Camping, the iconic American vacation, is especially appealing this year, because it implies a simple and inexpensive holiday solution. For families with dogs, that often means bringing the pooch along.
"It's a blast. They love it and then they sleep for a week afterward," says Holly Ferguson of Medford. "After day two of camping, Moonshine just lays on her side, asleep."
Successful camping with dogs means becoming aware of the challenges pets face in unfamiliar and often remote locations. You don't want your camping trip to be curtains for your dog.
"The biggest danger is losing your dog," says Sky Loos, education and community outreach manager at the Southern Oregon Humane Society, a no-kill shelter in Medford. Strays usually go to county animal shelters, which generally have a time limit for holding animals.
Tags and a micro-chip are basic identifiers, but according to the Humane Society Web site, microchips inserted after 2003 are not universal and may not register on scanners in other regions.
"Attach an extra tag saying what campground you are staying in," says Loos. "Or add one with an alternate phone number, like a neighbor's number or your cell phone." Then, if someone finds your lost dog and calls when you are still in the woods, you can respond. If your answering machine or service can be accessed when away from home, make sure to know the access code before you leave.
An "emergency recall" can help keep your dog near you and out of trouble, says Wendy Pool, owner of True Companion Training in Medford. Different than your usual "come" command, this is a word you teach the dog to associate with lavish rewards of really special treats, like meat, games or car rides. Vary rewards your dog loves when you use the command, repeating daily at first and gradually diminishing frequency. To maintain, use the command and rewards at least once a month. "Everybody in the family should be able to use the word," says Pool.
Make sure your dogs are up to date on their vaccinations, because wild animals can be sources of diseases like Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and rabies. Protect your dog from ticks and fleas with a "spot" treatment like Frontline or Advantage. "Make sure they are on a heartworm preventative, since they are exposed to more mosquitoes, carriers of the parasite, in wilderness areas," says Pool.
Know basic animal first aid and include items in your first-aid kit for them: gauze wrap, tweezers for splinters and ticks, vet wrap (sticks to itself, not fur), antibiotic ointment, turkey baster (to flush wounds), and hydrogen peroxide, says Loos. Bring a doggie first-aid book, with mouth-to-mouth and CPR described, she said.
After any hike, check your dog for unwanted hitchhikers, including foxtails. These fuzzy grass-seed heads can do terrible damage. Since dogs love to snuffle the ground, they are in danger of getting these sticky barbs in their noses, ears and underbelly. Prevention is key, since once inside your dog the seeds may migrate, cause pain and even damage internal organs.
With your own sense of liberation expanded, you may be tempted to share the freedom by allowing your dog to roam off leash. While Forest Service and BLM trails do allow this, dogs must be in "strict voice control," because that kind of freedom carries risks.
Ferguson is concerned about aggressive dogs. "The worst problem I've encountered is when other dogs not on a leash attack my dog."
"Hikers should consider what might happen if their dog encounters horses, a mountain biker, other people or an animal on the trail," says Paul Galloway, partnership coordinator for the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest. "They have to consider the pet's safety, public safety and the potential to harass wildlife."
Pool tells a story about an unleashed dog scaring up a bear that proceeded to target the dog owner. The man got away unharmed, but bears, skunks, snakes, deer and cougar present risks. More subtly, an unleashed dog can run through poison oak. Once the family touches him, it's an itchy vacation.
While in campgrounds and developed areas, a leash is generally required, and always carry bags for the inevitable. "Pick up after your pet. That's a big campground faux pas," Loos says. And it's another way disease spreads.
A different problem occurs when campers leave a dog tied out. Don't do it, says Pool. "They are bait for aggressive dogs or can be approached by strange children." Even a dog that has never shown aggression may do so with the combination of anxiety and frustration caused by being tied out in a strange place. "Frustration and aggression are linked," says Pool.
Consider bringing an X-pen — a metal fold-up enclosure that allows your dog more freedom. Even then, "it's best to say with your dog." Pool says. "Being left alone in an unfamiliar place is frightening."
Some dogs bark and howl all night, says Ferguson, voicing a common complaint.
Scared dogs bark and howl in an effort to contact the owner, says Pool, who recommends a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter to occupy the jaw. If a dog startles easily, limiting what can be seen and heard decreases barking.
Following these guidelines may add a few steps to packing the car, but they will ensure a trip that leaves the drama to the landscape. Wasn't that what you had in mind?