Open the door of any RV and you are likely to encounter at least one pet. There are dogs and/or cats and we’ve encountered birds, ferrets, chinchillas, rats, snakes, horses and pigs on the road. I haven’t met people who keep fish. I would imagine the water and the fish would slosh around a lot in transit. That might be bad, but then again, water sloshes a lot in nature, right? If there are any fish owners who RV out there let me know and I’ll add you to the list. We travel with dogs and this post is about what I’ve learned as we enter our fifth year of traveling with our dogs. We’ve traveled over 40,000 miles and our dogs have become seasoned travelers. Making sure you brought enough dog food, beds and toys isn’t enough to keep you and your pet happy on the road. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned.
You can expect to meet veterinarians all over the country. This probability increases exponentially if you have more than one dog, and especially if one of them is elderly, like 16-year-old Henry. There were tapeworms in Utah, diarrhea in Colorado, ear infections in Florida, and breathing problems in Alabama. Sometimes we were able to find a veterinary practice within minutes from our location. Other times the only medical services for pets were many hours away. In situations like that having a home-base lifeline is essential. We’re lucky to have a veterinarian in Ohio who is willing to do long-distance diagnosis from time to time. Having a smart phone is a great diagnostic tool in these situations; we’ve used it to snap pictures of various bodily emissions (use your imagination) and video to capture Henry’s gait when he developed vertigo. We’re even luckier to have a good friend Sally, who raises and travels with dogs for a living. She is our top consultant on all things doggie digestion-related. When all three dogs came down with travel diarrhea in the middle of nowhere, it was Sally who recommended canned pumpkin and an over the counter medication that saved the day–and our carpet. We’ve learned well. Along with shot records and the usual flea and heart worm preventatives we carry an arsenal of medications and home remedies for minor issues. I research vet information for every destination on our itinerary. You never know when the odd tapeworm might show up.
Even if you’re camped in the desert, it rains more when you own a dog. Maybe it doesn’t really rain more often but it sure seems that way. It could be related to being cooped up inside, or maybe the sound of rain on the roof makes them want to pee, but our pooches want to go out twice as often when the weather is nasty. There is also some evil karmic force that senses the presence of an unprepared dog walker. After raining for hours (or days!), you notice a break in the rain. You grab a dog and a poop bag and in a rush leave an umbrella or rain gear and head out. As soon as you are too far away from the RV to make a quick turn-around impractical, the heavens will let loose. You and your dog will get wet. You may think you have enough dog towels, but you don’t, and you never will. We pack as many dog towels that will fit in the RV plus a couple beach towels that stay in the car. I have noticed that there seems to be another evil karmic rule that it will rain two days longer than your towel supply can handle.
Not everyone will appreciate your precious pet as much as you do. I tell people who say they are looking for peace and solitude in a campground to get a backpack and a tent. The reality of most campgrounds in America and Canada is that sites are close together and a degree of neighborliness is required to get along in these instant neighborhoods. Perhaps someday some clever soul will design a campground that is divided into sections according to camper inclination. People who have kids with bikes, skateboards and radio cars would have their section, as would the people who don’t want to camp around people who can’t build a decent campfire (that would be me, oh, the smoke!) and people with pets would have their own section. The reality of course is that we are all dumped together in a melting pot of campground angst. A little bonhomie goes a long way in such settings. I’ve noticed that people with goodwill usually fare better than the ones who get spitting mad over the inevitable little conflicts that arise in crowded campgrounds.
All dogs bark, even the dogs whose people swear they “never bark.” I suppose this could be a sub-category of the paragraph above, but barking is its own irritant. There are two broad categories of dog barking: Alert Barking and Needy Barking. Alert dogs bark furiously whenever they feel others need to know that there is a funny sound, a car door slam, suspicious footsteps, butterfly wings flapping and the like. There are Regular Alert Barkers and Power Alert Barkers. Regular Alert Barkers bark for a while and then settle down. Power Alert Barkers fling themselves at windows, tear up home furnishings, spin at the end of their leads and so on. An RV full of little Power Alert Barkers can be quite entertaining. I like to walk by them and watch the little dogs flail around on the dashboard like they are in a spin cycle. Most Alert Barkers do stop when the need to alert is over. Needy Barkers are different. These are the dogs who are bored/lonely/scared. Once they realize they have been left to their own devices, they promptly begin the process of summoning their owners to return, NOW. Whether they emit breathy cries, mournful wails or barking timed at precise three-second intervals, Needy Barkers are relentless. They wail for hours without stopping and drive those nearby to madness. I’ve learned to research nearby day care and boarding options for our dogs when we’re planning trips so they aren’t alone all day. We’ve learned to buddy up with other dog owners and trade dog sitting duties. I’ve also learned to beware of tourist attractions that offer “free boarding while you take our cruise!” I chose to leave our dogs under the care of a friendly neighbor and boy am I glad I did. When we arrived, we found that the ‘free boarding’ amounted to chain link kennels on concrete slabs by the parking lot. In the sun. Padlock your dog in the kennel and off you go. Nope. Not my dogs. Not ever.
Abominable Dog Owners make life hard for the rest of us. They are the reason pet owners are handed a single-spaced list of pet rules all starting with the word “don’t” at check-in. It’s said that dogs are not the problem and their owners are responsible for whatever the dog does or does not do. I have to agree. Abominable Dog Owners leave their pets tied outside alone all day or lock a crying pet in their RV for hours while its family is out on the boat. When we walk our dogs I have gotten in the habit of carrying extra poop bags to pick up stray dog poop left by others. Abominable Dog Owners allow their dogs to pee on other camper’s decor. We were in a Wisconsin campground where elaborate fairy gardens were on display at just about every site. For some reason everyone liked putting them right at the edge of their campsites. I suppose it’s because fairy garden stuff is on the tiny side, and people wanted them to be seen by others. That seems counterintuitive to me, as I was taught that fairies are secretive types who prefer to hide their gardens from humans because we have no manners. Anyhow, one such garden was tricked out like the Keebler elf house. It was particularly attractive to my little dog Henry, who likes anything reminiscent of cookies. I had to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t lift his leg on it every time we passed it. It wasn’t that he was so bad, but I had observed a woman who routinely allowed her Shitzu to whizz on the elf and his tree every time they passed by. Every. Single. Time. She either hated the people in this site or had a bad experience with the Keebler corporation. The scent of dog pee is a siren song to every dog, mine included, but I’d be damned if I was gonna let my dog pee on an elf. By the time we left that campground, the figurines looked sad and grimy as if they’d been living on skid row all summer. In a way, they had. When we arrive at a campground we introduce ourselves to our neighbors on all sides and give them our phone numbers. We ask them to call us if our dogs create a nuisance. We check in with them from time-to-time to make sure everything is OK (see the comment about bonhomie in the previous paragraph). The only advice I have for you dog owners on this one is—please don’t be Abominable.
By this point you’re probably wondering why in the world anyone would travel with a dog. Here’s why.
Your dog will open doors to the world for you. Dogs help us connect with our fellow humans. Walk alone or with another person and it’s unlikely anyone will stop to talk to you. Walking with a dog is an invitation coupled with an icebreaker. People will put their smart phones aside to talk to a dog or at the very least ask to take a selfie with them. The scenario goes something like this: You are walking with your dog and someone is bound to say something like, “It looks like he’s taking you for a walk,” or, “What a beautiful dog!” It’s up to you as the dog owner to complete the connection that your dog made for you. You can engage in conversation or say thank you and move on, or you can invite them to come over and say hi. I have met hundreds of people in this way. We’ve shared campfires and meals together, and we have become friends. Some of you are following my blog because you met us through Henry, Gumbo or Ryder.
Your dog’s schedule will keep you balanced. This is important if you travel long-term as we do. On a traditional vacation you can tolerate a disrupted schedule for a couple weeks, but regardless of your age at some point humans crave some kind of routine. We’re on the road for months at a stretch, and the dogs help us maintain healthy habits. On a long drive we stop to let the dogs relieve themselves and we stretch as well. They have to eat on a schedule so we do too. Instead trying to cram a national park visit into one 14-hour day, we stay multiple days and do a little each day. It seems like we’re all a little happier living like our dogs. Get up early, play hard, relax a lot, eat on a schedule, take after dinner walks and go to bed on time. Repeat.
At some point your dog will look at you with utter happiness and contentment. Dogs being the gregarious souls they are will do that multiple times a day to reward you just for for being you. This is when I know that taking our dogs with us is worth all the hassle, soaked shoes and early morning shopping trips to Wal-Mart for something a fussy old dog will eat. Dogs love to explore, to play and to “go see!” They are at their happiest when they are with you. Our dogs love the ocean best of all. Our Big Red Dog Ryder is obsessed with big water. We throw his favorite buoy into the waves, and he powers through the water to retrieve it. When he brings it back he rolls in the wet sand with great abandon. He leaps up and begs another throw. Little Henry chases shore crabs with Jack Russell obsession. Gumbo meets every human being he sees with an abundance of damp Labrador adoration. At the end of the day, at some point they look into my eyes smiling their huge dog grins and a “best day EVER!” expression. Why would we ever leave them home?