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If you spend any time surfing RV and camping forums around the Internet, you will quickly learn that a lot of people who camp are pet owners, and the vast majority, dog owners. I have owned 2 Black & Tan Coonhounds who were not compatible with camping because they suffered extreme separation anxiety. They were not happy to be away from home and they were not happy when I was away from home. However, my current dog, Rocky, came to live with me a few months after I bought my T@b, so I committed to introducing him to the T@b at an early age. This really paid off during my long trip last summer. He felt very safe in the T@b and it became like a larger version of his crate.
Is Your Pet Ready?
It is important to make sure that everything associated with the T@b is positive, safe, and comfortable for your pet when you are introducing he or she to the T@b. Soon after Rocky came home with me, I began slowly introducing him to the T@b. If he had been a larger dog, I would have let him enter on his own, by placing treats on the steps, then inside the door, then inside, slowly working up to him being happy to go in and out on his own. Rocky is too small for that. Instead, I brought him inside, and gave him treats, had special toys for him inside, and kept the durations short while we built up his comfort level. This proved to be a very effective method.
Another important part of camping with your furry friends in the T@b happen long before you leave your home, and that is training. I followed the excellent YouTube training videos by Zak George to train Rocky. It’s still a work in progress, but overall, he has done very well. Zak focuses on positive training and I can’t even tell you what a better experience it is than when I took my Rottweiler to obedience school or even what I read from Barbara Woodhouse’s famous book, No Bad Dogs in the 80’s. Training Rocky has been a blast. Zak also has a book out if you prefer reading.
I did not take Rocky with me on my trip in 2015, when he was just turning a year old, because he was not quite ready. Lesson learned #1: wait until your pet is ready to travel. At this point, he still did not totally love the T@b, although he did OK on weekend trips, and we still had a way to go with obedience training. This year, however, he was good with consistently obeying sit, stay, come, and we were venturing into some very basic off-leash training. I also observed that he was now more comfortable in the T@b and would take naps when we were inside, on his own initiative.
Safety in the Tow Vehicle
The next factor is how to make your dog safe and comfortable while you travel. If forced to slam on your brakes, you want to make sure that your pet does not go flying into you or into the windshield, or hurt him or herself in some other way. You also do not want to create a fear of getting tossed, so I highly recommend securing your pet. While riding in the car, Rocky rides in a Snoozer Lookout II, which I affectionately refer to as his throne. It’s a spendy item and truthfully, a friend told me to buy that for him before I bought his first seat because I would end up buying the Snoozer II. I did not listen. I first tried the type that hangs from the seat. It was far less secure and Rocky never seemed comfortable, and actually a little apprehensive. On the other hand, he loves the Snoozer II. When it arrived from Amazon, I just set it on the floor in the living room to give him a chance to get used to it for a few days before moving it to the car. The Snoozer II is an elevated seat, with a very soft lamb’s wool bed. It also comes with a seat belt for the pet that connects to your tow vehicle seat belt. In the base of the Snoozer II is a drawer for stowing treats, toys, bags, and a leash. It includes 2 plastic containers with lids for food and water, but I can assure you that those lids are worthless and of you put water in them, it will spill out. I use the plastic containers, but don’t bother with the lids. Larger dogs can get away with just a dog seat belt or pet barrier in the rear of your SUV, but please consider a way to keep your pet safe.
Exercise While on the Road
While traveling I try to plan exercise and bio breaks for Rocky. When driving all day, I walk Rocky before we leave, once during a morning stop, at lunch, and once in the afternoon. If at all possible, I try to find a park to play fetch with him at the end of the day so that he can burn off extra energy. When it is not possible, I try to use puzzle type toys that dispense treats and tug of war to wear him out inside of the T@b.
Can I leave him in the car?
When I need to stop for 5-10 minutes in warm weather, I will leave the car running and locked with the A/C to cool him. This is much safer if you have a newer vehicle with the type of ignition and lock system that won’t let someone drive without the keyfob. When it is going to be longer than 10 minutes, I tend to put him in the T@b where I can open the windows and run the fan. I had to stop at a mall while on the road and I knew it was going to be a 15-30 minute stop. I found a space towards the back of the parking lot, where he would not be bothered by a lot of car doors. I opened the windows enough to keep air flow moving, but closed enough o be discreet. I pulled the shades most of the way down and turned on the fan. When I came back it was a very cool temperature and Rocky was asleep. You cannot do this in very hot weather, however.
I kept Rocky on leash about 95% of the time. Only when working on off-leash training was he allowed off-leash. I am concerned about other animals, like coyotes, mountain lions, or hawks snatching him. Just recently, someone in a Denver suburb had their large dog snatched from a mountain lion. Thankfully, he was able to free his dog.
Beware the Land Mines!
Speaking of being considerate, please clean up after your dog. No one wants to walk in that and it could attract other animals.
Have you ever noticed how overpriced doggie bags are? They are ridiculously over-priced. I have used disposable grocery bags, but they can get holes, and you can only pack so many of these. Last year, I discovered that Amazon sells them in bulk at a very good price. Bingo! This was one of my best discoveries of 2015. They come in different sizes and are very strong.
Keeping Your Pet Happy and You Sane
I knew, going into my trip, that regular exercise was critical to Rocky being able to stand the T@b on a long term basis, especially while I worked. With a regular schedule, he was able to settle in while I worked and burn his energy when I exercised him. We did a lot of hiking, which really helped. In addition, I used his puzzle toys and we took trips to the park, where there was lush green grass, to play fetch.
Leaving The Pets Behind
This is a topic sure to breed disagreement. Everyone should research their options and make the best decision for them, but I will share how I handled it and you can take it for what it is worth. Most of the time, Rocky went with me. Sometimes I did leave him behind, for various reasons, like when I went to do laundry, eating at a restaurant on a hot day, visiting a National Park or somewhere else where he was not permitted.
Some will say, “My dog is family – he goes everywhere we go.” Well, when you are in your T@b for 3+ months, that just is not a very realistic approach, especially if you travel alone. If you are able to pull this off and this is your desire, great – good for you! Please don’t judge other people who have different circumstances.
When I left Rocky behind, I only did it when I was sure the temperatures would remain safe. This is going to vary by location. If you are in the east, where it is often hot and humid in the summer, and you do not have shore power, there is going to be a lower threshold than if you are in the mountains in Colorado, where there is very dry air and wind, almost every day. Shade will help keep your T@b cooler, as would an XL Visor or Awning. I generally left my windows open, to at least some degree, and when it war warmer, I left the fan on for him. I spent enough time in varying conditions to have good idea for what would work from a temperature standpoint and what would not.
Also, I kept an eye on fire weather. When boondocking, I would not leave Rocky behind during red flag weather. You cannot predict where wildfires will pop up and I would have been sick had he been caught in a fire.
Before I left, I looked into different temperature monitoring options. None really made me feel like I could be 100% confident. What if the data signal went down or what if I was out of range? The alerts would not reach me. Most of the time in Colorado, cell signal is questionable at best. It might be different if I was camping in the east, where service is reliable, but not in the west. Instead, I tried to camp at higher elevations, which kept temperatures very moderate. For example, I went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the South Rim. The North Rim above 8,00’ and therefore, much cooler. We camped at a Forest Service campground, which was much dog friendlier than the National Park campground.
I did learn that in extreme heat, over 95 degrees, generally, it got too hot to keep the T@b cool, even with A/C. In those cases, Rocky went with me. I would get up very early and hike and return before it got too hot. I also considered Dog Vacay as well as local boarding and doggie daycare options in the event that Plan A did not pan out. I never had to use them, but I have the details stored if I do need them in the future.
While hiking, Rocky would get pretty filthy. To help keep him clean, I used his regular comb and brush and also used a spray bottle to give him an outdoor doggie shower. I had several of these sprayers, but I found I liked this one much better than the others. It seemed to have the easiest to control stream. One thing I learned was that rural grooming appointments need to be made much further in advance. They have fewer groomers and usually more limited hours.
Keeping the Upholstery Clean
Dogs will bring in dirt. It’s part of camp life. This is part of the reason I changed my upholstery to Ultraleather. It was so easy to clean!! Just a damp paper towel and poof! I can’t more highly recommend Ultraleather. It is soft, comfortable to sit and sleep on and easy to clean. I found that Sailrite had the best selection and best prices for Ultraleather but you can also get it from the factory before or after you buy or order your T@b. In my case, I ordered the fabric and had it sent to the factory and they did the work for me at a very fair price.
Food and Water
One of the small issues I encountered was having Rocky’s water and food on the floor meant that I regularly stepped into both, and I regularly spilled his water. I am still working on a fix for that, although I did find I did it less if I put them in the corner, closest to the shower, below the sink.
At home, Rocky prefers to sleep in his crate at night. I think I rollover too much for him. In the T@b, he curls right up next to my legs. I still put his bed on the bed, next to my legs. On nights where it gets cool, he stays nice and toast thanks to his bed and my body heat. It has to be pretty cold for me to run the heat, so the extra warmth from his bed is a nice solution for him.
The Mountainsmith bed is great for a few reasons. It’s very warm and fluffy enough for him to be comfortable. I like that it compresses nicely into his go bag, too. It seemed a little pricey to me, but it was worth every penny. This bed doesn’t look like much, but it is Rocky’s favorite.
I opted not to bring Rocky’s crate due to space considerations. It will fit on the side bench seat, but I did not want it taking up that much space for 3 months. I decided if I needed a crate, they were easy enough to purchase, locally.
Rocky loved his trip and I think city life was a bit of a sad re-adjustment for him. Everything was such a wonder to him. He loved smelling the wildflowers, wading through streams and lakes, getting muddy on trails, and rolling in soft, red desert dirt. It is so satisfying to share your adventures with your pet. After taking Rocky with me, I can’t imagine ever leaving him behind, again.
Here are a few things I have found helpful for travel:
- LeashBoss 50’ training lead – for playing fetch and for practicing sit, stay, and come at long distances. This is a great training lead. It is very high quality and I like the highly visible orange in case someone decides to walk across it.
- Kongs – Rocky loved getting treats from the Kong. I still to his normal treats to not introduce anything that might upset his stomach. Kongs come in various sizes. Rocky uses the puppy Kong. I bought this when Rocky was a puppy and it remains one of his favorite activities. I think every puppy owner should get one.
- The PetSafe Busy Buddy Twist ‘n Treat Puppy Toy is another toy that comes in various size and the dog has to work to get his treats. Rocky likes this, but he finds it a little more challenging. A ball. Rocky never gets sick of playing fetch or playing with a ball. It’s a great way to burn energy, fast.
- Another favorite of Rocky’s is the Outward Hound Hide a Squirrel. They have different animals and different sizes. Rocky needs the Junior size. It’s another puzzle type of toy that keeps him occupied and helps tire him out.
- Your favorite dog treats are a must. Doesn’t your furry friend deserve a reward? Rocky love Lil Jacs.
- A “Go Bag” will make life easier. I use it for camping, if we are just going for a day trip, or if we are going to visit family for a weekend. I use the Mountainsmith K-9 Cube. It includes a separate, lined container for his food, space for gear, a fold down section that has dishes that fold flat. This has been an awesome bag. When he sees me pick up that bag, he gets so excited. It also makes it easy to keep things tidy. I like to rotate his toys, to keep him interested and this helps keep them out of sight when they are not in the rotation. [/box]