Monday, October 31, 2011

Taking my dog camping: Thank God for friends, and thank God for the Jeep

Allison with Sensi in Benzie
Friends of ours, Alan and Allison, joined us on our trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I call this place Benzie — you can find out why by reading my article, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: The most beautiful place in America — and for all future references in this space, I’m going to call it that. It’s what I’ve always called it and I’m not stopping now. So remember, Benzie = Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
My dog loves Alan and Allison, who put in some serious work to become Sensi’s most beloved friends. Read about that here: Introducing my fearful dog to new people, a summer of hard work and great success
Having them with us made me all the more comfortable with bringing Sensi to a campground for the first time ever. Bringing a dog with fear issues into a busy place like a campground is a full-time job, and the more people you have with you to help out, the easier it is for everyone.
Alan and Allison have a big truck. The two guys towed our outrageously heavy pop-up with that (it’s a
The 1970s Rockwood pop-up
1970s Rockwood, family heirloom, I suppose, and weighs a ton).
Allison and I drove together in the Jeep, which left the backseat open for Sensi. Sensi has mixed emotions about car rides.
He knows that cars take him places he loves to go, so he loves to go into cars. But the actual ride he does not care for so much.
He is not so anxious on car rides that he needs medication, as some dogs do. He just has a hard time settling down. Every bump makes him nervous (can you imagine how upset he must’ve been when we moved down a perennially-bumpy dirt road?), so even if you finally get him to lay down, he pops up with every bump the car hits.
Sensi grew up riding in my old Cutlass Ciera. It had a bench seat in the front and a bench seat in the back. Sensi grew accustomed to having a bench seat, and after a good long walk at the park, he’d get tired enough to sometimes lay down during the car ride home.
After the Cutlass died, we only had Brent’s truck, which has fold-down seats in the back. This means Sensi has to stand on the floor of the vehicle when riding in the truck. Every little vibration becomes that much more noticeable to him. He hates riding in the truck.
But when we brought the Jeep home a couple years ago, it was like Sensi knew, right away, that it was ours and he was pumped about it. He had a friggin’ bench seat again, and my goodness, what a difference it makes for him.
Earlier this year, I bought a dog hammock for the backseat. It’s a great investment. Loops strap it to the
The backseat hammock
two seats in front and two more loops secure it to the back of the bench seat. It means he doesn’t have to worry about falling into that space where we humans put our legs. It made a good thing (the bench seat) even better for him.
On top of that, we piled up all his bedding (and remember, my dog is the king of comfort) on the hammock.
In total, we brought one dog bed, one body pillow donated to the dog and three blankets — one fleece, one microfiber (his favorite) and his special afghan.
Allison got to experience the joy of a nearly five hour car trip with my dog. She was the designated behavior guide for him — meaning, it was her job to dispense treats in order for successful lay-down commands. And those commands had to come after every single little bump in the road.
Sensi on our way up north
“Geez Sensi,” Allison said at one point. “You’ve got the most comfortable seat of all of us. If you don’t take advantage of it, I’m going to get back there and take a nap and you can sit your butt up here.”
It was pretty ridiculous, but all things considered, it was also the best Sensi has ever been on a long car ride. With the help of some treats, he did lay down for most the ride — of course, we stopped along the way for potty-and-stretch-the-legs breaks.
And I found myself thanking God for the Jeep.
And for Allison.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Taking my dog camping: It’s about time

If you’ve ever had a dog from puppydom right on through to senior citizenhood, you know as well as I that after so many years, you think you know everything about your dog. That there are no surprises left.
But time after time, Sensi proves me wrong.
Even though Sensi is now almost 9 years old, our September camping trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was his first time in a campground.
Not that he’d never experienced “up north” vacations before. Up until he was about 5, we’d take regular trips with some friends of ours to their property in Northern Michigan. He lived for those trips — off leash with a pack of dog friends to keep in order, morning romps through the woods, late nights curled up by the fire and an endless bounty of sticks to turn into mulch. On really cold nights, he’d ask to climb under the covers with us in our tent. And when we got the pop-up camper, he thought he was king of up north with so many different cushion-laden sleeping areas to choose from.
In recent years, we haven’t taken those trips anymore. Last year, Brent and I finally got ourselves back up north, pitching a tent at beautiful Higgins Lake for a less-than-beautiful (it rained ALL weekend) last-minute Labor Day weekend. We choose not to bring Sensi — see the post, Not a campground dog — and were so grateful we did.
The state park we stayed in was packed with campers and dogs, many of which were not on-leash. The campsites were so close together that there was no semblance of privacy. And the cold, wet weather would’ve had my dog endlessly depressed.
But this year, we were finally going back to the land that stole my heart as a child. The place I know like the back of my hand. The campground I treasured for two weeks every summer. 
Beautiful, beautiful Benzie
Being a national campground, the rules are strict and strictly enforced. How many times I heard “stay off the vegetation!” from a park ranger as a kid I can’t count. And if they’re worried about your footprint disturbing the vegetation, you can bet your butt they don’t tolerate off-leash dogs.
I also know the sites are set up to be reasonably private, and that if you really know the park, you can usually get yourself into a site with better-than-reasonable privacy.
On top of that, I’ve wanted my whole life to show Sensi Lake Michigan. It means so much to me, and for as much as he loves water, I knew it would blow him away.
So it was time. After a summer full of fear-reduction exercises — exposing him to large crowds at parks, even walking past air balloons being launched — it was time to stop using his behavior problems as an excuse and get him up north again.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back to blogging! Camping series, contests coming up

I do realize it's been a while ... in fact, I'm not sure "a while" really covers how long it's been. But let's not go into details.
I've been working on a series about our camping trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore earlier this fall. It's a bit novelish, but I broke each post down into behavior-related mini-stories.
The first in the series will publish tomorrow morning.
After that, I'm going to start hosting a lot of contests, so bone up on canine behavior knowledge if you want to win a bunch of neat stuff. I've got everything from awesome travel gear for your pooch, a funny t-shirt, calendars, books and more.
It's all been amassing under my desk and if I don't start dishing this stuff out soon, there's going to be nowhere left for my feet.
So, I'm back, for real this time, and I've got lots of good stuff coming your way.
Check back tomorrow morning for the kick-off of the camping-with-a-behaviorally-challenged-dog series!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Live chat today!

Hang out with me in a live chat today, talking dogs and cats with myself and the author of our "Cat Chat" blog, Caren Gittleman.