Post by Jordan Kendrick, dog trainer
With the weather starting to turn cool, you may be planning a camping trip before winter. Fireworks, camping, and boating all present unique challenges and enjoyments for both dog and human.
A quick brush up on the signals your dog is or isn't enjoying themselves before heading off for the weekend is a good idea. In general, tension is a signal they aren't having a good time and relaxed means the inverse. Tail wagging can swing either way depending on the stiffness and speed. Yawning and lip licking are more often signals of discomfort than comfort.
Fireworks aren't going away any time soon (if dogs had their way it would occur yesterday) and dealing with them when out for the weekend present a few unique considerations. Camping usually means you're in a tent or a trailer which limit your options to dampen the sound of the firework with those precious buffer walls. If you know your dog is sensitive to fireworks and is kennel trained, bring along their crate from home with some comfort item like a bed. The security of them being in a small space which looks and smells like their safe space at home can go quite a ways towards reducing anxiety. The vibration of a vehicle can intensify the anxiety due to fireworks but with the car idling (or just with the fan blowing in accessory mode) and radio on to a comfortable listening volume, with a crate in the car along with a person in the car the entire time can create a similar environment to being well isolated in the house. While idling for a few minutes may not be particularly eco friendly, it is an extra step which can be used if necessary. With a regular scarf you can usually throw together a quick DIY Thundershirt. A gentle massage is quite comforting to some dogs and is another option as well.
(Image credit Lily Chin.)
Should you have concerns that your dog may escape your containment, a good investment may be a tracker collar. The GPS (i.e. Whistle, Tractive) or Bluetooth (i.e. Tile/smart tag, Pawscout) versions have their drawbacks and advantages and is worth consideration. It's a stepwise, a la carte, experimental type of situation to find the best way to help your dog with fireworks.
Camping is a fantastic way to unwind for human and dog alike! The extra space to stretch out and wander provides a prime opportunity to take your dog for sniff walks. Rather than the brisk walk of a walk around the block at home most busy families are confined to, take a break. Pop some sunscreen on you, your kids, and your dog (the end of the nose and ends of ears in white or sparsely coated dogs.) Let your dog sniff around, choose where to go with you following. It's a great workout for their brain and relieves stress for both human and dog. Try literally stopping and smelling the roses this weekend or appropriate local foliage. Do keep your dog from ingesting any plant they find. If they do, snapping a quick couple photos of the plant for identification should your dog become ill could be a lifesaver. There are also a few apps which can help with ID such as PlantNet. Camping can include opportunities to indulge and scavenge so keeping trash out of reach can save a huge vet bill for pancreatitis with the primary cause of it being "dietary indiscretions" aka big helpings of people food. A clean campsite can also discourage visitors to your campsite such as bears who are starting to increase their food intake. Being out of the city does mean parasites both internal and external, as well as some illnesses such as leptospirosis, are more likely to be flourishing in the critters around so be sure to follow your vet's recommendations regarding all deworming, flea/tick preventative, and vaccinations. Grabbing a pet first aid kit never goes amiss either.
Tons of dogs absolutely adore swimming. Growing up we had a golden retriever who would absolutely stay in the kiddie pool the entire summer if allowed and his last potty break was always on leash because he would submerge himself right before coming inside and getting comfy in one of the family's beds. This being the last camping weekend does also mean it is the last boating/swimming/lakeside time. First and foremost, immediately before you leave check the survey of the body of water. There are usually local reports detailing blue-green algae blooms, other algae blooms, viral/bacterial contamination, waste contamination available when you search for the "body of water" + "safety report" or "advisories", or your local parks department. This information can guide what activities are safe. Keep in mind, dogs tend to ingest far more water when playing and swimming than humans and if you are visiting saltwater rather than fresh keep in mind that your dog should be limited playing fetch in water. Another risk is that of fetch in sand. The amount of sand they ingest each time they catch that disgusting sand-and-slobber encrusted ball is minimal but it is important to keep in mind the level of repetition of the activity as intestinal obstruction due to impacted sand is tragic. There's usually an area of grass on the outside of the sand beach which is more appropriate for fetch with or without a separate container to the dog's drinking water to give the ball a quick swish between throws. It can be a fabulous dual purpose for one of those silicone paw scrubber cups. It makes the game a bit more enjoyable for both parties anyways. Boating, depending on the boat type, requires the same precautions as a human on a boat. That means a lifejacket is a must for dogs just like humans. A leash which is held by someone is also needed since a dog can't grab your hand for you to pull them back in. Keep an eye on their body language for discomfort since hitting the waves can make them feel a bit seasick but it seems like dogs largely enjoy the wind in their ears.
All in all, it's generally a bittersweet trip to wrap up the summer. The slight chill in the air when you awake rather than the sickly stale hot air of a tent at 8am when you went to bed in at 4 am after the campfire means it getting closer to the more cozy time of year.