Dock diving

Yesterday our human friends Jess and Liz, and dog friends Stark and Zefra, invited Milo and I out for an adventure. It was a lovely afternoon, let’s take the dogs dock diving! Hurray dock diving!

Picture a 20 by 40 foot salt-water pool with warm, crystal clear water. A 40 foot dock, and two exit ramps, both covered in astroturf, abut a short side of the pool.

Milo takes one look at this setup and goes bonkers, pulling like an ox toward what he knows is a fun time. Ideally, I put him in a sit-stay at the far end of the doc, walk to the waters’ edge, release him, toss a toy in the water as he thunders down the dock and flings himself through the air and into the pool. I say ‘ideally,’ because that sit-stay is exceedingly difficult for a dog who is part German Shepherd and part otter.

dockdivingBut no matter how he hits the water, he swims out, retrieves the toy, swims back, hauls his panting, dripping self onto the dock and is ready to go again. Not before, of course, striking a pose, head up, chest out and grinning, at the top of the ramp giving all of us a chance to compliment his powerful jumping and excellent swimming. He’s smart, but the joy of jumping drives any sense of self-preservation out of his doggy mind, and eventually I have to force him to take a break.

dock diving 2After all the dogs had a few turns, we enjoyed a little swim together and then it was time to dry off, pile back in the van, and take ourselves home. The laughing, cheering, dog wrangling, and of course jumping, leaves everyone pooped. Well, not everyone.

As we were chatting and loading the van Milo leaned into his leash toward the pool, clearly suggesting that there might be time for another dive.

I had to remind him “Milo, you just had a long swim. You’re tired.”

But he explained, “Mom, I was tired 6 minutes ago. It is now a whole new day, and I don’t know if you remember, but there is a pool, right there. If you wouldn’t mind opening that gate, we could, you know, swim.”

I pretended not to understand, a trick he knows well.

A moment later I was distracted and Milo saw his opening. He was off! It was a full on lung toward the pool. I leaned back, and holding on to that leash like a waterski towrope left heel tracks in the gravel in the direction of the pool. Dang dog. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was being a bad bad boy. Once I got us both anchored again, he figured out that there was definitely no more swimming that day, and settled back into being a good dog.

One the way home we stopped for burgers and fries at a roadside stand, Milo, Stark, and Zefra laying angelic at our feet. They were happy and tired, and clearly enjoying a steady stream of fries. This is the kind of thing Saturdays were made for. When Milo and I are on the road, we are going to miss these good friends.

Travel trailer update

Finally, I have possession of my very first travel trailer! Her arrival means I’m almost ready to actually go on the road with Milo. Eek.

beige and white camper trailer with a black and tan german shepherd dog sitting in the doorway.

It fills up the entire driveway…

I’m thinking she needs a name. Perhaps, “The Serenity?” Or maybe, “Milo’s Den?” What do you think? Suggestions?

Black and tan german shepherd laying at an open door

Milo seems pleased with the arrangement

One more sleep until my travel trailer arrives!

It’s Christmas in June. Bright and early tomorrow morning I’m off to pick up my Sportsmen Classic travel trailer. By the time I was six, I figured out that fidgeting did not speed the arrival of Christmas morning. But here I am, fidgeting. A person just can’t sit still while this excited. Not biologically possible.

brown and white single axel travel trailer

Tomorrow, while my car gets wired for trailer breaks, I get a camper operation and maintenance lesson. After which, I trundle away with what will be Milo and my home for the next few months.

the bed, dinette, and kitchen of a camper,all in shades of brown

 

I’m planning to stop at a parking lot to practice backing up. Even though I grew up on a farm, where we pulled trailers all the time, I am nervous about the idea of reverse. My goal is to treat learning to park the trailer as a dog training exercise, on myself–split the process into small skills, reward every little success, and treat failures as learning opportunities. If I can remember to treat myself with the same respect that I treat Milo, I think all will be well. Fingers crossed.

I’ve entreated my neighbors to close their curtains tomorrow afternoon. I like that they look out for me, but I don’t need them looking out on my first attempt at backing this behemoth into my driveway.

schematic layout of camper trailer

I’ll use the bunk space for Milo’s crate and a desk.

RV traveling with your dog: Packing his wardrobe

That’s right, I said wardrobe. Some dapper little pups are always dressed up and looking fine. Milo, however, is more the ruggedly handsome sort. He occasionally sports a bandana to downplay his ferocious image, but most of the time he’s a leash and collar kind of German Shepherd.backpack 1

He won’t be bringing any outfits on this trip, but he will need some gear:

Life Jacket. life jacketMilo is an excellent swimmer. When we swim I can hold his waist and he’ll tow me around the pond. Super neat. He’s a strong enough swimmer to rescue me, but I am not a strong enough swimmer to rescue him. So in the boat we both wear life jackets.

refelctive vest 2

Reflective vest. I might be paranoid, but he blends into the background on a dark evening and he’s big enough for even a barely intoxicated hunter to mistake for prey. A reflective vest sets my mind at ease.

Cooling vest. Milo is tough as beans in the cold, but the summer heat is another matter. He’s big and black, and dogs easily overheat. All they can do to cool down is pant and sweat from their paws (they get stinky feet too). An evaporative cooling vest helps Milo stay safe and comfortable for short walks on hot days.

Backpack. His backpack was a gift and is nicer than mine. After a summer of schlepping snacks and water for the backpack 2two of us I saw someone with a pack on their Shepherd. It was a life changing observation. I don’t like carrying things and Milo doesn’t mind. Also, he’s in better shape than I am. Now, he carries the food and water, and other sundries like bug spray and sunscreen. The dog pack comes with us!

It would be easy to forget this gear because Milo doesn’t use it all the time.

If you’re taking a trip with your dog, it’s a good idea to take a moment to consider the things you might not always need but can be very nice to have once in a while.

 

This post is part of a series on packing for your dog.

  1. RV traveling with your dog: What to pack
  2. RV traveling with your dog: First aid essentials you hope you never need
  3. RV traveling with your dog: Packing his wardrobe

RV traveling with your dog: First aid essentials you hope you never need

I hope, even expect, that Milo and I will both stay healthy and happy for our whole trip. But, of course, he could get stung by a bee, or eat something noxious, or get hurt in some way, and it puts my mind at ease to be prepared. Since I won’t be bringing our veterinarian along it is important to think about first aid.  I’m also looking into taking a St John’s Pet First Aid class. Of course, I’ll let you know how that goes.

We need benadryl because sometimes bees are irresistible 

I’ve organized our first aid kit according to the things we might have to deal with:

Ticks, fleas, and other creepy crawlies

  • Heart worm, tick, and flea meds
  • Tick remover
  • Little jars of alcohol to put the ticks in
  • Latex gloves
  • Antiseptic wipes

Bees and other allergens

  • Benadryl (ask your vet about dosage)
  • Tweezers

Cuts and other injuries

  • Sterile saline
  • Vet wrap (a kind of bandage that sticks to itself)
  • Gauze
  • Bandage scissors
  • Cone of shame
  • Muzzle
  • a child’s sock that is the right size for your dog’s feet
  • Antiseptic wipes (already listed up there with the tick stuff)

Eating bad things and tummy trouble

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • a can or two of pumpkin
  • pepto (again, ask your vet about dosage and use)

Documents

  • Proof of vaccination
  • License
  • Picture

Emergency numbers

  • my vet
  • a local animal hospital
  • poison control

Skunk odour remover

  • I know this is not really first aid, but it could very well be essential for my mental health. After all we’ll be sharing a car and a camper.

Am I forgetting anything? 

 

This post is part of a series on packing for your dog.

  1. RV traveling with your dog: What to pack
  2. RV traveling with your dog: First aid essentials you hope you never need
  3. RV traveling with your dog: Packing his wardrobe

RV traveling with your dog: What to pack

So, what to pack for Milo for our upcoming adventure? What does he need for a fun and easy extended road trip? This list has to be short because there are serious space and weight limits in the camper. Perhaps I just need to think through Milo’s daily, weekly, and monthly routines.

Daily, Milo eats, poops, pees, trains, walks, sleeps, cuddles, plays, and hangs out with me while I work and go about my life.

Weekly, we go on a couple of walks with his dog friends and their people, have a couple of serious games of fetch, go to a class, and take a hike or swim.

Monthly, he gets tick, flea, and heartworm control meds, a bath and a brushing. The mention of meds reminds me that I need to include my doggie first aid kit. That would go in the category of things that I hope we never need.

Let’s start by thinking about the every day sorts of things:

Nourishment—Food for Milo is easy at home. I usually get meat, bone and offal from a handsome nearby butcher, pack it up into 1.5-2 pound servings, and freeze them. Every night I take a serving out of the freezer and every morning Milo enjoys a healthy, albeit grizzly, feast. The trouble is on this trip I won’t have access to the handsome butcher (sad) nor a great big freezer. So that means either prepackaged raw food, or kibble. Thankfully he has an iron stomach and is happy as long as it is full.

Excrement—I expect this will be the same as at home. The only difference is that I won’t be able to just let him out in the backyard. So that means I need to invest in some pajamas that look like regular clothes. That, and hopefully make some headway on teaching him to relieve himself on command. Lots of working dogs are taught this. It would not be cool, for example, if the beagle searching for contraband at the airport left a steaming pile-o-poo in passport control. But as far as I can tell, the only reliable way to get Milo to poop is to have someone on the street tell me that he is a very handsome dog. Maybe I’ll just record my friends saying “handsome dog” and I can play a randomly selected version back as needed.

Training, walking, sleeping, and cuddling—These will all be the same. I just need to pack a bed and crate for him, and of course his leashes, collars, treats, and toys. Well, not all the toys. Milo is NOT spoiled, but some might call him indulged, particularly when it comes to toys. I think that for this trip he just needs one to tug, one to chase, one to cuddle, and one to disembowel. That last one will, of course, need to be replaced regularly.

Playing—We won’t have access to a yard, and I won’t take him to public dog parks. So that means I need to bring a long line for him to wear while we are goofing around. I usually keep a couple of these in the truck anyway, and so I just need to remember not to take them out.

Hanging out with me while I work and go about my life—He really is with me pretty much all the time that I’m not at work. This won’t be a problem in the camper. He is good

five coiled leashes and lines arranged in a row

leashes and lines

company when I’m cooking, studying, reading, writing, or knitting. But what about sitting by the fire or eating at a picnic table in a campground? You might think that the answer to this is a tie out. But, that would underestimating Milo’s capacity to wreak havoc. I tried it, once. He nearly strangled me with the line (several times), dragged the line through the fire, and finally broke the line while trying to say hello to a cyclist. Tying him out (aside from being a very bad idea for dogs in general) would still require my constant attention, which defeats the purpose. The other possibility is an Exercise Pen, or X-Pen. Picture a German Shepherd sized playpen and you get the basic idea. So, that’s one more thing to research and buy for this trip. And they say that traveling with kids is a pain in the neck. At least you don’t have to worry about them chasing bears or bicycles.

Checklist of everyday things

Continue reading

On the road in what? Buying a SUV for Milo and me.

Once I decided that Milo and I would be taking a travel trailer on this trip, it was clear that we needed to go car shopping. My 2006 Honda Civic served me well for 11 years, but it was getting old and tired, and even in its heyday would not have been up to pulling a trailer. Not to mention the fact that it was neither big nor safe enough for Milo, and its years of being a dogmobile left it smelling really bad.

I read reviews, blog posts, and articles in Car and Driver about the best vehicles for dogs and their people. All that research didn’t help as much as I had hoped. But, it did make me realize that I needed a clear idea of what would make a good vehicle for Milo and me.

I wanted to be on the road with Milo in a vehicle with:

  • A tow package –no surprise here, it needs to tow the trailer that would be our home for the next few months.
  • Room for a really big dog crate. Milo needs to be safe and comfortable.
  • Excellent climate control. Milo is not the only one who needs to be safe and comfortable.
  • Leather seats. Not because they are fancy, but because I know first hand the impossibility of picking dog hair out of upholstery.

German Shepherd Dog with its tongue hanging out standing in the driver's seat of a blue SUV.

Isn’t this a pretty blue?

Also, it had to be:

  • Not a minivan.
  • Blue.
  • Quiet and comfortable to drive.
  • Reasonably priced and fuel-efficient.

With this figured out, I was off test driving small and medium sized SUVs. Once I actually drove a few vehicles, I learned a few more things:

  • First, “fold-flat rear seats” often do not fold flat. “Flat” can mean angled, slanted, or having a ridge across the storage compartment. Also, while “fold-flat” in a base model of a vehicle can mean “fold-with-a-ridge,” it might actually mean flat in a higher trim model. You need to see that it is actually flat with your own eyes, because a dog crate on an angle or wobbling over a ridge is not OK. Of course you can prop the crate up, or add shims, or do something fancy with duct tape. But it seems wrong to spend a huge amount of money on a vehicle that you must immediately jerry-rig to get it to do what you bought it for in the first place.

German shepherd standing in the back of a blue SUV with its rear hatch open.

Space for Milo’s crate and then some

  • Second, storage compartment dimensions can be deceiving. Slanted roofs, oddly-shaped doors, and wheel wells might change how big a thing (for example, a dog crate) it can conveniently hold. I ended up bringing my crate to the dealership and setting it up in the vehicle to make sure that it fit the way I wanted it to. The sales person was not thrilled about this test, but I asked politely and was careful not to scratch the paint.

 

  • Finally, while most vehicle sales people are efficient, polite and helpful, others are down right rude. When I asked about monthly payments at one place the  salesperson actually said, “It isn’t worth my while to figure that out unless you are interested in buying.” That’s right, he wouldn’t even tell me the price. Needless to say I moved on and bought a vehicle from an efficient, polite and helpful salesperson. The good ones are out there and are worth searching for.

At the end of the day (actually week) I drove home a Ford Escape. I love it. Milo and I have been happily motoring around in it for a few months. The new car smell is slowing being replaced by big dog smell. That, sadly, seems inevitable.

I was surprised to find vehicle shopping fun. It helped to be clear about what I wanted and what I needed, and to keep in mind that this was getting me one step closer to being on the road with Milo.

a large black and tan German shepherd sitting next to a blue SUV

just a dog and his truck

Where will we sleep when we’re on the road?

A summer-long, cross-Canada road trip with a gigantic German Shepherd, even one as smart and charming as Milo, presents a few challenges.  Challenges like, where will we sleep for those months on the road?

It didn’t take me long to figure out that my criteria for a reasonable living arrangement aren’t complicated. It has to be

  • convenient for both me and Milo,
  • reasonably affordable,
  • reasonably comfortable, and
  • condusive to my research and writing.

Additionally, it has to

  • accommodate a flexible travel schedule,
  • come with a vehicle that is easy to drive, and
  • provide at least a little access to wilderness.

A good plan is one that gets at least a B grade for each criterion.

The options:
Family and friends. This option scores high in terms of comfort, convenience, and affordability. But, I love these people and want them to love me back at the end of the trip. I have enough sense to know that showing up with Milo for an indefinite amount of time is not OK.

Don’t mind me and my giant, shedding, barking dog. Aside from scratching up your floors and getting hair in every possible nook and cranny in your home and on your person, we won’t be any bother at all. He and I, you know, are both sweet darling angels from heaven…

I have one friend and one aunt who might be on board with this.

HotelsMotel 6‘s across North America are reasonably priced and pet friendly. They’re plain, but usually clean. The trouble is, living in a reasonably priced hotel for months on end still gets expensive. Also, I’d need to supervise Milo pretty much all the time. While I see the appeal of his constant company, a girl has to buy groceries and go to the library once in a while.  Finally, no wilderness.

Tenting. Staying in a tent with Milo, for a weekend, is great. We’ve done it before and he took to it like butter to bread. This den, he seemed to think, was just the right size for both of us. The first evening he walked in, snuggled up, and went right to sleep.

In my 20’s, I spent an entire summer living in a tent on the shore of a pristine lake in Northern Saskatchewan. But, now I’m in my 40’s, and my back hurts at the thought of spending 2 nights in a row sleeping on the ground. I can’t see being happy in a tent for an entire summer. Also, no office.

Gigantic motorhome. I have a vision of motoring along the highway, hands resting at 10 and 2 on a really big steering wheel, occasionally giving a serious nod and a little wave to passing truckers. Linda Ronstadt is rocking in the background and Milo is sitting in the passenger seat wearing a red bandana. Sigh.

That’s not going to happen. Unfortunately there are two kinds of motorhomes: the old ones and the expensive ones. Expensive is not an option. And, since my mechanical ability is limited changing tires, old is not an option either. Old too frequently turns into expensive. Also, I don’t like driving in big cities, even with a little car. The thought of someone else taking a gigantic motorhome along Yonge Street in Toronto is hilarious. The thought of me doing it is terrifying.

Camper trailer. A camper trailer will be pretty good at all the things I need. It’s not as cool as tenting or a motorhome (yes, I think motorhomes are cool, I march to my own drum). But, it will be convenient for me and Milo. I can keep my work set up and ready to dive into whenever I want. I can park it on crown land, or friends’ yards, or campsites, or Walmart parking lots. I can afford one. And I can unhook it and have a comfortable vehicle to motor around in. This is the winning option.

Summary:

Family and friends Hotels Tenting Motorhome Camper trailer
Convenient B C B A- B+
Affordable A D A F B
Comfortable B A C A- A-
Workspace C C F A A
Flexible C A C B B
Access to a vehicle A A A D A
Wilderness C D A B B

The bottom line: 

If you and your dog are heading out on an extended road trip, take a camper trailer.