The Best City for Pet Traveler’s competition over at the Go Pet Friendly blog has been lots of fun. But some of you are reading about pet-friendly cities and saying to yourselves, “Take my dog to a beach with a hundred other dogs? Or expect him to sit quietly under a restaurant table while strangers walk by? Forget it!”
I feel your pain.
Agatha and Christie, My Reactive Inspiration
For many years, I lived with Agatha and Christie who would bark and lunge at every other dog that approached. At that time, I knew far less about working with this problem than I do now. So I did what many who have reactive dogs do. I took up camping.
And not camping in a bright, cheery pet-friendly campsite. No, we’d find the most densely wooded, separated from all others, campsites in state parks we could find. We couldn’t risk ending up near another dog that would set ours off like fuzzy little barking time bombs.
I love camping. And I think the dogs did too.
But it’s good to try new things. And after crying in the car the first time we left the girls behind in the care of our neighbor as we drove off for a week at the beach, I wanted to find a way to travel with my dogs.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks like everyone who manages reactivity. I’ll share my tips using my favorite vacation spot, Cape May, New Jersey, as a case study. Hopefully you’ll add your tips in the comments.
Tips for Vacationing with a Reactive Dog
Yes, you always need to be alert and proactive when managing life with a reactive dog. But a few things can make vacationing with one easier.
A large city or crowded dog beach will overwhelm your dog. And avoid big festivals and events. You need space to spread out and allow your dog enough room to be comfortable. Oh, and you might need an escape route. You don’t want to be boxed in when a loping dog gets up in your dog’s face while her people yell from a distance, “She’s just being friendly. Let your dog play with her.”
A small town or city that is not famous world over for its dog friendliness will be the best place to start.
Cape May, NJ is best known for its precious, Victorian buildings. Although it’s a very dog friendly town, it draws a wide range of visitors and not just people looking to have a good time with their dog.
Enjoy the Shoulder Season
In the North, a beach resort in the off-season might not be much fun. Very little is open. The refreshing breezes of the summer become arctic gusts. So you might not have other dogs and tourists to worry about. But you won’t have places to eat or stay either.
We take advantage of the shoulder season—that time right before or after the mad rush of tourists. Many things are open. But, since children are not out of school, many families are not in a place to take a vacation.
You’ll find more places to enjoy with your dog without the press of people who think the only time to take a vacation is when everyone else does.
In Cape May, the end of May has wonderful weather. But the crowds and the cost of housing reflect that fact that the tourist season has not yet begun. In early September you’ll find the same thing. And the water is still warm enough for swimming.
Rent a House
Yes, a funky little inn or Victorian cottage might be where you’d like to stay. But does your dog agree?
Ice machines in conventional hotels make some dogs nuts. Not to mention the sounds of other people moving around out in the hallway. And a charming, pet-friendly inn where the innkeeper’s dogs visit residents will be the last thing your reactive dog wants.
Renting a pet-friendly house for a week is usually less expensive than staying in a hotel or inn. You can save even more by preparing some of your own meals instead of eating out. Invite a few friends or family to share the cost and you’ve just got yourself a dog sitter if you decide to go out.
Your dog will be more comfortable without the noise of neighbors on the other side of the wall. And will feel more secure if you decide to leave him there while you explore non-pet friendly entertainment.
If your dog would be anxious if left alone, at least you’ll have more room to spread out and often a nice deck or yard to enjoy together.
Bring Crates and Guards
If your dog is comfortable in his crate, bring it along. It’s not a bad idea to stick a baby gate or two in the car or maybe even a foldable exercise pen.
If you haven’t traveled much with your dog, you don’t know how he’ll react to the new setting. So set him up for success by making sure you can confine him comfortably and safely if necessary.
And yes, it’s worth it even if you have to leave your boogie board behind to make room in the car.
Plan Your Dog-Friendly Activities for Weekdays
During the shoulder season at a beach resort, you’ll still have bigger crowds on the weekend. People will come for day trips and you’ll find more dogs hanging around with their people.
Cape May has a small park with a memorial to fishermen lost at sea. Yes, fishing is still a very dangerous business. In 2009, a scallop boat sank and its crew of six were lost. The park is at the end of Missouri Avenue and overlooks the Cape May Harbor. And behind it is a small, dog-friendly bit of quiet beach.
On a weekday in May you’ll have it to yourself. On the weekend you might find up to four or five people who have discovered this little gem. It’s the absolute best dog beach if your dog doesn’t like dog beaches.
Enjoy Carry Out
Okay, maybe your dog won’t be comfortable on a patio with other dogs sitting with their people. That doesn’t mean you can’t express your appreciation for these pet-friendly restaurants by ordering carry out.
Do you think clams or crab fresh off the boat taste better sitting on a cute, dog-friendly patio without your dog than they do back to your house on the deck? No way. And wouldn’t you rather enjoy that delicious sandwich and homemade potato salad on the beach than sitting away from the refreshing ocean breeze?
Eat a nice, carry-out lunch at the beach or a park. Then come back at your rental house in the evening to make dinner on the grill. You’ll save a few dollars and your dog will thank you for providing a stress free time.
We’ve taken a number of different boat trips with dogs. For a reactive dog, your best bet is to either go very big or very small.
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry is dog-friendly and will cut hours off the trip of Cape May visitors coming from Maryland, Virginia, and points south. Plus it’s a relaxing way to enjoy the water and spot dolphins and seabirds off the bow.
Call the ferry terminal to ask which times of day the ferry is likely to be least crowded. We’ve only encountered a few dogs on the upper decks in our several trips and have always had plenty of room to avoid encounters. But that’s less likely if you’re traveling by ferry on a busy holiday weekend.
We’ve also enjoyed kayaking with our dogs. Kayaks can go places most other boats can’t. If you tuck into a marsh or small river with your dog in a kayak, I guarantee you won’t run into any other kayaking dogs.
Just Do It
Having a reactive dog makes you eternally vigilant. You scan 100 feet ahead in all directions looking for potential “situations.” You rehearse in your mind how you’ll respond if a rude, off-leash dog approaches yours. You become tense and irritable that other people with barky dogs aren’t working as hard as you are to manage the issues.
And it’s not fun.
Sometimes, after years of working with a reactive dog, he makes major improvements. But you can’t see them because you’re stuck in vigilant mode. You have to take a chance and see what your dog can do.
Last year, I was very touched by a post over at Kenzo the Hovawart describing how Viva, the reactive dog, surprised her person by not being reactive at the groomer. Your dog might surprise you too.
Don’t throw her right into the deep end. Use these tips. Hopefully other commenters will add more. But give her a chance to shine at something new.
What do you have to lose? Besides having to poop in the woods?
Best City for Pet Travelers – The Final Four
We’ve made it. Cape May, New Jersey, a tiny town of 5000 people (in the winter) that few have ever visited is the last remaining East Coast city (in two countries) remaining in the brackets. It’s time for all of us
on the East Coast, East of the Mississippi, East of the Rockies to stand up to the West Coast juggernaut that thinks it’s the only place to have fun with your pet.
Oh, and east of the Rockies includes Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand. It just depends on the route you take, doesn’t it?
I reach out to people who voted for lovely St. Petersburg Florida in round 3 and gorgeous Burlington, Vermont in round 4 (which, by the way, garnered more votes in our bracket than two of the other winners in the other brackets–way to go Burlington!). You won’t let a little trash talk stand in the way of bringing down the West, will you?
It’s the Final Four. Go. Vote. Now.