I praised her, told her she was a good girl and gave her lots of ear rubs. Then we calmly continued on our walk.

While we were on our walks, she learned to sit and wait for a bicycle to pass us. She learned she must remain calm while other dogs are around. If people would approach us who would want to pet her, I would tell them, yes, they may pet her, and that she is very friendly, but very nervous.

Most people are then very careful to approach her very slowly and carefully, which allows Reba time to sniff them and prepare herself a little. She would slowly come around. Of course, this would come much quicker if she was a young puppy and had not already learned all of these fears. Working with a dog that has already become accustomed to being fearful is harder than teaching them right in the beginning. This is why early socialization is so very important.

This entire experience for Reba was very hard. She doesn’t recognize the camper yet as “home” or her safe space. The days at the campsite, she really had no home, probably, in her mind. Even though I brought some of her stuff along, like her bed and toys and all, she did not really totally relax. Every time I walked out the camper door, she wanted to come with me. I assume she felt I might leave her in this strange place.

Looking back on it, I probably should have been putting her in and out of the camper at home, getting her used to it, before we left. I did make her spend small amounts of time alone in the camper, gradually working up to maybe 20 minutes or so. Sometimes I would leave the radio on for her and sometimes not.

At home, Reba usually sleeps on a loveseat, so in the camper, I left the sofa in a sofa position, instead of reclining it into a bed. At night, I would sleep in my bed, and she was invited to join me, but, like at home, she would usually choose her loveseat and, here, in the RV, she chose the sofa or the floor or her bed on the floor.

By the end of our few days camping, Reba was settling in rather well. She was enjoying the walks and sniffing everything. She enjoyed meeting people and other dogs. She was still nervous and a bit jumpy, but much less than the day we arrived.

It is going to take time and lots more exposure, but I’m sure she will settle in eventually. She is a skittish dog by nature, and she is always probably going to be a little skittish, but I think we can reverse a lot of her nervousness.

A surprise from the skittish pup

The last evening we were there, one of the employees was patrolling in her golf cart while we were out for a walk. She asked if she could pet her, I told her, “Yes, she’s very friendly, but a little nervous.”

Well, don’t you know, Reba walked calmly right up to the golf cart and stuck her nose right up to the woman. Surprised me! Now, I have learned that when Reba is out for her walks, she seems to be fine with stopping for a moment or two to chat and visit, but much more than five minutes and she is done. She starts getting antsy, turning circles, tugging slightly, and if that doesn’t get me to move along, I’ll either get “slapped” with a foot, or she will jump up on me. I guess I will have to work on that next.

While early socialization is easiest and best, it is never too late to start. Remember, patience is key. Make sure you also have people approach your dog slowly, and preferably only one at a time. Do not allow people to crowd your dog or overwhelm it.

Also, do not allow people to get their face near your dog’s face. It can easily startle a dog, and some dogs when startled will choose flight, but some will choose fight. An accidental bite on the hand is much better than an accidental bite on someone’s face. It is also too much crowding often for a skittish dog. They often require more personal space than your average dog.

Ask people who want to pet your dog to slowly reach their hand toward your dog. If your dog backs away, ask the person to wait a minute. Get your dog calmed back down, place them in a sit and let the person slowly extend their hand toward the dog. If the dog starts to shy away, ask the person to stay right where they are at that moment.

Often the dog will start to shy away, but if the person stops the forward motion, the dog will stop their retreat. If the dog does stop the retreat, have the person hold their position. Sometimes the dog will eventually reach out toward the person. If that happens, great. Have the person allow the dog to approach them.

If the dog does not approach the person, have the person slowly approach the dog. If the dog starts to retreat, have the person stop but remain where they are. Once the dog stops the retreat, have the person try again.

Be patient with your dog. With some dogs, the progress will be quick. With others, it will be very slow progress. Never force your dog to allow someone to pet it. You can also try carrying small treats and allow people to slowly offer your dog the treat.

Know your dog first, though. If your dog is a treat-grabber, do not allow people to offer it treats. First, work with your dog to learn to take treats gently from you. Once your dog has learned not to grab and to be gentle, then you may allow people to try to offer treats.

If after repeated stopping and starting, your dog is still retreating from the person, stop the exercise. Instead, step back from the person, calm your dog and get the dog into a sit and stay. Then spend a few minutes standing and talking with the person while your dog sits calmly. Then praise your dog if they stay sitting patiently and calmly, and then walk away. Then give your dog a break for a while.

Try the entire process again after an hour or two break. Watch very carefully for any signs of progress. Watch your dog’s body language. Watch the ears, head, tail, body hair, eyes, etc. For example, with Reba, the tail goes down and then curled tight between her legs. Her head goes down low.

Now, often, once she does her “scared to death” act, she will then stretch her head out toward the fear. She will still be slightly crouched down, and her tail will still be wrapped tight. Once she extends her head out toward the fear, once she sniffs and feels a little bit OK, often her tail will relax into just being down and often even wag.

If she really starts to relax, the tail will usually stay down and wag harder, but then her body will come back to normal height and her head will come back up. After time, her tail will probably come up, too.

For example, Monday, we arrived at the camp ground. On our first walk, her tail was tucked tight under her belly. As we walked, it would go to hanging straight down until she heard a noise, saw a person, etc., then the tail would go back to a tight tuck. However, she walked without hesitation along with me. We took a walk for about 20 minutes and then returned to the RV. I put her inside the RV and climbed in with her.

Making a new best friend

After our short break in the RV, we eventually went for another walk. During the walk, a few people stopped to greet us, along with our new neighbor two doors down, who eventually became one of Reba’s best new friends. Every time out, if our new neighbor would see us, she would walk out and stand and talk to us. Sometimes she would reach her hand toward Reba, and sometimes she would just greet us verbally.

After about two or three times of seeing our new neighbor, Reba became quite comfortable with her and even got to the point where Reba would look for her new friend every time we walked past her campsite. By Tuesday morning, as long as we took our regular walk, Reba’s tail would be up.

Of course, if there was a strange noise, or a new person approached us, the tail would either get tucked or at least go down. However, once the scary thing was over, the tail would come back up. Now, when I started taking different routes on our walks, the tail would go back down. However, she never hesitated to walk with me. I think part of the reason for our quick progress is the relationship Reba and I have. She trusts me. Also, Reba is very curious.

A few important things to remember when working with a skittish dog:

• Never pet or provide comfort when the dog is acting nervous. Just remain calm and confident. Don’t say things like, “It’s OK,” or pet your dog, or allow the dog to leave the scary thing. Just stop, stay calm and confident, ignore the dog shying away, etc. Once the acting up has subsided, then you may proceed.

• Remain calm and confident.

• Praise the small stuff. (I praised Reba when we were walking and her tail was up. She doesn’t necessarily know the reason she was being praised was because her tail was up, but she does know that I am pleased with how she is behaving.)

• Remain calm and confident (Yes, I’m repeating it, because it’s important.)

• Be patient. Be strong. Be consistent. Don’t give up.

• If your dog continues to be insecure, scared all of the time, nervous, skittish, etc., and you are not seeing progress in your lessons, you may need to get a professional trainer.

Reba and I already have another RV trip planned for early July, when we will be going to a dog show in Howard County, Md. It will be Reba’s first trip to a dog show since she was 12 weeks old. It is an entirely different type of camping experience.

I hope between now and then to take her out to the RV a few times for short periods of time while it’s just sitting in the driveway. Hopefully, that way she will start to at least get more used to the RV and start thinking of it as home, sort of.

I also need to start taking her for walks to keep getting her more used to walking on a leash. We may have to just walk around the farm some, because we have a fair amount of traffic on our road and not all of them drive at the appropriate speed. I don’t want to take a chance of a startled Reba jumping into the roadway. Even on a standard 6-foot leash, she could jump into the roadway.

I would love to start taking her with me when I go out to run some errands, but it just gets too hot this time of the year, so those trips may have to wait until fall. We will try to take several more short camping trips this summer and into the fall. I’ll let you all know how our socializing progress goes.

Cheryl Loveland is a semi-retired dog groomer. She currently lives with Noel, her bichon frisée; Reba, her female bloodhound; Nala, her indoor cat; KitCat, the outdoor farm cat; and Max, her scarlet macaw. Also living on the property are numerous chickens and rabbits. Her daughter’s pets include two dogs, a guinea pig, a box turtle and a tank of fish. She is a member of Colonial Bloodhound Club and Mispillion Kennel Club. She welcomes hearing from readers, with their comments and suggestions for future articles. She may be contacted at lovelandcheryl@gmail.com.

By Cheryl Loveland
Special to the Coastal Point