How to Include The Family Dog In Summer Trips & Activities

Right around Christmas time, I wrote an article about safely traveling for the holidays with your pet. We touched on many things from car safety (using proper harnesses and seat-belts and being in the back seat) to night-safety guidelines and which ‘tools’ were the best to use and which ones to leave at home (with respect to leashes and collars). If you missed this article, here is the link so you can get up to speed on some important safety information.

While all of those same suggestions apply now, there are other things to take into consideration during the hot summer months if you’re planning to include the dog in your activities. Whether you are going for just a day trip, or an extended vacation by car or RV, here are some things you are going to want to keep in mind

For Prolonged Car Rides, RV Trips AND “Detours” Along The Way:

  • Never leave your pet in the car: Just like you’d never leave your child unattended in the car, never leave your dog in one either. It heats up and becomes a furnace very quickly… and since most pets have a ‘built-in’ fur coat, they can over-heat that much faster! Oftentimes we think ‘we’re only running in quickly, they’ll be fine just for those few minutes’. But let’s face it, when traveling with kids, those few minutes can turn into much longer than you expected just trying to corral them back into the car! And don’t forget that Fido might need a bathroom break and to stretch his legs too!
  • Sight-seeing and tourist attractions along the way: If you plan on doing some sight-seeing along the way, map out your trip in advance, and figure out the spots you want to stop at and go sightseeing.
    • If they are indoor spots (like a museum) or a theme or water park, unless your dog is a Service Dog, they are generally not permitted inside. Do your research way in advance, and get some suggestions on local kennels or pet-sitters in those immediate areas, and find out what their availability is, and if you need to make a reservation. *Note: Many of the theme parks such as Disney and Epcot Center have on-site kennels.  This way your time with the kids is not rushed and you know your pooch is safe while you enjoy some quality family time together.
    • If they are outdoor spots, like walking or nature trails, a lake to swim in, or picnic spots, and your dog is welcome there (call in advance just to make sure this is still the case) make sure you bring plenty of fresh water for them as well as for yourself and the kids. You never know what kind of bacteria or microorganisms might be living in any specific lake or body of water, so providing frequent drinks for your pet will reduce their ‘natural instinct’ to drink from any source available if they are thirsty. Many pet stores (and Amazon) offer collapsible water dishes that even have a carabineer to attach to your belt-loop.

Full Day Outings

  • A full day of hiking: If you will be hiking for several hours, you’ve probably packed snacks for the kids. Make sure to bring some food for your dog to snack on too. Think about it- after an hour, we often feel hungry… not necessarily for a full meal, but a quick ‘pick-me-up snack’. Your dog is no different. So make sure you bring some extra kibble along, or some milk bones for them to snack on. Avoid training treats and small chewy snacks… as they are very high in sodium content, and will make your dog dehydrate faster, and be thirstier. Another type of collapsible dish offers food AND water capacity
  • Be aware of signs / symptoms of heat exhaustion AND heat stroke for both your children and your pets…

  • Hot pavement and rocky terrain: Another thing to take into consideration when hiking with the kids and pets…. Consider for a moment all the reasons you wouldn’t have your child hike barefoot. Those same reasons apply plus a few more.  On top of the potential for possible cuts from rocks, and burns from hot pavement (some trails are partially paved), while dogs primarily ‘sweat’ through excessive panting, they also have a small amount of sweat glands that are prominently in the paw pads. If the pads get burns, or dry out and crack, it can cause your dog to overheat that much faster. Besides the boots your dog can wear for winter or rain, some new ‘breathable boots’ boots were created with a ‘cool down’ feature which will protect them from overheating as well as prevent cuts and scrapes.  I also like to use a product called ‘Musher’s Secret’. This is a wax that goes on their paws and protects them from the heat.
  • Sunburn: Beyond packing water for everyone (kids and dogs) and making sure they get shade, many people do not realize that their dogs are just as susceptible to sunburns – and even skin cancer – as their kids are! Here is a link to a very informative article to learn more about which dogs are more prone to sunburns, which areas on the dog’s body are more apt to be affected, how to treat it, and more importantly, how to avoid it…and don’t forget to bring sunscreen for your kid’s delicate skin too!
  • Keep your dog on leash at all times: I know, I know…. The point of being out in nature is to explore and be free! And it is fun to give them the chance to be free and watch them explore new things! But what if the ‘new thing’ they want to explore can potentially be dangerous? Like another dog that comes by that is not so friendly? Or a wild animal that they decide to suddenly chase after? Or worse: A child who is AFRAID of dogs, that does not know your dog is a sweet and friendly outgoing mutt that just wants to say hello? Oftentimes, in their panic, they run, and can get hurt. I will be the first to say that as a professional dog trainer, my dog has an amazing recall…. But he is still a dog… not a robot! This is not his every day environment…. and when new and exciting things are all around him, can I 100% guarantee that he will listen to me when I call him back? Nope – not unless I have him on a leash. And please…. Leave the retractable leashes at home! The purpose of the leash is to give you full control at all times. Retractable leashes cannot guarantee that. I recommend nothing longer than a 6 foot leash. One last comment on this: If your dog is friendly and sweet with those he knows but not very social with unknown dogs and people, they may not be a great candidate for hiking trails. Your dog will smell, hear, and see others long before you do. This is your vacation, but others want to enjoy a peaceful quiet walk on their vacation too! A dog that barks or yaps incessantly, or growls and snaps at others can ruin your vacation and spoil it for others too! Be aware of your dog’s temperament and be considerate of others.
  • Vaccinations and flea and tick preventative: It is important to remember that this is not your backyard… and diseases can be found in many species of wild animals… disease that can immediately affect and harm your dog: and ultimately harm your kids. (see my article about how regular vet visits can help keep your child safe….parts one and two). Also, Make sure your dog is on flea and tick preventative!! Last thing you want are those critters ‘hitching a ride’ on your pet or your kids!! Make sure you do a nightly check of both the kids and pets after a long day of hiking to make sure they are both free of any free-loading cling-ons!!
  • Dog friendly parks: I am going to add one last link that I found to be very informative. A ‘dog owner’s guide to visiting National Parks’. It has some great information on some of the National parks and their rules and regulation regarding dogs.

And finally, I’ll end this by saying there are many pet-friendly places to take your whole family (dog included) this summer, but it is vital that you really know your dog and pay close attention to his body language. Unlike your older child who can verbally communicate with you that they are tired and/or hungry… or a baby who gets cranky to convey the same message, your dog cannot tell you what they need or what they are feeling. Being aware of them at all times will enable you to determine when they are enjoying their time with the family, and when they have had enough and need a break. A grumpy tired dog can quickly become an unpredictable one. Don’t forget to do your research in advance, make whatever plans and reservations you need to make, and this will ensure that you, your family, your dog, and others around you will all have a safe and enjoyable summer together!

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Reference: Information for the Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke charts were compiled from the following sources

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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