Training log: Road trip potty breaks as training opportunities?

If you’re new to this blog, you should know that I’m in the midst of a massive road trip with my German Shepherd Dog, Milo. So far this month we’ve put on about 2 000 km.

Black and tan German Shepherd Dog in a green canvas crate in the back of a dirty SUV.

Milo happy in the vehicle.

At times, Milo can be like the Energizer Bunny on Speed, so it is surprising how good he is on these long rides. He’ll whine with excitement if he thinks we’re going swimming, but other than that he settles down pretty quickly for a nap. Every hour and a half or so I pull over, give him a bathroom break, a drink, a quick walk or a game of tug, and off we go again.

It occurred to me that I was missing some pretty good training opportunities with these breaks. After an hour in the truck Milo is a little bored, a little lonely, and super drivey–why not make use of that?

So, breaks are now mini-training sessions. They look like this:

I pull over, pop on his leash, and let him have a quick sniff and a pee. Then, right away, we do a bit of focused heeling and he gets a mighty game of tug. Then we do just a couple of other things–only for about five minutes–with lots of reward play. Once we are both out of breath, I give him a drink, pop him back in his kennel, and we drive for another 150 kms.

Milo seems just as happy after these mini-training breaks as he is after our non-working breaks, maybe happier since he gets to think and I spend the break time paying close attention to him.

Do you see any pluses or minuses with using these breaks for training? Any suggestions?

Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Rainbow Falls Provincial Park straddles the TransCanada Highway, making it a convenient stopover if your trip takes you between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. The rugged mixed forest, rocky outcrops, and island dotted lakes of Superior’s North Shore inspired some of my favourite Group of Seven paintings. It’s a beautiful drive. Keep your gas tank on the high side of empty though, there are some long stretches between gas stations.

A black and tan German Shepherd on a long leash clamber over grey rocks

The gorgeous hike along the this park’s namesake falls is difficult. It seems weird to call a hike with a boardwalk difficult, but oh the stairs, it feels like you’re taking the stairs up the Eiffel Tower. I’ve been working on gratitude lately, and the walk up these stairs made me grateful for Milo the AwesomeDog’s powerful leash pulling.

Bright green ferns in the foreground of a waterfall cascading over grey rocks.

a bright campfire with sticks positioned at right angles from each other

My firewood appears to be left over from a building project allowing for a geometrically pleasing camp fire.

Milo and I stayed at Whitesand Lake Campground, it was nicely wooded, but the trees were mature and there wasn’t much as much privacy providing understory between my campsite and my neighbours as I would have liked.

Also, this park lacks an off leash dog area and I saw more off leash dogs in the campsite than I’d seen in other parks. I expect some people will give their dogs off leash time whether or not there’s a legal spot to do it–an argument for putting dog exercise areas in more parks. Either that or hiring more park rangers!

 

A lake surrounded by mixed forest and emptying over the top of a waterfall. A big dog nose is poking into the. bottom right corner of the picture.

Milo can’t keep his nose out of my pictures.

The beach at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Oh my heavens, the white sand beach at Pancake Bay Provincial Park goes on and on and on. Since the bay is shallow the water isn’t as cold as you’d expect for Lake Superior. Some folks call it warm. They’re wrong. But, it is less cold. It only took a minute or two for me to catch my breath after jumping in.

a white sand beach between blue water and a pine and spruce forest.

How many dog beaches look like this?

The electrical spots in this campground are packed pretty tight and didn’t appeal to me. If you want a spot that feels more remote, forgo the electricity and get a campsite in the 400’s. Even though that end of the campground is a bit more rustic than the rest of the place, it boasts a modern comfort station with showers and laundry facilities.

I booked a site in the 400’s because it was close to the pet exercise area and the dog beach, both of which are fabulous. The pet exercise area is a green meadow sprinkled with daisies and plenty big for Milo to enjoy a good game of Frisbee.

The dog beach is continuous with, and just as nice as, the other beaches in the campground. The sand is soft and the water clear.

a German shepherd leaping forward on a white sand beach

I’m always impressed by Milo’s intensity when he’s chasing a ball.

A German shepherd splashing though blue water.

I enjoyed a nice swim with Milo (one of my favorite things), and Milo chased his ball into the water (one of his favourite things). Our afternoon at this beach was lovely.

a black and tan German shepherd dog sitting on a white beach under a blue sky.

Pancake Bay is a great place to enjoy a couple of restful days with your dog.

Mississagi Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada: Here be dragons

My navigation system expressed some concern about Mississagi. On the way to our campsite it warned me that we were entering an area of “incomplete map data,” and told me to “proceed with caution.” In my perfect world, it would have said, “here be dragons.” I was so pleased–this was the sort of camping I feared I’d lost when I bought a travel trailer.

My last stop was at Grundy Lake Provincial Park—a large professionally run park with programing and staff in pressed uniforms. A tousled teenager in a red T-shirt staffed the gate at Mississagi. The park only has 60 campsites, and I saw a total of six people during my stay. There was no cell service.

path from campsiteMy campsite had a path down to a tiny rocky beach and Milo and I spent most of our time sitting by the water’s edge. Every once in a while, I’d trundle up to the camper to get a snack and refresh my insect repellent. One afternoon a couple canoed by. That is all.

silhouette of a German shepherd dog at the edge of a blue lake surrounded by a pine forest.

This place is perfect, and I’ll be back.

Swan Lake Trail

During our stay at Grundy Lake Provincial Park Milo and I went on a guided hike along the Swan Lake Trail. I’ve found the Ontario Parks websites informative and easy to navigate. Here is how the Grundy website describes this hike:

Swan Lake Trail – 1.5 km loop (1 hour) moderate to difficult. 
Wind through a special area in the park which is protected as a nature reserve. This short hike crosses rocky ridges and lookouts as well as a variety of interesting wetlands. The centerpiece of the trail includes a boardwalk, where wetland plants and animals can be studied. While there, be sure to watch for the Great Blue Heron, beaver, waterfowl, bitterns and other varieties of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, deer, moose and carnivorous plants.

dark green coniferous trees reflected in a body of water.

Swan Lake

Three crisply uniformed Park staff members lead this hike.

Close up of pine needles on a branch

I learned that White Pines look fluffy and have five needles in a bunch. ‘White,’ has five letters: five needles–I won’t forget this!

From their new boots and notepads, I assume two of them were trainees. They showed us where the rocks were scratched by glaciers, identified carnivorous plants in the nutrient-poor lake water, and even pointed out a pine tree where a black-backed woodpecker nested the previous season. Our questions received full, interesting answers.

As we were getting ready to set out I asked the hike leader if I could bring my dog. She said, “Absolutely, as long as he is on a leash.” Hurray. Milo flirted outrageously with the other hikers. When we stopped to look at something I put him in a down-stay to keep him out of the way, but he was so besotted with the hike leader that he’d belly crawl up to her, all the while staying ‘down.’ Not obedience competition winning behaviour, but he made the crowd smile.

This hike was beautiful and fun, and I am grateful I could share it with Milo.

German Shepherd laying on a grey rock.

Milo taking a little break from the Swan Lake hike.

Grundy Lake Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Grundy Lake is a great place to camp with an RV trailer.  The park is large—almost 500 campsites—but those sites are grouped into several smaller and more intimate campgrounds.

Campgrounds with names like Poplar, Jack Pine, and Balsam. Walking into the park office was exciting because this would be be the first time I’d be camping with an electrical hook-up. My enthusiasm waned somewhat as I was assigned to a campground whimsically and romantically named “Trailer.”

Happily, it turns out that Trailer is a great little campground. Its large sites are ringed by mature spruce, pine, beach, and birch trees, which provide both shade and privacy. The campground is quiet and has feeling about it that encourages slow deep breaths.

Grundy Lake campsite

My site in the campground named ‘Trailer.’

I spent the previous two days at Killbear Provincial Park where I camped in the midst of a gaggle of young families—children tearing all over the place, dogs barking, clotheslines draped with beach towels, bedding, and underpants. The general hubbub reminded me of family camping trips when I was little.

Trailer at Grundy Lake has a completely different character. My 18-foot camper was the little one on the block and my neighbors were mostly retired couples in a very different phase of their financial life cycle than the young families at Killbear. The happy babble of kids was replaced with bird song and the sound of crackling fires. Sigh.

I have to admit that I was grateful for the electricity. For the past week or so the weather switched back and forth between torrential rain and blistering heat. I pulled up on a blistering heat day, but the rain left a gift–clouds of droning mosquitos. For some reason, I had to wrestle with the weight distribution bars when unhitching the trailer (looking back I think this was because the site wasn’t level) and by the time I had camp set up, I was a cranky, sweaty, mosquito-bitten mess. I walked into the camper and for the first time ever turned on its AC.

At full blast, it had my trailer at meat locker temperature in about six minutes and I could turn it off and take a delicious nap. That evening Milo and I took a long walk and as we were sitting down to dinner it started to rain. What a treat to be able to retreat into my cozy, dry camper, make a cup of tea, plug in my computer, and settle in for an evening of writing.

 

Lookout Point Trail at Killbear Provincial Park

lookout point trail signThis is a lovely short hike. Parts were pretty muddy due to recent rain, but a boardwalk snaked through the wetland area, and there were lots of rocks for scrambling. Milo didn’t mind the mud.

We walked by a cool citizen science project, “iWETLAND: Crowd-Sourced Wetland Science,” inviting hikers to document the water level with a text message. I followed the instructions precisely–I can’t resist science content. Citizen science and wetlands, what’s not to love?

The lookout promised by the name of the trail was breathtaking–a quiet and lovely place to relax and reflect. If I wasn’t so hungry, I could have sat there all afternoon.

German shepherd sitting on a rock looking out over a deep blue bay

Milo, you know, looking out, at Lookout Point.

I give this trail two thumbs up. Bring a picnic and make a day of it!

Killbear Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

The best thing about Killbear is the off-leash dog beach. A pine needle covered path winds through mature forest to a nearly deserted black and red sand beach. A perfect place for a frolic and swim.Killbear dog beach 2Milo had a great time–he deserved some fun exercise after a long drive.

silhouette of a German Shepherd Dog against sunset on a lake

sunset frolic at Killbear Provincial Park dog beach

And we’re off

I promised to share my adventures on this trip, but as I pulled out of my driveway on Tuesday morning, avoiding adventures was really my top priority.

That’s why getting a reliable truck and trailer, lots of safety equipment, and a premium CAA membership weren’t splurges.

That‘s why I was shooting for a three hour drive between campsites, and only driving every second day.

I’m actually aiming for peaceful and joyful trip.

My neighbour took this picture through her living room window as Milo and I were leaving for our first stop at Killbear Provincial Park.

and we're offShe had a lot of time to get her camera because I wasn’t that efficient getting out of the driveway. My Fitbit told me that I put on about 2000 steps just hooking up the trailer.

There are lots of steps to go through to get that thing hitched up:

  • back up to the hitch

    a trailer hitch with chains, break connections, and a weight distribution bar

    lots of things to attach properly…

  • attach the hitch
  • attach the weight distribution bars
  • put up the main jack
  • attach the chains
  • attach the wiring
  • attach the break-away brake line
  • put up the stabilizer jacks
  • pick up the wheel chocks
  • test the signal and brake lights
  • turn off the propane
  • make sure everything is locked
  • put up the step (easy to forget this one)

None of these steps are difficult. They just take time and a bit of elbow grease.

The drive to Killbear was successfully and wonderfully uneventful. I even let my hands stray from 10 and 2 by the end of the trip. I had a pull through campsite, so I didn’t need to do anything tricky like backup my rig.

After the hitching, driving, unhitching, and taking Milo for a walk, I spent my first camping afternoon napping. An appropriate end, I think, for a non-adventurous day.

Good things to bring on a long RV trip with your dog

Milo and I have only been on the road for three days and there are already a few things I’m really glad I brought:

Hands-free leash. It’s nice to have both hands free for taking pictures, carrying things, or just comfortable hiking. When we’re attached I can sit at a picnic table and read without worrying about him.

I have a Kurgo K9 Excursion Running Belt. I bought this particular brand because it happened to be in the store and I didn’t have time to shop around. If you’re crafty you could easily make one. The Kurgo is good but not perfect. I like that it’s stretchy and the wide waistband is comfortable. The pockets for keys and poop bags are convenient, but the water bottle is too small to be useful. Milo could break the leash clips if he put his mind to it. But, I’m OK with this unintended break-away option. I don’t want him pulling me over any cliffs! If there is a situation where he might lunge, I can thread the loop of his leash through the belt itself. A hands-free leash makes setting up camp easier.

campsite with picnic table, blue suv, camper trailer and German shepherd dog in a pen

Milo lounging in his xpen

Exercise pens. I brought two 48-inch-tall exercise pens and an aluminum shade cloth. These make an easy to assemble and secure home for Milo. I can put him in there with a bed, a bowl of water and a frozen Kong and he is good for an afternoon of lounging and listening to the birds.

Frozen Kong fixings. My camper has a freezer and I brought some high quality wet dog food and two Kong toys. A can of food is enough to fill two toys, with just enough left over for a little snack for The Boy. Freeze those Kongs solid and you have a long-lasting, highly engaging dog snack—great for rainy afternoons or days when I am done walking before he is.

Not all the good things are for Milo. Some of them are just for me:

Olives.  You know what is better than salty olives after a long hike? Nothing. Total yum.

A nice plastic beer glass. This was an impulse buy at a box store just before we left. A nice cold beer in a pilsner glass goes well with the olives.

Happy camping!