Another topic I’m often asked about in regard to my mobile life is the dogs. “How does that work with the dogs?” When I mapped out my project, one of the benefits of US-based fieldwork was that I could have the dogs with me. There was no question; my girls would be part of the adventure. At 12 and 13, my dogs are accustomed to traveling with me and, though their herding dog ancestry perhaps amplifies a need for routine and organization, are quite adaptable.
My “field assistants” adapted rather quickly and easily to road life. Photo by: A. Michaelis
Even so, before I dove headfirst into the whole “living in a camper” thing, I did my research to make sure it was a reasonable expectation to do so with the dogs. In an effort to answer all of the inquiring minds I’ve come across, and maybe others who are considering similar life changes or just extended trips with their pups, here are a few of the more important lessons of my year-plus tour with dogs.
First and foremost, if you cannot find dog-friendly campgrounds and/or RV parks, you cannot really plan to RV with your pups. This was a challenge in some places, but ultimately I was able to find suitable campgrounds and parks in all sites (actual campground/park links below, for anyone interested). When planning for camping with pups, it’s important to know exactly what the pet policies are. Do they allow more than one pet? Can pets be left unattended at the site? Most campgrounds do not allow guests to leave pets unattended outside, but many also do not wish for pets to be left unattended in the camper either. Thin trailer walls paired with barking dogs can make for unhappy neighbors.
Pet Well-Being in the Camper
It is not just barking that makes people leery of leaving pets unattended in a camper. It’s also a safety issue. Particularly during warm weather, the chance that the site could lose power while you’re away and the dogs are in the camper could become a dangerous situation. To ease my mind and ensure that I did not have a tragic situation, I purchased the RV PetSafety Monitor. It requires an annual subscription, but the overall cost (to me) is worth my dogs’ safety. It monitors both location and temperature of the camper, and will alert you if the power is lost or if the temperature deviates from the range you set. Thus far, I’ve only lost power once while away from the camper, but have peace of mind knowing that I’m immediately notified and can act accordingly.
Even though my senior pups are pretty quiet throughout the day, I also wanted to make sure that they didn’t cause a raucous. One dog is nearly deaf and both enjoy heavy naps, but they’re dogs. They’re used to living in close quarters, but I wasn’t sure how they’d handle camp life and camp sounds. I bought a white noise machine to help drown out possible triggers. Fortunately, the dogs haven’t really been bothered by campground noises, but the machine has helped me block out some of my rowdier camp neighbors who aren’t waking up to hit the water at dawn.
This is easier in some places than others. Not all of my sites are convenient to pet stores. Nor do all of them allow for mail or packages to be shipped. For all things dog (food, medicine, etc.) I tried to plan well ahead to have things shipped to friends in the area or in places that I would be passing through. It’s worked out so far, but it is a balancing act with available trailer space. For example, there’s only so much room for multiple 40-lb bags of dog food.
My gals are seniors. As such, calls and visits to the vet are increasingly more common. Our vet in Maryland has been wonderful accommodating my travel schedule, both in terms of planning well ahead for medications and offering over-the-phone consultations. Still, not everything can be treated over the phone. This year we’ve had 3 broken teeth, a mystery bacterial infection that both dogs subsequently acquired twice, and recently the news that senior dog owners dread but expect to hear eventually.
Finding emergency care or a one-time vet visit is not that big of a challenge (though it may be expensive), but finding a veterinary specialist willing to work with you to talk diagnoses, prognoses, and options, knowing that in two months you’ll be heading to a new state, I’ve recently found is not easy. I suppose in this section, I don’t have many tips, but more an appreciation for those veterinarians, technicians, and front desk staff who have been especially helpful (those practices are also linked below). Any recommendations I have are largely common sense for pet owners – stay ahead of your pet’s medication if they have it, travel with copies of important records, be prepared to make multiple phone calls to coordinate a vet visit, and ask locals with pets what vet they recommend.
Depending on the energy-level and personalities of your pets, it may also be important to find pet-friendly activities and places. My girls are slow-movers at this stage, especially in the heat, but I still try to find a variety of places where we can walk and even dine. The internet has been my friend in this regard, but I’ll find many places that folks may review as great for dogs actually aren’t “legal” for dogs. I spent too many days asking beach-goers to leash their dogs or to get them out of bird sanctuaries to break the rules with my own. I typically look on a map for green spaces and then find the rules for that space. As far as dining, I use the internet, but am always prepared to ask the restaurant first before assuming my dogs can sit at an outdoor restaurant.
Seen here on a beach in North Truro (pre-shorebird nesting season), the dogs have seen plenty of beaches and trails along our tour. There is a certain degree of research required, however, to be aware of each site’s dog policies. Photo by: A. Michaelis.
After 13 and 11 years with me, my dogs have made many a drive across the eastern half of the US, and are wonderful passengers. Still, I plan with them in mind when hauling the trailer all over. People always ask if they ride in the trailer, which I tow behind me. NO. Terrible, unsafe idea. My dogs have their own little space in the truck with me, where my passenger seats fold up and they either sleep (Lucy) or stare out the window (Ruca) nearly the entire ride. I don’t get great mileage hauling the trailer and I appreciate a break, so we stop every 3-4 hours for fuel, stretch, bathroom, etc. I’ve learned that not all truck stops are great for trailers nor dog walks, and sometimes have better luck at a small gas station that might have a shopping center lot nearby where I can park while walking the dogs. Or, I do our walking breaks completely separate from fuel, and utilize the highway rest areas and welcome centers, which usually have plenty of truck and trailer parking as well as a little more green space.
I think that covers most of the dog-related questions I’ve received. Just like living with pets in general, long-term traveling with them requires a few more details to be attended to, but it’s definitely possible. And, I’m inclined to think that my pups have enjoyed the past year of new beaches, trails, docks, and smells.
Dog-Friendly campgrounds/parks I’ve stayed at on the “tour”:
- Madison Bay Campground (Madison, MD)
- Frontier Town (Ocean City, MD)
- Cherry Hill Park (College Park, MD)
- Chesapeake Bay RV Resort (Gloucester, VA)
- Cordele KOA (Cordele, GA)
- Dauphin Island Campground (Dauphin Island, AL)
- Cedar Key RV Resort (Cedar Key, FL)
- Holiday Campground on Ochlockonee Bay (Panacea, FL)
- Niantic KOA (Niantic, CT)
- Adventure Bound Cape Cod (North Truro, MA)
- Worden Pond Family Campground (South Kingstown, RI)
Veterinary practices who have been especially helpful in caring for my girls while on the road: