Monday, December 06, 2010

Preparing to Trial - Part Nine: Tips for Traveling with Canines

As I'm wrapping up this series it occurred to me that I've skipped over tips about traveling with your dogs - certainly for those of us in Vermont this is a real consequence of making the decision of whether or not to trial....Heading to a dog show isn't as much (any) fun if you know that "Fluffy" is going to barf at the 90 minute point. So here are some doggy travel tips:

Meals on the Road
I feed primarily raw - with various pre-mixes or bases - Honest Kitchen or Sojos - but when I travel I'm always relieved to leave the raw at home and pack several small gladware containers of Embark (complete with plastic spoons for mixing). It's quick, it's easy and because they eat a little bit of dehydrated food every day anyway it's a non-transition to go exclusively to The Honest Kitchen. I always keep at least one serving in the car for those times when trials run late and I know my dogs would appreciate dinner on the road vs waiting until 10pm when we get home...In the larger scheme of things, traveling for trials can be all sorts of things - I need feeding my dogs to be as uncomplicated part of the experience as possible.

Upset Tummy: Part One
Ginger Root (technically a rhizome)
When what goes down comes back up. Some dogs are nervous travelers others just get motion sick. Whatever the cause it's inconvenient to have to stop half-way to your destination to clean up doggy vomit and in my case, cleaning up doggie vomit usually leads to having to clean up human vomit. I do not have a particularly strong stomach for anything that unexpectedly out of any orifice of any critter actually. For car sick dogs, sometimes the ticket is making the car a wonderful place to be...a couple of students have had great success with feeding their dogs in the car every meal for a few weeks. Get in the car, eat dinner, get out of the car. For some dogs it's about adding in some short trips that end successfully...Also consider using a crate in the car for a carsick dog - for one it keeps most of the resulting mess contained - but it also gives your dog a bit of security. I'd imagine that most dogs enrolled in agility class already have a reasonably positive association with car travel.

Rice, we never leave home
without it.....
Some humans I know refuse to ride in the third row of seats in any van or SUV - claiming that riding over the rear wheels feels like sitting in a bouncy castle full of eight year olds. I don't know - I've never had that experience (the third row OR the bouncy castle), but I believe them. If your dog is in a crate over the rear wheels (mine are) perhaps he'd do better with a second row spot.

I also think that mileage and experience will go pretty far to help settle a dog's tummy on the road. Murph spent a bit of time on the road as a young puppy, but Teller earned his frequent flyer miles early - he was 8 weeks old when he made the 2 hour trip to me, at 9 weeks he was dragged along to the HVGRC specialty that was 6 hours away and at 10 weeks he came along to the Syracuse Salt City Cluster - another 5 hours. In the 80,000 or so miles under his belt I think he's thrown up once in the car - for which I do not count my blessings nearly enough.

You can also try a bit of ginger tea (shredded ginger plus boiling water plus time plus straining) in his water before a trip - some dogs LOVE ginger (Murphy) and some dogs don't (Teller). Ginger cookies or homemade ginger biscuits work for some dogs too.

Upset Tummy: Part Two
What does down must come out. Some dogs have more delicate constitutions than others. You know your dog best - but if he tends to get loose when he's at trials or on the road there are a few really good options. White rice can be easily packed (or purchased at any strip-mall Chinese restaurant), stowed in a cooler and portioned out as a supplemental part of his dinner or breakfast rations. I have a couple of microwave rice pouches stashed in the van for just such occasions. Sure, Uncle Ben's rice tastes lousy cold from a pouch that's been in a car for a year - but the dogs don't care and it's easy to pack and replenish.

That same theory is true for a little bit of canned pumpkin (though I'd suggest trying pumpkin a little at a time and at home BEFORE you try feeding it on the road). I feed my dogs banana while we're traveling - one because it's a super source of potassium and easily digestible - but also because it's a portable stool stabilizer, readily available, works as a healthy snack for me too and I don't need a can opener. DO have some caplets of pepto-bismal around as well - just in case, cause you NEVER know. There are some other products on the market - The Honest Kitchen makes a supplement called "Perfect Form" and Nature's Farmacy makes a product called "DogZymes"

As an aside - some dogs - particularly dogs who live on well water, really need to drink their own water from home - if this is your dog you can either pack your own water supply for his purposes, try bottled water or gradually introduce variations of tap water...only you know which option is right for you.

Crate Bedding
Yes, our crate mats have still-life fruit
silk-screened upon them.....
Crate bedding is really a matter of trying to keep dogs comfortable (warm, cold, padded, etc) without causing  a huge laundry hassle after every trial. All my car crates are basic plastic pans that I put down 42"x20" anti-fatigue kitchen mats that I purchased at Costco (perfect since our van crates are 42"x21"). At the moment they each have two layers which provides a pretty significant cushion that they can't move around/won't bunch in the back of the crates. Over the kitchen mats I have bath mats. Regular bath mats I purchased at Bed Bath and Beyond - 42" long by 26" wide - I love the non-skid backing (again Teller can't move the mat around under him) and the ease with which they are shaken out, hosed off and washed without ever becoming mildewed or dog scented. In the event that I had a tummy issue, I could remove the mat - evaluate whether or not to salvage it - and replace with one of the extras I keep stowed in the van. I have two more bath mats for our indoor trial crates if I decide to crate the dogs in the building.

If it's warm out I won't bother with additional bedding, but in the winter months I'll add in some fleece blankets I picked up on clearance at Kinney Drugs or an ABO down blanket. This the dogs can happily move around and they're welcome to do so.

Not so quiet motels
Country dogs in (relatively) city motels...even the quietest of places has other guests checking in at late hours and others starting their days at 5am (which isn't an uncommon hour for the dog show folks to start their day). I have one dog (Murphy) who barks when he's frightened or startled and another (Teller) who fancies himself a fluffy security sentry - alerting me to every suspicious noise or footstep outside. To counter this I generally sleep with the TV on while we're staying at motels. If not the tv, I'll play music on my laptop - either seems to help. For the one or two nights when we've been the (apparently) only uninvited guest amongst a throng of wedding guests, graduation parties or bachelorette partiy-goers (btw - anyone ever tasked with throwing me a batchlorette party would do well to know that such a party SHOULD NOT take place at a Red Roof Inn (or Motel 6) - just sayin') I've put Teller on-leash and kept him next to the bed - for whatever reason the act of putting on his harness and leash seems to signal the end of his sentry shift.

Pottying on leash
It doesn't seem like a big deal - but if your dog always potties in his fenced yard and never anywhere else you might have problems getting him to go at the end of a 6' leash at a trial or motel site...You have no idea how many boarding dogs have come to stay here that are completely unwilling (or unable) to potty on a leash. It's just another skill that show dogs need to have in their repertoire. Before you hit the road have a couple of mock-runs at home where you take your dog out the front door on a leash to potty. I have a very fixed routine while we're at motels - when we wake up I make their breakfast (Honest Kitchen Embark while we're traveling) first thing and then immediately take the boys for a walk before they get to eat it (THK takes 5 minutes to rehydrate anyway).. No breakfast until they're empty - works every time. Genius!

Some folks (particularly conformation folks) truck along exercise pens for this purpose and set them up next to their parking spots at the motel. The concept turns my stomach - but to each their own...I suppose I'm probably just shocked that professional handlers actually bring the dogs home from the show grounds (instead of leaving them in the show building over night).

Exercise while on the road
This is a hard one - I have two dogs that are used to getting an absurd amount of exercise in the summer between hikes, runs and swimming they're really fit and conditioned. In the fall and spring they're used to a generous romp and retrieve session most every day - winter, well winters are hard - but my point is that its REALLY hard to exercise two moderately active golden retrievers in a 20'x20' room at the Red Roof. It helps when we bunk with roommates who have compatible dogs and Teller gets to really wrestle in the evenings - we find places with reasonably low grass (fewer ticks) to play ball on flexi and we spend a bit of time wandering the parking lots of our motels - knowing it's a reasonably safe and well-lit area to be....Back in the room I've been known to bounce balls around for mini-retrieve sessions and I've scoped out local dog parks hoping to find them empty...


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