November 17th, 2011
When you’re a dog, a car ride is pretty magical. It can be pretty magical for a human, too, especially when it’s the first car ride with a new four-legged best friend.
I had the opportunity to share that first car ride recently when my friend Bob adopted his new dog. We’d spent several days visiting shelters before finding her — a beautiful two-year-old black lab mix — at North Shore Animal League.
Newly adopted dog Shadow enjoyed her first car ride!
The adoption process can be stressful for a shelter pet, but she was surprisingly calm, as if she’d already realized that she was going to a great home and had nothing to worry about.
Shadow (as she would later be named) got into the car happily enough, and immediately curled up on the back seat with a sigh; she might not know where home was yet, but she seemed content to be taking the ride.
Unlike my still-insane lab mix — who thinks car rides are about sticking her head out the window, rubbing her body against every part of the car she can reach in case there’s a Shedding Olympics she’s inadvertently been entered in, jumping from front seat to back seat to the compartment where the convertible top folds down, and occasionally gnawing on a seatbelt — Shadow seemed a natural for car rides. She sat quietly, moving her nose just enough to nuzzle Bob’s hand when he reached back to pat her.
No barking, no whining, just a quiet sigh, almost too soft to hear. As if she, too, knew that this first car ride was special, something to be savored.
She’ll have plenty more car rides in her future. Dog parks, vet trips, pet store visits, meetups, holidays with friends and relatives, and of course her annual dog vacation as a staff dog at Canine Camp Getaway of NY.
She’ll probably stuff her head out the window at some point to take in the scents, whine in excitement as she develops and recognizes new favorite places, poke Bob looking for a pat, or maybe even scoot up to the front seat looking for a taste of some drive-through dinner one night. She’ll grow more confident each day, and with each trip, more bonded to her human buddy, more excited about getting into a car that will take her to extraordinary places, places that will help her experience all the joys of life as a traveling dog.
But nothing will ever be the same as that first trip.
When we adopt a rescue dog, it’s an act of faith. We don’t really know about the dog’s past, or what the future will hold. We don’t know the dog’s quirks, or if there are latent behavioral or medical issues. We don’t know if the bond will “take.”
But we rarely realize how much more of a leap of faith it is for the dog. The dog doesn’t know she’s being “rescued.” She follows the person on the other end of the leash, hoping that she will end up someplace safe, where they will feed her, shelter her, care for her. She hopes that the person who picked her out from hundreds of other dogs won’t grow tired of her. She hopes someone in her new home will play with her…exercise her…cherish her. And keep her safe forever.
Even though her having been dumped in a shelter in the first place probably means someone already failed to live up to that trust.
Thankfully, Shadow is one of the lucky ones.
But watching her on that first car ride to her new home, it was clear she already knew that.
November 8th, 2011
I am the world’s worst packer. Despite more than two decades of business trips, I can still never figure out what I really need when I’m going on a trip, which means I always end up packing five more pairs of shoes than I will actually wear (yet invariably still won’t have the right shoes for whatever I’m doing).
In theory, packing for my dogs should be easier. They don’t need shoes (despite Lexie’s obsession with my Croc boots), and fashion is the least of their concerns when it comes to travel. In fact, if you asked them, they’d tell you they really only need three things: food, Bully Sticks and tennis balls.
I, of course, can quickly fill up a suitcase or three with backup leashes, travel harnesses, duplicate vet paperwork, travel bowls, a placemat for the bowls, bottled water (in case we somehow end up getting lost on our way to Connecticut and end up in Mexico), a Flip camera (because they might do something cute that’s endemic to wherever we’re going, which needs to be immediately captured on film so I can share it with all my equally dog-obsessed friends on Facebook), roll up dog beds (which they will step over as they jump onto my bed), a first aid kit, a squeaky Cuz, a backup squeaky Cuz in case someone de-squeaks the first one, extra toys, extra treats, just-in-case dog towels and a few dozen other things I probably don’t really need.
But as bad as I am with the packing thing, I’ve recently realized that for some pet parents, this packing thing has gotten totally out of control — and pet product manufacturers are taking advantage of this, trying to convince them that they need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on pet “travel necessities” that no pet in the history of the world has ever wanted or needed.
Even I know that there’s such a thing as taking it to extremes. And in the spirit of that, I’d like to share my top five list of things your dog really DOESN’T need for travel.
1. A $60 “specially molded” plastic travel water container designed to ward off heat, snake attacks and nuclear explosions.
The first time I saw one of these, I thought it was a joke. But apparently some people will pay top dollar for one of these special, “pet designed” water containers. I love my dog, too, but seriously, consider this for a minute. “Specially molded plastic” may sound impressive at first glance, but in reality, it’s just a catch phrase for “cheap material made in China.” And the water doesn’t taste any different coming out of these containers. Besides which, given the opportunity, your dog would probably drink out of the toilet. Trust me when I tell you that your dog doesn’t need a $60 travel water container. Want to keep Fido’s water cold on the trip? Buy a $6 plastic thermos and be done with it.
2. A car seat “hammock.”
If your dog is anything like mine, she can sleep in a moving vehicle, in a bathtub, under a table, or sprawled in the four inches of space between the couch and the coffee table with her paws sticking out of the side. She doesn’t need a hammock. Honest. And if she’s anything like my younger dog, she’ll just view a hammock as an opportunity to bounce herself, trampoline-like, right into the front seat with you where she can change the radio station and wreak doggie havoc on the roads. If you don’t crate your dog on trips, throw a sheet over the back seat and be done with it.
Dogs do not melt in the rain. And bright yellow rain slickers just look silly on dogs (and on people, for that matter!).
3. A bright yellow rain slicker and rain hat.
Dogs do not melt in the rain. They’re dogs. They can get wet. They’ll dry off. Even if you don’t have a special, hand-embroidered towel with their name on it to rub them down with. Yellow rain slickers just look silly on dogs, and if your dog is wearing one, chances are, all the other dogs are laughing at him. Additionally, studies show that 27% of all dog bites are caused by dogs embarrassed to the point of violence by silly dog outfits. Help your dog stay in the 73%.
4. Little booties.
As I’ve been telling Lexie for years (trying to get her to understand the whole “the Croc boots are mine, not yours” thing), dogs have paws, not feet. They were designed to walk on their feet. Therefore, they do not need shoes. Unless they have an injury, or you are walking them somewhere with broken glass, forget the silly little booties and let them walk the way God intended them to. Trust me, if dogs really needed shoes…Croc would have already come out them.
If dogs were meant to wear shoes...Croc would already be selling them.
5. Designer carry bags with names like Coach, Versace or Gucci.
Here’s the thing: Dogs can’t read labels. So that $6,000 designer carry bag you put them in isn’t impressing them, or their little four-legged friends, for that matter. Sure, if you got a nice bacon-scented carry bag, you could make your dog the envy of all his doggie buddies. But putting your dog in the latest fashion statement carry all is not going to transform him into a furry fashionista who’ll peruse Vogue with you and obsess over who’s getting kicked off Project Runway this week. If your dog travels in a carry bag, practical, comfortable and waterproof are all your dog really needs.
Got a silly pet travel product you’d like to tell us about? Share it in the comments below!
October 29th, 2011
Ever since I launched my first dog vacation business, my dogs have played the dual role of companions on the home front and doggie road warriors, up for any adventure, any time, anywhere.
And while their annual Canine Camp Getaway vacation may be their favorite trip, that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy all the little side trips we take throughout the year — to dog fairs like Hounds on the Sound, dog charity fundraiser events like the Canine Companions for Independence DogFest and friends’ homes where they not only welcome my dogs, but would be disappointed if I showed up without them (in at least one friend’s case, I think she’d actually be less disappointed if the dogs showed up without me than the other way around!).
Last weekend we spent at Fido’s Festival in Woodstown, NJ, which is some of the most fun you can have if you’re a dog (according to Lexie), and not a bad time for humans either (despite the absence of the kettle corn guy, which I had to admit was a tiny bit of a disappointment).
For the dogs, they had dock diving, lure racing (an obstacle course that dogs run while chasing after a squeaky toy or “lure” that runs on a pully system on the ground — often referred to as “crack cocaine for dogs”), agility, games, treats, vendors and a costume parade. For the humans, there were educational sessions in the open air pavilion, hayrides, shopping galore, rescue booths with adoptable dogs, games, free samples, a food court filled with every type of food you can imagine (except for the aforementioned kettle corn…yes, I know I’m harping on it, but I’m STILL disappointed about that) and lots of fun dog people and dogs to hang out with.
It was, my dog and I agreed, a nearly perfect weekend (and could have edged into perfect territory if only there’d been less traffic on the way home. And a kettle corn booth).
Hounds on the Sound is another of our favorite dog festivals.
Still, it was one of those weekends that makes you love fall, even though it means summer is over and won’t be back for what seems like ages.
This weekend, we were hoping to make it out to Barktober Fest at Camp Bow Wow in Cherry Hill, NJ (another really cool event), but bad weather and a temperamental car but the kibosh on those plans. So instead, I’m sitting on my couch, wrapped in a blanket with a cat on my head and a dog on my feet, trying to keep warm while the temperatures drop as if Mother Nature got confused about which month it is (Note to Mother Nature: October is the month where you dress up and get candy. December is the one with the snow. They’re totally different months, even though they both end with “ber.” Or, in this case,”brrr!”).
It’s not that I mind a day curled up on the couch all cozy and warm, wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by pets and whatever sweatshirt/shoe/toy Lexie has decided to carry into the den in hopes of enticing me into a game of keep away. But it’s also not as much fun as a road trip on a sunny fall day, walking around with the dogs, enjoying the fresh air, seeing new places and meeting new friends.
Sadly, by next month, the outdoor dog events will peter out in the Northeast as winter begins to take hold. That means fewer road trips.
Oh, there’s Winter Woofstock in Toronto, which I’m told totally rocks, but I’m not convinced I can do 22 hours of driving in one weekend (especially since my car now knows I’m looking for a new car, which has made it testier and more temperamental than usual).
And of course there are always the various Pet Expos, but you can’t bring your dog, and my dogs have an issue with me attending dog events without them.
Do any of you road trip in the cold weather with your dog? Any great dog-friendly, cold-weather destinations you would recommend? Feel free to share!
October 18th, 2011
I am fortunate enough to have two dogs who not only love to travel, but who view car travel much the way I might view a trip to any Club Med: If someone offers the opportunity, jump on it, and worry about where you’re going, exactly, later. I mean, there aren’t any bad Club Meds, right?
Some dogs love car travel. But if doggie motion sickness is ruining the trip for both of you, try baking up a batch of ginger dog biscuits to settle your pup's stomach.
Of course Club Med costs thousands of dollars, while a drive around town costs you a few bucks in gas. Fortunately my dogs don’t seem to get the difference. Even a short car trip to run errands is cause for celebration with them, and they are equally happy going to Hess (bonus points if they can scare the gas station guy with a good loud bark!), driving through Dairy Barn or just taking a run to my parents’ house. It’s about the journey, and a car journey is a wonderful thing in their world.
But not all dogs feel that way. Motion sickness seems to be an increasingly common ailment among dogs, and in recent weeks, I’ve spoken with three different friends whose dogs get car sick.
I feel for them, as it’s no fun traveling with a dog who throws up in the backseat.
But I probably have greater sympathy for the dogs, as I was one of those people who suffered from motion sickness for most of my childhood, and I know how awful it is.
Fortunately, motion sickness in dogs is generally easily treatable, just as it is in humans. In fact, many of the medications used for human motion sickness can also be prescribed for dogs. (I actually found this out when Lexie jumped six feet off the ground to snag a bottle of medicine from my top shelf, resulting in frantic calls to the vet. While she didn’t actually consume anything but the bottle, I learned from that particular call that my motion sickness medicine isn’t harmful to dogs, and may, in fact, be prescribed to treat dogs with similar problems).
However, before you go the drug route, you may be able to stave off motion sickness with something easily found in your spice rack: ginger.
Ginger is a great way to settle the stomach, and this is equally true for humans and canines. For years, I carried candied ginger in my purse for long drives, or trips on the LIRR where accidentally I ended up in one of the seats facing backwards.
While not all dogs will eat candied ginger, you can easily include this is a delicious home baked dog treat which may help settle your pup’s stomach for car trips. So if your car is making your dog sick, try baking up a batch of these and giving your pup a couple for the ride!
Delicious Ginger Dog Biscuits
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Mix oil and water in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, mil and ginger. Add the water mixture slowly to the mixed ingredients. Knead and roll out the dough on a flat surface. Cut with cookie cutters (you can find fun bone or dog-shaped cookie cutters in most craft stores or on Amazon). Bake for 30-35 minutes. Set out on cooking rack to cool, or leave them in the oven until they are dry for extra crunchiness. Enjoy!
October 10th, 2011
There comes a time in every girl’s life when she has to accept certain inevitable truths. For me, this week’s inevitable truth was that my beloved Sebring convertible isn’t going to make it another year.
Now, I’ve never understood the suburban fascination with SUVs, being neither a soccer Mom nor a person who drives on rough terrain (unless you count the potholes on the Long Island Expressway). In my world, “the outback” is a steakhouse, not a place you drive; and while “all weather driving” is a lovely concept, I’m more of a “nice weather driver” who would more likely be home drinking hot chocolate during the kind of weather these “all-weather” vehicles are purportedly built for.
Also, I LIKE small cars and hate those gas-guzzling monstrosities that sit 10 feet above everyone else in traffic so you can’t see past them or even read your exit sign until it’s too late.
So why am I suddenly looking at SUVs?
The same reason I gave up my luxurious rain shower for the convenient but not nearly as luxurious handshower. The dogs, of course!
While I’ve tried to make due, the truth is, two large dogs don’t really fit in a convertible. And certainly two large dogs with dog accessories do not fit in a convertible. As that my dogs have a LOT of accessories — and neither one is particularly amenable to being left home when a trip is being planned — I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to upsize. Running Canine Camp Getaway of NY, my dog vacation business, means the dogs and I spend a lot of time on the road. So here I am, doing what I never thought I’d do — looking at SUVs and soccer-Mom-mobiles.
Now I know some people love car shopping. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people. I’ve been riding in a friend’s car for the past five years and still can’t tell you what he drives, except that it’s white, and big enough to stuff two dogs in the back seat. So wading through car reviews, auto comparison Web sites, Consumer Reports and crash test ratings is about as appealing as watching the Guatemala news network. In Guatemalan.
I tried googling “dog-friendly cars” but I keep coming up with the Nissan cube, which is quite possibly the second ugliest car ever made, right after the PT Cruiser, and the Range Rover Supercharged, which has a base price that’s only slightly less than that of my house. Unless the dogs are planning their own reality series on a major network in which they can win a million dollars by beating out all the other reality-dog-star-wannabes, I don’t see this happening any time soon.
I did find an interesting site that focuses on dog-friendly cars. DogCars.com
The Nissan Cube is supposed to be a great vehicle for dogs -- but it's also one of the ugliest cars I've ever seen. I suspect even my less-than-fashion-conscious dogs would be embarrassed to be seen in this! (Photo courtesy of GAYOT.com)
looks at a variety of vehicles from the dog-friendliness perspective. They seemed hot on the Honda Element and the Toyota Venza. Unfortunately, the former could be confused with a hearse and the latter is pricey.
Expanding my search to friends who have dogs, I’ve gotten recommendations for the Ford Edge (cool looking, but lousy gas mileage), the Subaru Forester (which used to be a nice crossover SUV/Wagon/Drives More Like a Car Than a Monster Truck, but which has since been redesigned to be larger, which means I’d probably never ever be able to park it) and the Kia Rondo (which they don’t make anymore, replaced by another square, boxy looking SUV or a model which appears to only be available in a color called “alien.” While I’m not married to the idea of buying American, I certainly would like to keep my options to the known planet!).
I thought maybe I should consider a nice used car, but people keep warning me about getting stuck with “flood cars” which apparently are flooding the market, disguised so you don’t know you’ve bought a disaster until 30 seconds the warranty runs out.
Then there’s the whole insurance thing, which I didn’t even think about until a friend told me I’m better off with something classified as a “wagon” if I don’t want my car insurance to go up by $500 a year or so. And of course with gas at $3.79 a gallon, I have to worry about what kind of mileage per gallon I’ll be getting.
Honestly, I’ve barely started my search and I’m sick of car shopping already. I don’t want to keep looking at cars online, which does nothing but confuse me. I certainly don’t want to walk into a dealership, where they’ll smell my uncertainty like sharks sniffing out blood and move in for the kill.
I just want a nice, affordable vehicle that drives like a car, doesn’t guzzle gas and fits one girl, two dogs and luggage for three. Is that too much to ask for?
If you have any suggestions for dog-friendly vehicles, please feel free to share them!
And for more info about dog-friendly vehicles, check out this great article:
September 26th, 2011
When you run a dog vacation business, you get to go to a lot of dog events. I particularly love the fall events, because they combine four of my favorite things: dogs, the great outdoors, kettle corn, and shopping. I mean, really, what more could you ask for?
But the people who run these events must think we dog owners aren’t that easily satisfied, as they always seem to be raising the ante with everything from Search & Rescue Dog Demonstrations to celebrity Doggie Moms.
Yes, you heard me right. We’re talking about actual dog moms, just like you and me, except that they have their own TV show…
I’d heard of the show before, of course. Like “Housewives of Whatever County,” it vaguely rings a bell; my brain is filled with the names of reality shows I never watch (largely because I’d rather flip channels continuously, so I can catch glimpses of Mets baseball without the full-blown pain of watching it straight up). But suddenly, it hit me: Someone is getting PAID to sit home being a dog Mom. And it’s not ME.
Now this is just wrong.
My whole life is dogs. I plan group dog hikes, dog birthday parties, dog holiday events. I run a dog meetup group (social group for dogs and their owners) with nearly 150 members. I teach prep classes and certify dogs for the AKC Canine Good Citizen program and the Therapy Dog program. I “Bark for Life” (a dog walk to raise money for cancer research) and run Pet Food Drives at work to support local animal shelters. I spend so much time at the dog park, my dogs could probably drive there by themselves (the little one loves to walk around the house with the car keys in her mouth, and the older one likes to sit in the driver’s seat, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch!).
In fact, I founded Canine Camp Getaway of NY solely to provide my dogs with a fun summer vacation where they could swim in the pool (Lexie’s favorite thing) and lure course (Jessie’s favorite thing).
So, as far as I can tell, it’s simply not possible that there are five people out there who are more qualified than I am to be on a “Doggie Moms” TV show.
How did I not know about this when they were holding auditions? And if there are dogs with full-time, stay-at-home Moms, are my dogs being deprived, being “latchkey dogs?”
Anyone who’s ever owned a dog knows about dog guilt: the sad eyed stare you get when you BBQ dinner and no hot dog accidentally falls off the grill; the pathetic whine when they think they’re going on a great car ride, only to end up at the vet’s office; the heartbreaking looks they give you when you pull out a suitcase for a trip that doesn’t involve them. And that “It can’t possibly be Monday already — are you leaving me AGAIN?” look they give you when the weekend is over and it’s back to work.
Now I have the added guilt of knowing that my dogs could have had a stay-at-home dog Mom — if only I hadn’t missed my opportunity to be a “Doggie Moms” reality star.
Maybe I need to watch more reality TV after all. At the very least, perhaps I could make friends with one of the Mob Wives of New Jersey, who could knock off a Doggie Mom so I could get the job.
September 18th, 2011
Some years ago, I was driving to the grocery store when I saw a man carrying a very large dog. Assuming the dog was hurt, I pulled over to see if I could help.
“Is your dog injured? Do you need a ride to the animal hospital?” I asked.
He gave me a smile that was a little bit sad, and said, “She’s fine. She’s 16 now, and she runs out of steam pretty fast these days. But she loves to walk in the sunshine, even though she can’t go very far anymore. So I take her out, and when she gets tired, I just carry her home.”
I remember thinking, what a remarkable man! Although he recognized the limitations that come with age, he still honored his dog’s desire to enjoy life to the fullest, for as long as she could, and he was helping to make that happen.
Back then, my dog was still cutting her puppy teeth on my furniture, and old age seemed a lifetime away. But now that my 100-pound shep mix is fast approaching 10, I sometimes think back on that chance meeting, and the lessons to be learned from it. And I wonder…was his dog still taking walks at 16 because of some genetic good fortune, or was his willingness to help his dog experience life to the fullest part of the reason for her longevity?
As our dogs age, it’s easy to want to wrap them in a plastic bubble wrap. Rest them so they don’t get “too tired.” Protect them from getting hurt. Guard them from all the dangers of the world, as if by doing so, we can somehow keep old age from catching up with them.
So maybe we may cut the walk a bit shorter…retire them from the agility field…leave them home from our favorite pet event because we don’t want to tire them out. Maybe we assume they can’t do something and don’t give them the opportunity to try.
We want to protect them, but is this making assumptions thing truly in the dog’s best interest?
I’m not saying it’s not perfectly reasonable to make allowances for a dog slowing down as the years creep up. But shouldn’t the dog have a say in it?
Dogs are, in many ways, born to be wanderers, joyful travelers who long to explore the world, whether their trip takes them cross country, or simply around the block. They thrive on stimulation, whether it’s a playdate with other dogs, a sniff fest along a wooded trail, a rousing game of “find the treat” or a social outing with their favorite humans.
And the same way many human seniors eschew retirement because they are happiest when they’re doing what they love, dogs, too, may want to continue their life travels for as long as their legs will hold them up. Or in the case of one 16 year old dog, even longer.
And it’s not such a bad thing, that.
Because the truth is, you can’t stave off old age. No amount of rest will prevent the years from passing. But though we can’t keep our dogs from getting older, we CAN keep their lives joyful by letting them do the things they love, for as long as they can.
Is your older dog living life to the fullest? Tell us about it!
September 7th, 2011
For the first 21 years of my life, I never traveled out of the tri-state area. So it still sort of amazes me that the second half of my life, I racked up more frequent flier miles than your average basketball team (but not nearly as many miles as my luggage racked up!) and I now run a dog vacation business.
Equally amazing, I somehow ended up with two dogs who not only love to travel, but who seem to feel it’s their mission in life to encourage dogs and dog lovers to join them on their Canine Camp Getaway of NY vacations.
I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. Most dogs are wanderers at heart, and while my dogs are more of the velcro-dog variety, both share an adventurous spirit and a willingness to chase tennis balls across fields, valleys, state or even country lines. They also love other dogs, so while travel is fun, travel to someplace with lots of dogs is MORE fun.
They even have their own luggage — matching travel bags with paw prints on the outside and separate compartments for treats, bowls, tennis balls and extra leashes. Which is funny, since I spent my college years heading back and forth with my clothing stuffed in a duffel bag that vaguely resembled a large pillow case.
If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d be planning vacations for dogs and their people, I probably would’ve thought you were crazy. Of course now some people think I AM crazy…but these are generally people without dogs.
If you have a dog, you understand that going on vacation isn’t nearly as much fun when you have to leave your furry four-legged friend behind. And dog guilt is a really powerful thing.
But my two dogs took it one step beyond dog guilt. First, they started dumping their bones, balls and toys in my suitcase when I started packing for a trip. When that didn’t work, they began lying in the suitcase (like, I might somehow miss a 100 pound dog sprawled in the middle of my clothing, zip it up and take her with me by accident!).
Finally, they decided to forget subtlety entirely and plan their own vacation. Canine Camp Getaway of NY is their idea, and it’s all about them. Dogs in the pool. Dogs running lure coursing, or chasing frisbees, or doing agility. Dogs in the dining room, or in the bar at night. Dogs and their people romping, playing, relaxing together, and remembering what makes the bond between canine and human so very special.
I’m just along for the ride.
But as rides go, it’s a good one. Dogs teach us so much about life, and traveling with your dog turns a vacation into a Grand Adventure. When I’m with my dog, the grass is greener, the air is fresher, the stars are brighter. And my soul is lighter.
In these high-stress times, there’s something to be said for that. So next time you plan a vacation, think about bringing your best friend along. You’ll both be glad you did!